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Hurricane Gustav I


Let's see if I can inaugarate the forum and maybe incite others to try their hand at recording their own field notes.

During the hurricane and its aftermath I jotted down notes. Purpose unclear at the time, except perhaps that, in the middle of the blow, I realized the city was not getting a glancing blow, but the storm's full force, and that the effects would be massive. Also to be noted, it is a habit of long standing to maintain a personal hurricane watch with SW radio, batteries, extra smokes, canned food, and lamp oil. Radio stays tuned day and night to the one or two stations still airing, operating on generator power, making public announcement, taking phone calls, often from people whose fear clearly comes through.

Friday, 29 Aug., three days before Gustav comes through. Few people have come to work. Those of us present are ordered to secure the grounds. Lighter objects likely to go air borne are stored inside buildings. Smaller, lighter bee colonies (nucs) are taken from their stands and placed on the ground. Vehicles are garaged. It is a routine we all know well and so it takes only a few hours. While working I hear a jet roar, then another. I look up to see two low flying Air National Guard jet fighters flying overhead, then banking, then coming back. The fly over is repeated twice. The symbolism strikes me. The Governor is signalling to the state's capitol he is in charge and the city is protected from the storm. The flimsiness of the symbolic act also strikes me.

Sunday, 31 Aug. Supermarkets close their doors by 4 PM. After five stops I find a store still open. In the evening I visit the laundromat, which is all but deserted.

Monday, 4 AM, 1 Sept. Realizing the full of the storm will not arrive until later in the day I suspend my watch for a few hours sleep. Sleeping in with an ear to the tenor of the winds. Late morning I make a pot of coffee, figuring it will be several days before I get another (it will be Friday). By noon winds are gale force strength. Being on the eastern, more powerful side of the storm, I realize the bands will come from the ENE. This is a good thing for me, as my apartment is on the building's western side. Building is solid, made of red brick. Windows and door still open.

1:30 PM. Gustav has arrived. (The official max wind strength clocked at the airport will be 91 MPH.) It has not hit me yet how powerful the storm will be. But I learn from the radio that storm's eye is passing closer to the city than was forecasted. Gustav has changed its course after making landfall somewhere between Houma and Morgan City, taking a more northerly than northwesterly path. 1:40. Power is out. 2 PM and I have to close the windows and door. With a start I think, what the f**k is happening? The city is 90 miles inland and the storm is stronger than it should be. Then it hits me hard in the chest: my maps lie. Louisiana's marshes actually are gone. The city is no longer as far from open water.

Storms are thrilling and I belong to a long line of hurricane lovers. But this one has scared me. Cell phone towers are still operational. I call my brother, my best friend from whom I've lately been estranged because of a silly family quarrel, and I tell him I love him. 'this is a bad one, brother.' He says he'll contact our sisters and he tells me to call as soon as the storm has passed. (Later he will say he has learned more about south Louisiana towns and geography than he ever knew before Gustav.)

2 PM through 3:30 PM. The sound of trees falling and splintering. One smashes against the building's eastern side, blocking in my neighbor. The indescribably sound of the wind. It isn't a roar. It isn't a whine. It is like a white water river of wind flattening through a gorge. At some point I finally move away from the windows to the middle of the apartment. Standing in the middle of the room I feel this solid building tremble, not shake, but tremble as if taken in hand by its foundation. My dog is terrified, absolutely traumatized, completely withdrawn inside herself. At her best she cannot handle stormy weather. But I figure right now she is wanting an out of body experience. (It will be Thursday before she relaxes, takes water and food.) Somehow two radio stations keep operational. A tornado touches down about ten miles to the north. The eye is due west of the city by about forty miles keeping to its northerly course. The eye's eastern wall stretches for sixty miles, putting the city well within. My sense of time has become hyper-sensitive. It is as if I am pushing forward the hands on the clock. Sometime between 3:30 and 4 I can feel the slightest easing in sustained wind force. The rain is too hard to open the windows but I can crack open the door.

4 PM. I step outside. Through the debris of limbs and leaves, down the steps, into the parking lot where neighbors are starting to gather. Everyone is looking a little dazed and looking around. Downed power lines, street is impassable with tree litter, a big water oak maybe ninety years old across an adjacent parking lot. But no apparent building-damage in the immediate vicinity. Winds are still gusting and will continue to gust hard for the next twenty hours or so. Bands of rain will also continue to roll through for another day. But fortunately Gustav has not done that bad thing hurricanes can do. It has not stalled. It is also a relatively fast moving storm, travelling at about 15 MPH. (Shreveport in northern LA will not be so lucky. By the time Gustav arrives there it will down grade, but it will also stall, causing much flooding.)

Sometime between 4 and 4:30 I call my brother, let him know the blow is over. Again he says he will pass the word on to our sisters.

I figure there is a certain anatomy to every major disaster, natural or mad made. Be it storm, war, or plague, there is the inhuman part. Uncontrollable, awe-full, in which there is a certain elemental suspension. All human conceits and all human passions are stripped clean to the bone. The body feels damn near flayed of its flesh. Viewed existentially I think this is why the emotional and mental recovery is so hard and slow, measured incrementally, in baby steps. Put metaphorically, a person is brought face to face with God, however God or Goddess or Spirit is defined, even for someone who has no faith. And behind all the masks people place over that face there is discovered a terrible truth. That that face is inhuman, terrible and terrifying, without figurative description, and that it turns the onlooker inside out, fully exposed.

Then there is the human part, the aftermath. A couple of weeks ago a friend suggested that, in some ways, the aftermath, the human part, is the hardest part. I think he is right. And I think it has to do with the struggle, and struggle it is, to regain some interior sense of normalcy. Anyone who has lost a loved one to death also knows the struggle. On an essential level the struggle is self-centered. It is the struggle to regain normalcy, to right one's personal world on its axis again. The only difference is that, in the aftermath of disaster, there are no near-by reminders of what normalcy is supposed to look like; nothing in one's environment to serve as a signal of what normalcy is supposed to be.

I kept notes of observations for seven days after Gustav Monday. To be continued.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Sep/28/2008, 11:54 am
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ChrisD1 Profile
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Re: Hurricane Gustav I


Tere,

This a powerful and compelling read. I look forward to following posts.

I like the idea of a forum for "field notes." I'm thinking field-notes can be flexibly defined as descriptions and meditations on events in the writers' field of experience (?)

I'm glad the storm has passed and you're safe.

Chris
Sep/28/2008, 9:59 am Link to this post Send Email to ChrisD1   Send PM to ChrisD1
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Hurricane Gustav I


Thanks, Chrisfriend, for reading. I actually wrote part 2 last night, but then deleted it, realizing I would need to recast the telling.

And yes ma'am. Your flexible definition works just fine, pretty much what I had in mind. Descriptions of a field of experience and reflections and meditations drawn out of the same. The field could involve gardening, the zen of chopping wood, a classroom teacher's experience of students, all the way to notes from the road, from the wilderness, from another country. It all amounts to natural history, in my view. And natural historians rely heavily on their field notes.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Sep/28/2008, 3:18 pm
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dmehl808 Profile
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Re: Hurricane Gustav I


Everytime we enter hurricane season, I think about you and Ed Wickliffe--he's over in Tampa...

This was fascinating, and well written. I was listening to NPR feature interviews with folks at a bar who congregated and others who refused (always refuse no doubt) to leave New Orleans during a storm. These folks were downplaying the force of the storm, almost as if they were disappointed--some obviously relieved. I've been caught in blizzards and been through earthquakes but never anything as truly devastating as this. reading your journal gives us a very detailed and specific look at what it's like.

I especially found this to be poignant and revealing--no one on the radio interviews was talking like this but you know under the mask of bravado they must have been grappling with it:

 
quote:

"I figure there is a certain anatomy to every major disaster, natural or mad made. Be it storm, war, or plague, there is the inhuman part. Uncontrollable, awe-full, in which there is a certain elemental suspension. All human conceits and all human passions are stripped clean to the bone. The body feels damn near flayed of its flesh. Viewed existentially I think this is why the emotional and mental recovery is so hard and slow, measured incrementally, in baby steps. Put metaphorically, a person is brought face to face with God, however God or Goddess or Spirit is defined, even for someone who has no faith. And behind all the masks people place over that face there is discovered a terrible truth. That that face is inhuman, terrible and terrifying, without figurative description, and that it turns the onlooker inside out, fully exposed."

Nov/23/2008, 11:10 am Link to this post Send Email to dmehl808   Send PM to dmehl808
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Hurricane Gustav I


Thanks, Dave. I too think the passage you quote is rock bottom. Maybe even what most of us in self-defence spend so much effort in avoidance over.

Musing here. I can only think of one writer who devoted his career to unmasking this inhuman thing. Antonin Artaud. It is what his Theater of Cruelty is all about. It is why his writings tended towards the style the old Alchemists used, the hermeneutical, interpretive style. Hell, it is what his whole life was about. And he paid for the trespass dearly. Madness overtook him.

Tere
Nov/23/2008, 1:39 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Dragon59 Profile
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Re: Hurricane Gustav I


I was thinking about Studs Terkel, about masterful he was at getting people to reveal themselves, to tell their stories to him, including stories of events like this one. Maybe Studs was the anti-Artaud, in that his method got at the roots, too, but didn't drive him made.

Just a thought. Maybe I need to get out more.

---
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