Monday, September 08, 2008

After Gustav

We spent the worst part of the storm in my wife's office, which is built like a bomb shelter and might be one, for all I know. It's old enough. We could hear nothing from the inside, despite hours of wind and a gust nearing 100 mph recorded a couple hundred yards from our location.

Through an upstairs window we watched horizontal sheets of rain and large sections of live oak and street signs and garbage cans rolling down the street below. We wondered what would become of the house.

Our neighborhood, when we first saw it, seemed pulsed in a blender. Minced foliage made a seamless green drift that blurred the borders between homes and the line between lawn and street.

In nearly every yard, huge oaks lay on their sides in beds of shredded leaves if not on a porch or rooftop. The once-familiar treeline was upended, reversed. It was a disorienting drive and entirely possible to miss turns I've made a thousand times. We could negotiate the clogged streets only because trees along the boulevard had already been trimmed; neighbors must have darted out into the storm to cut them back.

A week has passed. Schools and offices have been closed. Electricity is still out to half of Baton Rouge and will remain so, according to the power company, for three more weeks in even central parts of the city. We've had our lights since last Thursday and now face a bit of survivors' guilt when speaking to less lucky colleagues at work.

Peculiar sent a post by Rod Dreher (the Crunchy Con), who hails from a burg just north of here. Sounds like they're in the same boat.

Because our home was basically untouched, I've spent the last few days helping neighbors. The upsurge in neighborliness is something many will notice and appreciate after a general calamity. But it may be noteworthy that my aid has not not been random.

I skipped homes and people in need (there are many, even in my neighborhood) in favor of those I know and like best. I helped clear limbs, patch roofs and saw up trees with members of six families we share meals with and whose kids play with mine. I also offered help to my immediate neighbors, left and right, although our families are not especially close.

So I was reminded this week of our evident priorities in times of limited resource and great need. We take care of others according to our blood ties, warmest relations and immediate proximity. It is not a fair system. It is not a universal coverage.

But consider: We are a neighborhood of some five hundred families. Our family lent real aid to six or eight others within walking or biking distance, and we received it in kind (and otherwise) from the same few. If every family gave and received assistance on a similar scale, there would be a surplus of available aid and a fast return to something like normalcy in the neighborhood. In fact, we have that now.

The amount of work we've accomplished in the past week has been incredible. You can measure it in piles of stacked debris and in the swept asphalt and patched homes and trimmed shrubs along our streets.

UPDATE: Annie sends this NYT story. A little much, I think. We're tougher than that. But it is nice someone wrote about Baton Rouge for once and not New Orleans, "the resented city downriver."


Teddy Moritz said...

Sure hope all comes together soon for your home and neighborhood. Must be a challenge to deal with no power and all the debris. Dog and hawk OK?


Matt Mullenix said...

Thanks Teddy,

Hawk and dog ok and back hunting in the field.

We have the outskirts of Ike blowing past us now but I don't think we'll have more than a few big gusts to worry about this time.