Wire Cutters and A Mule

Downtown Houston

I am a native Houstonian. Born, raised and lived there the majority of my life. I have survived hurricanes with names like Carla, Allison, and Rita plus a myriad of other storms that perhaps didn’t grow large enough to meet hurricane standards and were relegated to tropical depression status. The one thing they all have in common is the potential to affect the quality of life for the small inconsequential humans who happen to exist in their pathway. I moved to Austin about 12 years ago and my up-close-and- personal encounters with angry storms have diminished. And then came Harvey.

Downtown Austin and the Boardwalk on LadyBird Lake

For four days within the confines of my safe, dry, well stocked condo, I watched the rain pound Ladybird Lake, the looming clouds scud slowly by and the persistent squalls of rain drenching Austin. I never lost power from the winds, so I watched the tragedy unfold before me through television video clips. And as I watched, I cried. I couldn’t stop crying when I witnessed the absolute destruction of a city I love and witnessed the horrible struggles of the innocent people battling to survive torrential rains and flooding. Houston has weathered many storms throughout a colorful history but never before has an American city experienced a year’s worth of rain in excess of 52 inches within a four-day period… an event that is impossible to imagine and totally beyond anyone’s expectations.

Houston will survive and rebuild stronger than before because it is a lumbering unstoppable behemoth of a city bent on surviving, but also because it must. The “Chemical Coast” that encompasses a large portion of the Texas/Louisiana coastline, provides huge amounts of petrochemicals that fuel the lives of Americans everywhere. A monster storm interrupts that well-oiled machine that churns out all sorts of products that fuel our life “needs” and it makes us aware of our dependence on many things that make our lives so comfortable. Without electricity, no air conditioning, no lights, no power for toasters, hair dryers, washing machines. Without electricity, no power to pump water through miles of pipe into our homes to deliver drinking water, water for ice making, water for bathing, flushing toilets. Without electricity, gas pumps don’t pump gas so if your car is empty, you will be walking or hitching a ride from a neighbor. Without electricity, the food inside our refrigerators and freezers spoils. And the list goes on and on. We take so many things for granted each day and one hiccup can make us aware of how quickly it can all disappear.

I know a lot of this from first-hand experience. I remember the fear my parents had when Carla swept through Houston ripping the roof shingles from our home and delivering huge quantities of water in a horizontal attack so fierce that moisture was literally driven under doors and around and through window sills. As an adult, when another “caine” burst upon Houston, our side of the street lost power for two weeks and as we struggled to deal with the heat and the humidity, all of our neighbors across the street had power. The lights from their homes each evening made our pain greater. And when Rita came knocking and a mandatory evacuation of Houston was ordered, I obediently began to travel West to escape her murderous rage. There were thousands upon thousands of us that departed Houston to evade this storm only to be bogged down in traffic, running out of gas, without food or rest on a 12-18 hour journey traversing a mere 75 miles. The evacuation was a disaster itself. People died on the roadways. It is simply impossible to evacuate millions of people from an urban area for a storm that may or may not decide to come your way. The landfall of hurricanes can be unpredictable because these giant water and wind monsters can be capricious.

Any natural disaster or, God forbid, a man-made nuclear disaster, and life as we know it can vanish in a remarkably short time. And then what? What do we absolutely NEED in order to survive? Food, water, shelter, the basics. But how do we escape the concrete jungle if the roadways are bogged down in traffic or gas is unavailable. Growing up in the Cold War era and vividly remembering the Cuban missile crisis, I recalled sage words of wisdom from my Father about how to survive a calamity. With confidence and great clarity, he said “All you need to survive is a good pair of wire cutters and a strong mule.” Something to think about in a world that is teetering on the brink of disaster on an almost daily basis.

My heart bleeds for my beloved home town. Be well Houstonians.


Other Sunsets

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Heading West

For many years I worked twelve-hour shifts at a hospital in Houston. 7A-7P makes for a very long day. If I was working back-to-back shifts, I would often spend the night with my sister in Houston, repeat the twelve-hour shift the next day before heading home on 290 West to Brenham. With daylight saving time, that hour drive home went from being a burden to a pleasurable drive into a beautiful sunset painting. As I drove the colors changed as the sun sank lower and lower. It was a constantly changing panorama of different hues of yellow, shades of oranges, washes of blues and brilliant flaming reds. Those sunsets made each of those drives seem like a drive into an art gallery.

My sister has had a small home in the country for many years. I have had the pleasure of IMG_4779enjoying many sunsets from the porch of her farmhouse. It is peaceful sitting on that porch and listening to the sounds of the night beginning to appear as the sun falls to the horizon bathing the trees and pond in its waning light. A Great Blue Heron that lives on her pond goes to roost.

The beauty of ocean sunsets always leaves me breathless. The ocean restores my body and soul and I can actually feel this giant peacefulness settle over me while sitting on the beach watching the sunset. The brown pelicans are making their final beach patrol and I know that while I sleep the ocean waves will be busy all night long bringing new treasures to the beach.

From the Balcony

When I moved to Austin ten years ago, it was very important for me to be near the water. Austin has many bodies of water and after much searching I found my perfect nest. Each night during the summer months, as the sun begins to set, the blazing sunsets can be spectacular. As dusk begins to settle firmly over the landscape, the bats begin leaving their daytime roost from under the Congress Street bridge heading east in their nightly scavenge for the millions of insects that make up their diet. It looks like a giant black ribbon that has been threaded across the sky. Thousands of people each year flock to the Congress Street Bridge at sunset to watch this phenomena. And it is spectacular.

Congress Street Bridge Bats

Another interesting sunset “happening” that I have yet to experience occurs looking out over the ocean in La Jolla California. Each night we would watch the sun drift lower and lower to the horizon in the hopes that we would witness the “green flash”. The green flash is viewable because refraction bends the light of the sun. The atmosphere acts as a weak prism, which separates light into various colors. When the sun’s disk is fully visible above the horizon, the different colors of light rays overlap to an extent where each individual color can’t be seen by the naked eye.” (http://www.livescience.com/26376-green-flash.html). Each trip I make to California finds me hopeful that one day, while viewing a magnificent sunset over the Pacific Ocean, I will witness the “green flash”. Someday.

Awaiting the “green flash”

And then there are the sunsets of our lives. I am certainly approaching or have already arrived at the sunset portion of my life. Looking back, I realize that there are many chapters that have led to my sunset years. Infancy, Childhood, Puberty, Young Adult, Middle Age, and Senior. There are certain tell-tell signs that let us know when we are approaching our sunset chapter. The one that jumped out at me a few years ago was when I lived on a farm. I was walking from the barn to the house and I stumbled, went down on one knee, but jumped back up very quickly. My daughter who was walking with me grabbed my arm and asked if I was OK. At that moment the thought that crossed my mind was “She thinks I am old” With that moment I realized that getting older happens so gradually that we are unaware of its creeping presence. So, your children beginning to worry about you, the over 55 discounts and advertisements that begin showing up in our mailboxes, the loss of muscle strength or body flexibility are just a few of the obvious sign posts that herald the arrival of the sunset portion of our lives.

I may be in those sunset years, but in my brain I am still existing in those chapters that traverse my twenties and thirties! So until I ride into my final sunset I plan on just enjoying every minute and living life to the fullest.

Happy bird searching!!! And sunset gathering!!!