Sunday, May 28, 2006

Transect of the Tchoupitoulas

Farewell, Fargo. At about 8 am central daylight time, the sailing vessel Tchoupitoulas (a mere boat, really, at 18' 16" on the waterline) departed for its southbound transect of the United States., a great circle distance of 1046 and one-half nautical miles from latitude 48.89 to 30.79 N, but a journey of just over 1,500 miles journeying in tow behind my Saturn Vue.

This is my second journey down the path marked by by Interstates 29, 70 and 55, a passage that covers North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Somewhere in Missouri (an awfully big state, if you have to drive down half it's western boarder, drive across, and finish your journey down the eastern edge), I saw a big section of blowndown trees, likely the victim of a nasty thunderstorm sometime past. It reminded me that on my journey to the land ruled by Huracan, I was traversing and leaving a place ruled just as much by the convective powers of weather, where Huracan's brothers derecho and tornado and hail routinely wreak their havoc on the land.

No where, I was reminded, is entirely safe at the end of the day.

I learned my first summer in thMidwestst of the power of weather everywhere. A derecho unleashed hurricane force winds, uprooting trees, tearing away roofs and leaving us without power for most of a week. Another vicious squall line passed through the next night, sending everyone scrambling back to the basement and toppling more limbs, but the second storm was short of a derecho. It was eerie as we stood around our yards drinking warm beer and marveling at thoppressiveve stillness on the third night, thinking please God don't let it happen again.

If we had stayed in Fargo it would soon be summer, the season when the tornado sirens often sound as greaMidwesterner thunderstorms sweep through. It's a big and empty state, and the city has escaped a truly monstrous tornado since the great storm of '57, but the sounding of the sirens is a routine. I went outside one evening amid the electro-mechanical shrieking and looked at the sky, and could clearly see the clouds swirling almost directly over my head, but still up at cloud level.

Winter seems less dangerous, until I remind myself of the days when blizzard conditions prevail, schools are closed and the police advise no travel. Everyone, of course, is expected to report to work. Snow or cold may not seem as dangerous as wind, until you consider this: people have died on the edge of Fargo because they stalled in a blizzard, and tried to walk a few blocks to safety.

All along my transect were reminders of the potential for catastrophe. I had thought to stop on my transect in New Madrid, just a few minutes off the road, but elected instead to press on. I had hope to find some sign, perhaps as simple as a tee shirt, to remind myself of the perils that lurk here in the heartland. How will Memphis fare when the next big one comes? Do they even have an earthquake code there?

I crossed flood control structures, including a spillway somewhere between St. Louis and Memphis, and thought: when the next 1927 comes, how will levees built fifty years earlier stand up? Did the Corps of Engineers only short change New Orleans, or will it be someone else's turn next?

There were other insecurities living in Fargo. I had a good job in there. In fact, I'm bringing that same job with me as a telecommuter. Still, I always knew I would never find a comparable job in Fargo, should another merger swallow the bank and I be found redundantnt. My wife also had problems finding suitable professional work, in spite of a stellar education and job record. It was simply too small, too insular, it's old boy network impenetrable to us. It was just a matter of time before one of us would force a move, for job reasons. When it finally came, the first job offered was in New Orleans. I felt we were being called home.

It's a big country, my slow drive with the Tchoupitoulas in tow reminds me. It's almost been a blue highway moment, forced to travel at 60 mph or less, no longer on the watch for troopers or intent on keeping the car on the road at the more typical 85 mph most rural American drive. Passing Omaha and Kansas City and St. Louis and Memphis remind me that I could choose cities with vibrant economies, low crime rates (not counting East St. Louis), winter's I'd learned to live with and no fear of hurricanes.

Passing that blown-down section of trees and New Madrid and that spillway, watching the the convective clouds pile up in the 90 degree swelter that settled over thMidwestst during the trip, all combined to remind me that the risk I take is one of degree, a calculable risk we choose to take. It has been almost a generation since Betsy and Camille, and a generation before that since the last great New Orleans storm. And no where is truly safe. I might as well be home.

We're glad we got ya back, bra!!!!

Come on in. The water's fine.
I'm right behind ya, bra.

See you in July.

We're uptown on the second floor, so next storm put the family in your pirogue and come on over.
Nicely written piece. I wish you and your family a safe trip. I don't think you will regret your return home. I hope we will meet and you can take us all on a blogger's boatride.
"Where we love is home.
Home that our feet may leave,
But not our hearts."
---Oliver Wendell Holmes

Now your feet will be joining your heart! Yay!
Good for you. You should be proud to be brave enough to make a change. I don't think that's easy for any of us. Are you there yet? :D
Have a safe ride...the last half, at least (I-55) is more than a little familiar to me: for a number of years I called Wisconsin my home, and your recollections of summer thunder and winter blizzards reminds me of why I came back to The Gret Stet myself.
Holy crap, that was you! How did you like that Days Inn in Osceola last Saturday?;)

Also, welcome back home.
You know, I should have worked Osceola into that post (since its smack in the nothernmost end of the Delta, flat as a pancake and was likely well under water in '27).

But, yeah, that was me taking up all the parking room at the back of the lot.
And, Sabine, what were you doing in Osceola (except, like me, driving south)?
My ol' man has kinfolks in Iowa, so we were returning from a visit up there. We took our sweet time on the trip in order to hit as many neat little river towns as we could (McGregor/Marquette, Dubuque, Hannibal, St. Genevieve/St. Mary). Osceola was near enough to Memphis that it was a short easy drive to visit Graceland the next day and have plenty of time to get back home to NOLA by the evening, but far enough away to avoid the Memorial Day weekend madness on Elvis Presley Blvd. in town.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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