Monday, August 29, 2016

Eleven

The little party was well underway that Saturday night. My now ex invited some of her dog show friends to a rare get-together at our house. I grilled burgers, chicken and veggies and opened several bottles of wine and attempted to keep up with the conversations, but my mind was twelve hundred miles away and my eyes were on the Weather Channel.

A dominant childhood memory growing up in New Orleans was a TV meteorologist named Nash Roberts. He was famous for accurate hurricane forecasts and for years he drew possible storm tracks and informed viewers of their potential impact. One particular track, he said, would flood the entire city. It had never happened.

At one point during the party I noticed that the updated Weather Channel storm track prediction for a rapidly intensifying Hurricane Katrina showed that exact path. The rest of the party is a blur because I immediately called my sister to learn where and when she was evacuating. There was no question that she had already followed our family's traditional hurricane planning; my question was about timing. She said she planned to go to her friend's house 50 miles north of the city on Sunday. I urged her to leave immediately, Saturday night, and to avoid getting caught up in the inevitable traffic jams. She wasn't sure how to find her friend's place after dark. Fortunately they hadn't left yet and my sister was able to follow them there that night.

Over the next twelve hours Katrina grew to a category five storm, the strongest rating, with winds of 175 miles per hour.  That eerie line on the forecast map hadn't changed in hours, which meant the weather people were confident with their predictions. The rest is history. The mayor issued a mandatory evacuation order Sunday morning. That is the only smart thing that man did; another story for another time. Sunday evening the National Hurricane Center described Katrina as a "potentially catastrophic" hurricane. The storm did veer a little and weakened a bit before making landfall just east of the eastern edge of New Orleans on Monday morning. But the storm surge and breaks in the poorly maintained levees resulted in flooding that eventually had 80% of the city under water. Nash Roberts was right and my sister was smart to follow her brother's advice.

Aerial view: before & after
It's hard for me to believe this all happened eleven years ago this week. The storm was gone in a day but that week was just the beginning of life-changing months and years for Louisiana and Mississippi residents and their far-flung family members in other states, including me. It took days to finally get in touch with my sister and another day to learn our Mother died after a poorly-managed nursing home evacuation. My sister moved in with me in Maryland for six weeks. We had no idea about the fate of her house for the first two of those weeks, except we knew that her neighborhood was flooded. A satellite photo verified the flooding but not how much and not the extant of the damage to the house or contents. I helped her return to the area six weeks later, helped her throw away the 80% of her belongings that were unsalvageable and helped her plan Mom's funeral.

Ruined belonging awaiting removal
It took two years of financial and emotional generosity, volunteer help, government programs and a lot of tenacity for her to rehab the house and move back in.

The city is recovering, the levees and drainage systems are better and disaster preparation planning is improved, but there are still vacant lots, minimized services, businesses that never reopened and a population more than 90,000 smaller than it was eleven years ago.

For some people Katrina is just an hour-long Weather Channel special during 'hurricane week'. For me and my family, it is a life-altering, never-to-be-forgotten event that we acknowledge this week every year.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

You Don’t Look A Day Over 99

Layers of subdued blues, purples, pinks, yellows and magenta appeared more like a soft rainbow of calm, rolling ocean waves than the sunset sky I was photographing at the rim of the Grand Canyon that September evening in 2000.  That moment was one of many jaw-dropping experiences during one of my life's most memorable vacations.  Purple mountains majesty indeed. 

In my usual overthinking manner, I prepared for the trip in great detail. I was especially proud of my photography research. I had the perfect lenses, film and tripod. I studied my favorite nature photographers John Shaw and David Muench with an eye toward understanding how they captured their awe-inspiring images and was ready to shoot the best sunset and sunrise photos of my life. I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming emotional reaction I had the first time I reached the edge of the North Rim. 

Tears. Oh my God. Speechless.  

That reaction was repeated multiple times that week, at each of several sunsets, sunrises and moon rises, at the North Rim, South Rim, Arches National Park, Canyon Lands and Monument Valley.  

Those were somewhat better days in the marriage that eventually crumbled. We shared an interest in nature photography and maybe that's why we only had one argument that week, a record low for us. I'd be happy to share some of my spectacular photographs here, but at present, she still has all the slides. She isn't holding them hostage, but she is taking her damn sweet time getting them scanned. 

My advanced preparation was worth it because those photographs did turn out to be the best I've ever taken. With today's digital photography you would know instantly if your shots are good. With film, I didn't know know till days after my vacation if any of the 300 pictures I took were any good. 

They were. Many were good, some were even great. 

Photographs and written descriptions, however, pale in comparison to actually seeing the majesty, artistry and awesomeness of those locations. 

The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Presidents and Congressmen far wiser than the current crop saw the wisdom of preserving large expanses of land as well as significant historic sites in our great country so that generations of citizens could enjoy or study nature and history and benefit emotionally and physically from the experience. Today's political leaders continue to cut or minimize funding for the upkeep of 410 parks, monuments and historic sites on 85 million acres managed by NPS. Do we really want to let those places crumble or disappear?  

One piece of startling reality in all of this is that the average age of National Park visitors is over 60. Boomers. Our kids and grandkids are so caught up in virtual reality that they are losing the interest or desire to experience real reality. We can't let that happen, in my opinion. 

The Grand Canyon in person fills your eyes, mind and heart a thousand times more intensely than pictures on an iPhone or even on a 65-inch flat screen tv. 

Meanwhile, I want to repeat some parts of that vacation, only this time sharing it with a 'certain someone' who appreciates the potential emotional experience of this kind of adventure. And I want to document it with my digital camera gear. 

Happy 100, National Park Service. May you have a hundred more. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friends and Dinner

We had our first dinner party with neighborhood friends last weekend and it was a success. Good food, good wine, good conversation.

We talked about music, the neighborhood, recipes, how each couple met. One guest read poems from a Robert Frost anthology he spotted on my bookshelf.  And we managed to mostly avoid politics.

Guest were from or had lived in New York, Colorado, Oklahoma, the Philippines and India. We all live in the same neighborhood now and know each other as regulars at a local wine bar.

After living in this neighborhood for almost four years I am starting to feel
connected and that was one of my goals.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Accepting It Is the Hard Part

MS is a crazy disease, I have it and I hate it. There is no known cause and nothing I could have done at any time in my life to prevent it or predict it. At least that's the current thinking. I just have to accept it.

That's the hard part. I am usually a 'half full' optimist, not a 'half empty' pessimist. The emptier my life's hour glass gets the fuller my life gets. It is an intentional life and attitude choice that I preach to others and act on myself. Multiple Sclerosis, however, conspires against me on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. It's a challenge I am barely prepared for.

While doing much-belated spring cleaning last week, I discovered some magazine articles I clipped about balance issues ... from 1999. That, combined with other memories and observations from friends, lead me to believe I've had some form of MS for a long time, and not just the five years since my first more obvious symptoms of bad balance and odd numbness and the fifteen months since my official diagnosis.

My symptoms are annoying but mild compared to many people living with MS. I walk with a limp and always use a handrail on stairs. I have a bit of 'foot drag' and trip a couple of times a week but fortunately I've only fallen once. The day I'm writing this is a sunny Sunday but I'm writing this in my cool apartment alone instead of socializing at the pool because my heat sensitivity is high this afternoon, another common symptom.

A couple of years ago I had a personal fitness trainer and I was in great shape but I am no longer able to keep up with that level of exercise. My 'bucket list' used to include hiking the Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon. Many 60-somethings do that every year but I won't be one of them because my balance issue makes it too risky to hike even a few hundred feet of a rocky, narrow path like that much less ten miles of one.

I accept all of this but I don't like it.

However, I refuse to let this pesky disease stop me from living the best life I can live. I take the recommended medication and vitamins, follow my doctor's dietary suggestions and daily exercise regimen. I do what I can to reduce stress (another symptom trigger) and I don't sit around whining and avoiding life. Except maybe this afternoon.

Ok, time to get off my butt, post this and do something.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Impatient with Patience

 
After nearly four years of living on my own and spending thousands of dollars in attorney fees, I am still not divorced and the issues are still not settled. I am a patient man but not this patient.

A year after being on my own again I met the most incredible woman. She is now the love of my life. We laugh, cry, love, dance, talk, cook, share life.  We will be together the rest of our lives.  I am not delusional about her; everyone who knows us agrees that we are meant to be.  Yet because things are still not officially settled, I am still not supposed to be public about it. Even saying this here, in a blog that is relatively anonymous but still public, is a risk.

And that sucks. How dare somebody tell me how to live or who to love. My patience is running out.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

We're Just Friends. No, Really

I'm a healthy, reasonably fit, ok looking, heterosexual man. Most of my close friends are women. Most of them have never been my lovers. Is that really so unusual?  Can men and women be close friends without having sex?

One of my closest friends lives several hundred miles away and visited me this week. I introduced her to several local peeps at my neighborhood hangout and a common question was 'where did you meet?'  The answer raised eyebrows every time. We met online. No, not on a dating site but through this blog and her blog.

Oh sure, they said or implied.  A 'blog'. Wink wink.

And you visit each other and just hang out? Wine, music, photography, laughter and that's all? No, uhh, you know?

No. Really.

You mean there's never been any attraction?  I didn't say that. But we decided early on that this would be a platonic friendship. We don't have sex, we don't make out, we don't hold hands walking down the street. We've never done any of that. We do have a 'say anything' friendship; we've helped each other through various difficult times in the seven years we've known each other and we are both in great emotional places in our lives right now, in large part because of the mutual support of our friendship.

Everyone should be so lucky to have friendships like ours. Just friends. Really. Meant to be.