The Tower….. The Ashes … The Phoenix

NOTE: Click on the pics for captions.

I camped in Waveland MS this weekend. The weekend started off pretty rough with a storm which drenched my tent. I slept in the tent until I slept in the car. But, I did sleep. And, when I got up in the morning, the ground was wet, and the fog was heavy over the bay. I had hoped to take Ashok to play in the low tide, but the amount of water that fell overnight covered the sand and left little shallow water for her to run through. I headed off in the foggy morning to Bay St. Louis for a steamy cup of Chai from the Mockingbird Cafe. It was just what I needed to wash away the night before and start the weekend over. There was a half marathon in town, and I walked the streets while a bicyclist rode up beside the finishing racers to cheer them on.

I met my cousin Amy later for brunch at the Buttercup, and then we walked downtown to shop and stop for a drink. We saw an outside bar called The Blind Tiger that looked like the perfect place to soak up the sun that had just popped out from behind the clouds. We ended up spending 3 hours or so at this lively little place, and we watched as barefoot patrons partied among all kinds of people including one with a pig on a leash. My brother Terry stopped by for awhile, and we finished up a perfect afternoon with some raw oysters and boiled shrimp. When Amy left, Terry and I walked on the beach. We descended a tiered sea wall, and I asked him if that was there before. “Before” – as everyone knows in this town – means before Katrina. He said they had a small one “before” but this one would be better, and he pointed out the new marina under construction. We walked up close to the new bridge that crosses the bay – the bridge that the half marathoners had crossed this morning. So much of this town is new…. the Phoenix … arising from the ashes.

The Tower card in the tarot deck is a symbol of complete and devastating physical destruction. I remember thinking that my second divorce was “the Tower” in my life. Everything I knew before crumbled in the destruction. I remember watching a real life tower in the break-room at Whirlpool when the twin towers fell. I went in with the rest of the call center employees to see what was happening on the TV. Right in front of my eyes, the first tower disappeared into a heap of dust. I blinked my eyes because I couldn’t fathom what had just happened. “Did it fall?” I asked whoever was standing near me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only did that tower fall, but the world as we know it changed in its wake.

Buccaneer State Park

I remember watching the newscasts from Northwest Indiana of Katrina heading toward New Orleans. Someone in my family mentioned a hurricane, and I pulled up the Weather Channel on my computer screen. I gasped when I saw it. She covered the entire gulf. She was a monster, and I knew it was not going to be good – wherever she chose to land. I heard that a police officer was in Bay St. Louis just prior to landfall, and he remarked that all of the water was gone out of the bay. These monster hurricanes slurp up water to feed their fury, and then they slam it all with full force into the land when they make landfall. Like a hammer with an unyielding punch, it smashes everything in its sight. New Orleans thought it escaped her wrath, but when the water tried to make its way back to the Gulf, it stormed back through bayous, canals and lakes…. filling them all and causing New Orleans and the surrounding area to flood. Water … that beautiful water where Ashok loves to play …. had become a deadly force that decimated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a day.

I was so happy to see that progress was happening in Bay St. Louis and to some extent in Waveland. Waveland is where Katrina made landfall, and it was a moonscape for awhile afterwards. I’d go back every now and then, and a store or two would have opened. Things were quiet but making progress. But, now it seems to have made great strides in re-building the old and even adding some new things. Everywhere there are markers of Katrina. There is an enormous wood carving from a dead tree right on Beach Blvd. I found this blog that talks about the wood carvings and what they mean. Some new buildings are built next to ruins of their former structure. I took a run on Sunday, and I was happy to see that Waveland had some new construction in a General Store. People were gathered outside, and it looked like a happening place.

I took a turn back into a neighborhood, but it was a ghost neighborhood. From the street, driveway after driveway gave hints of the homes that were there. But as I passed each one, there was no home. Every driveway for a 3 block area led to a deserted grassland. Some had stairs that led nowhere. Foundations stood holding the weight of nothing. I wondered as I passed each one who had lived there… what was their story … where are they now? Ghosts … shadows of a former life …… washed away in a single afternoon. I was happy to get back to the main drag where there is new construction. The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and there was hope in the air.

Every time I go back there, I notice something new. Something has been restored. Something has been built that was … well … maybe a better idea. For awhile, when I returned, all anyone could talk about was the mire they were in or the way it had been. Saturday things had taken a turn. Amy and I were invited back by a local at The Blind Tiger. He said they come there every Saturday. I was invited by a race official to sign up for the half marathon next year. She promised it would be bigger and better than ever. At the Buttercup, we had 3 servers who kept offering us coffee. We laughed because we’d never seen such stellar service. We really weren’t drinking much of it, but when Amy finally said she wanted a refill, the server looked so happy. I imagine there were many years that they weren’t able to invite people in or to serve them more coffee or provide a race course. I know from my own personal Tower experience, that it takes awhile after complete physical destruction for the ashes to settle. As they settle, paralysis often sets in amid the debris. Eventually, questions start to percolate… What do we do? How do we rebuild? How do we make it better? What does better look like? Then … after awhile… new energy starts to rise from amid the ruins. The Phoenix rises from the ashes. Way to go, Bay St. Louis and Waveland!! You’re doing it. I’ll be back. I can’t wait to see what you’ll have done by then.


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