life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Thursday, September 01, 2005

one helluva mess

'Notes on the Flood
Elba, Alabama March 1991

There was a handmade sign at the bridge as you cross over into downtown after the flood that poured 16 feet of water into the historic area, inundating the courthouse and shoving trucks & conversion vans from a car lot adjacent to the levee into buildings like so many wadded up pieces of paper. In boldly painted letters, it read:


But overheard at the grocery store in nearby Enterprise:

"These Elba people don't seem to understand that the river is God and that God is the River, and that erosion and wind and rain are all part of nature; as such are things to be applauded, even worshipped. It is wonderful that we cannot control them, that they do not respect our petty political boundaries and that they remind us of what tiny specks we are in the eye of the Creator. It is a wonder that He allows us to go on at all, insipid and disrespectful and illusory as we are. As if we had any right to our own opinions about things."

The little town of Elba, Alabama built in the crook of a bend in the Choctawhatchee River behind enormous levees, was voluntarily moved to higher ground later that decade, after another devastating flood. They got the message. There are some places on this earth that just weren't meant to be inhabited by humans. They are where you can become part of the food chain. Why in God's name we insist on filling in wetlands and building houses & roads on them is a mystery to me. It isn't like the wetlands will go away. It's like trying to hold back a sneeze --you might be able to do it for a little while, but eventually it's going to come out, and it seems what we try to suppress comes out more violently than if we'd just let it happen in the first place. '
--from the 1991 journal of someone living & working there at the time

Overheard below is something overheard recently, and I'm going to try to pass it along to you as it was given to me, and you'll have to pardon the language but to try to write it without the patois takes something away from it. It isn't funny, but weeping and wailing and ignoring the root of this problem isn't going to help. We need to LEARN from this, people:

first speaker:
"well. i be tryin' to keep up wif de hurricane victims, but it's all most distressin'. 2 states is unda watta and de rest o' de country's bein' affected, too. kin you 'magine havin' to walk aroun' grubby and hot and wet fer days at de time? and all dose po babbies what needs medical 'tention. shoo. seem to me dey ort to be able to figger out some way o'd dispersin' these damn things 'for dey reach shore."

the response:
"now u be thinkin' lak an engineer. an' dat whut got 'em in dis mess.

de fax is dis: iffn dey dind develop 1500 SQUARE MILES OF WETLANDS along de gulf coast in de last 20 years de water woulda BEEN DISPERSED. DAT WHAT WETLANDS IS FO'. donchano. God KNOW WHAT HE BE DOIN' WHEN HE MADE LOUISIAN' & MISSISSIPPI!! They wuz de nation's kidneys at one pernt. Dat what I go to school fer & learn all about how de coastal ecosystems works. How de soil take up so much water & cleans it. How de plants works to hold de water & slow down de tides. How de lettle animals functions as part o' all dat, including little oysters & mussels & clams, what won't grow nowhere else but in dem tidal wetlands.

but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Dam greedy bastards come down & piss all over ever'boddy. Dey see wetlands fer miles & miles & not a house in sight & dey say, "DAM! Lookit all dat bare land! We kin make a passel o' money!!!" So dey commences to fill in de wetlands & build roads & houses & make all kinds o' mess. An' when de storm surge come, it got no place to go but de low places. An' like somebody flush de toilet, Louisiana & Mississippi at de bottom o' de tank when de storm surge go up & den it gotta flow back downriver to de sea. An' de dam moneymakers o' course dey gits de hell outa dere & go back to New Jersey & sits in de bars an' watches de storm on TV an' dey say, "Oh, hoo! Dat wuz one helluva storm! Pour me anudder gin & tonic, Mo! I hadda a helluva time gettin' to de airport!" And who is lef' down dere but de po' people what ain't made all kindsa money and dey ain' got no way out.

God DAMN them Yankees!!"

OK. Before I get rained all over, I need to perhaps explain one local's definition of Yankees. They would be those assholes who bring their money and their eager ideals to the South and just like colonials, think to capitalize on any investment they make without thought or prayer for any effect on the locals. Yankees can exist in just about any state or any country, actually. And they don't even have to be from "up Nawth," altho' a preponderance of them are. And thanks to them, we have high water, high taxes, and increasing poverty in the South. OK, I'll stop now. After all, it wouldn't be ladylike to say any more on the subject, like speaking of someone's bad manners beyond the mention of them. And I do feel the need to put my Lady mask back on for the moment. I'll need it when I go out in a little while to do my part. I know you good people have already driven deep into your pockets and given lots of money to the Red Cross or other missions for good. At least I hope so. Especially if you are a carpetbagging piece of the problem who ever made a dime off of any land transaction in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Land is not a commodity. It is our skin.


Bill said...

Never mind that the sentiment of this message is dead on, the writing is wonderful. My deepest compliments, Susan.

Rachael said...

ditto what Bill said... It's a mess there. I said to my dad just the other day as we were watching the footage on CNN that this kind of thing didn't used to happen, not this bad at least. He said that there hasn't been a storm this bad on record though, so that's why it hasn't happened before. But the record hasn't been around all that long and I figure it has to be more than that 'cause New Orleans has been around for several hundred years now and I just can't believe that there hasn't been a hurricane this strong to hit New Orleans or near to it in all that time. And I know that if flooding like this had happened before in that area, *someone* would have written something about it somewhere. So like you say, Susan, it's got to be something that has changed due to "development."