Today, my sister-in-law, MaryAnn drove myself and her mother, Jean, down to one of the most devasted area along the Gulf Coast. As we cruised slowly along I-90 and through the towns of Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and Waveland, the images were beyond comprehension. Entire blocks of homes, entire neighborhoods, entire towns - GONE.
It's a rare day when I find myself speechless but today was certainly one. Frames of former mansions stood bare and naked in the midday sun. Personal items and bits of clothing hung from bare branches while other trees were bent over at the base, their spines cracked by the cruel hand of wind. The tropical heads of palm trees were decapitated clean, their headless bodies looked especially ghoulish along an otherwise beautiful beach.
What is most striking about the devastation is the lack of color. The once rolling green lawns have been killed by seawater and replaced by a blanket of beige sand; without leaves, bushes or foliage of any kind, the scene appears brown, muted and very dead.
Honestly, I am really struggling here to fully describe what I am have seen. In fact, I'm not sure I ever learned the proper meanings of certain words until today. "Severe" and "surreal" and "incomprehensible" come close but language, unless spray painted on a plywood sign along with a FEMA case number, simply can't get the job done here.
I kept hearing Jean, a survivor of the infamous Hurricane Camille in 1969, gasping from the back seat, "Gracious sakes alive!" and "Lord have mercy!" Her words seemed to fit so I just kept quiet and slowly hobbled out of the car (see previous post) now and again to snap a photo.
But even photography felt futile. I thought I would be thrilled about documenting this historical event but the enormity of it all is simply overwhelming. Viewing TV footage or seeing AP photos can only provide the tiniest clue for what to expect. Taking it in with your own set of faculties, seeing mile after mile after mile of it, your eyes almost become accustomed to seeing a couch stuck in a tree or spiral staircase corkscrewing up from the sand. It's not like a bomb went off here, it is like MANY bombs went off here. Very large ones.
Furthermore, the photos were harder to take than I'd imagined because of the obvious emotional toll this has cost. Lives that were not lost here were certainly ruined and if not ruined, than highly inconvenienced for a tremendously long time. Antebellum homes that had been in families for decades have little to show for this history save for a cement foundation or fancy front porch steps leading to nowhere. Roads that once hosted busy seaside traffic are now blocked and over run with sand. Giant oaks are twisted and mangled together, frozen in a macabre gnarled pose, where someone's living room once hosted daily episodes of a family's life.
I just kept thinking the same thing over and over: Nature has come to reclaim what was hers. We were foolish to think we could "own" a square of dirt and proclaim ourselves ruler. Evidently, she can take it back anytime she wants.