Waiting to see what Hurricane Isaac will do has become a slightly surreal experience. I moved to New Orleans a little under two years ago, and so far, hurricanes haven’t been something that I’ve had to deal with.
It’s been funny; the subject of initiations and their importance has been a topic of conversation for the last several months around here (I’ve been working towards mine), and it feels like this is my final initiation into New Orleans life. If surviving the summer heat and Mardi Gras are the outer court degrees, a hurricane is actual initiation.
The fact that I should have gone to the store yesterday has been pretty much my main thought for the afternoon. I’ve been sick all week and I spent yesterday in bed. I had a horrible craving for brownies, but couldn’t convince myself that the reward would be worth actually crawling out into the world.
Going to the grocery store in New Orleans is always a challenge. Our grocery stores are few and far between (thanks in part to Katrina). For someone who, up until this job, has always worked second shift and has always gone to the grocery store at about 2 a.m., the overcrowded grocery stores of New Orleans are, on their lightest day, quite overwhelming. I’ve found that the best time to do my grocery shopping is during a Saints game. The Saints are our religion down here. Sure, we’re a Catholic city and we have a large number of Voodoo practitioners, but when it really comes down to it, we all know who we REALLY worship. You could probably rob banks while the Saints play and people would just shrug and go back to the game. Drew Brees would stand in for the God, and New Orleans herself, the Goddess.
I was thinking that I would wake up today and have a text from my significant other telling me that he was finally on his way home. Last night was his final gig of a three-month long tour, and his plan was to start driving from Northern PA to get home to me sometime late tomorrow. This is the weekend that we’ve both looked forward to for many months. I’ve been told that we’re a little disgusting in our conversations with each other over the phone (sorry, Jason Mankey!), but when you’re separated from your other half for three months, well…it gets rough.
But no. Instead I woke up to several panicked texts from family members and my S.O. telling me that overnight the hurricane had shifted its way directly towards us.
Contrary to what the rest of the country seems to be thinking, we aren’t panicking. Hurricanes are a fact of life down here. Yes, there were more people at the grocery store, but not by hugely significant amounts. Mostly people were stocking up on water, just in case. Actually, most of my fellow New Orleanians seemed to be stocking up on booze. It seems that in true New Orleans character, the city plans to drink the hurricane away. I also noticed a lot of people taking a second or two to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. They seemed to have this feeling that, well…we aren’t going to be seeing this for a while, might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
The rest of the city seems to be going about its daily business in a slow, unhurried, way.
I’m told that the biggest decision is whether to stay or to leave. That once that decision is made, the rest is pretty easy. It’s just a matter of coming to that decision.
No one is evacuated until the storm becomes a Category 3. Right now they’re projecting Isaac at a 1 or a 2. I asked a friend of mine, who has lived here for years, if I should be a bit more pessimistic about the storm. Her reply was a pretty practical no…just be prepared, buy water and canned goods and try to get your house as ready as possible. Her suggestion was to leave my doors open during the storm to equalize the pressure and possibly save our windows and some of our roof.
It’s one of those situations that you know things could get pretty bad, but what’s the point of worrying about it? My life is here, my things are here, where else would I go? Sure my parents are still in Ohio, but everything else (except my S.O.) are here.
I’ve been trying to think what I would take with me if I were to leave. Important papers are an obvious must, probably my craft tools, my Significant Other’s art and instruments, and the cat…that’s probably it. Clothing maybe, some personal items…but at what point are you saying that you’re leaving just for now and coming back or that you’re leaving expecting nothing to come home too?
During my first months in New Orleans, I went to a panel put on by our local Pagan meet-up group. The panel presented several different local practitioners from the area discussing who they are and what they do. One of them was a Mexican Weather Witch. I was fascinated by her discussion of Lake Pontchartrain and how a good deal of her practice focused on appeasing the Spirit of the Lake, Lady Pontchartrain. Apparently, many of the local natives in the past had also focused on Lake Pontchartrain. If Pontchartrain is appeased and happy, hurricanes don’t happen.
New Orleans is a city of water. We are surrounded by it on all sides. Lake Pontchartrain in the North; the Mississippi all around us. The swamp is pretty much ubiquitous, and as the gulf is only about 60 or so miles further South. New Orleans itself is pretty much it’s own little island. When I visited here for the first time, I was surprised at how much the city wasn’t completely engulfed by the grief and tragedy of Katrina. While there are definitely still scars everywhere, and there is still much grief, I expected a more tangible display of the spiritual grief than I saw. After thinking about it for a while, I concluded that the flood that had killed so many, had also probably washed away the lingering effects in a spiritual way as well. Water is deadly, but it also cleanses away impurities. The city had gone through a trial by water and maybe the Gods were kind enough to flood some of the grief away with it so that healing could occur.
That still leaves things open for Isaac. Katrina is in our past and we’ve rebuilt. But just because we’ve rebuilt from the last time, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen again. And I think that this is imminent in all of our minds. Isaac has been acting the same way that Katrina did, and people are worried that it will be worse than Gustav, which happened several years ago.
So yeah, we’re scared. But not in the way it seems that everyone expects us to be. I keep wondering what I can do spiritually to prepare myself for getting through the storm. And all I can really come up with, is to just keep plugging along in my daily practices. I know my Gods are with me, and whatever is meant to be, is meant to be. So what’s the point in worrying about it? As my French ancestors probably would have said, “C’est la vie…”
My house is as ready as it’s going to be; my papers have all been gathered together, and I’ve stocked up on enough water and peanut butter to choke a horse. This will be my first hurricane, but it’s certainly not the first for the lovely Belle de Nouvelle Orleans, and as always, we will get through this one just fine.