Monday, November 5, 2007

Lower 9th Ward

We visited the Lower 9th Ward today. I expected the devastation and desolation, but not the beauty. It was gorgeous. As we all have heard, the entire ward is below sea level, bounded by a canal on two sides and the Mississippi River on another, surrounded by ineffective levees, on damp and unstable ground, and has (not surprisingly) been frequently flooded. What I had missed amid all of these facts was the obvious: left to it’s own devices, the ward is a natural flood plain, a marsh. Having been wiped fairly clean and then left alone for two years, it’s of course quickly returning to its natural state. There were gorgeous rushes and reeds, marsh grasses, flowers, shrubs, and vines. And the birds: stalking egrets, skulking osprey, tiny timid doves, swallows darting and skimming about, a miniscule stripped bird of prey that was hunting grasshoppers with the intensity of an eagle, and more. Since many of the human residents were killed or displaced, and those who we saw were quiet and dignified, there were blissfully few noises except for those of the birds. It was as if we were spending the afternoon in a park—one with a looming tragedy.

The details of the human drama that played out on this “ground” (mud, really) of course were ever-present, and made my throat tighten with grief, but this did not translate into any antipathy toward nature’s force here. What it brought to light more than anything was how weak our claim on this earth is, and how unimaginably strong the forces of nature (both large and small) are. Water toppled steel, fire melted glass and wood, ivy shunts off siding, birds unravel cloth. The real tragedy is not the hurricane, which was an unfortunately-located natural phenomenon after all, but our inability to live in a more sustainable place in the natural world.

I hope to visit the ward often again before we leave. I know I have only just begun to explore this beautiful neighborhood. It is so full of life.


carolyn said...

Amazing photos...

Reed said...

Very cool. So often, nature provides beauty where we least expect it.

We both continue to be so proud of the work you are both doing there.