Friday, September 01, 2006


Driving home the other day I spotted a sunflower.

A sunflower blooms in New Orleans

A sunflower with its golden halo standing high above the weeds and uncultured stalks of green. These used to be picture-perfect manicured lawns and gardens. These lawns were carefully planned and maintained almost as another member of the family. Only pre-approved flowers appeared here, and only in designated places, all subject to the review of the local gardener.

But the gardeners are gone. The subjective rules are gone. The imposed order has been replaced by random chaos.

This is called “Nature.”

And Nature came to New Orleans big time last year.

The well-defined order of waterways and urban development became smeared in the random chaos of Nature. The unplanned wildness took hold, spreading in increasing entropy in the more severely damaged parts of the city.

Some of us felt like we were under attack. We felt Nature was battling us for the land, and the siege mentality took hold in decimated neighborhoods from the 17th Street Canal to Michoud, and from Lake Pontchartrain to the Lower Ninth Ward.

But this is no war, and Nature is not our opponent. We live with Nature, and we live in Nature. Just as a bird collects bits of twigs and string to weave a nest, we also shape the gifts of the Earth into homes and schools and businesses for our use.

Just as that sunflower rises above the anarchy of a weed-choked land, so we too build our city to rise out of the mess of shattered buildings and littered streets. Out of the arbitrary arrangements of Nature, we build and restore and push the entropy back a little more each day.

Rising sunflower in New Orleans

Who knows, in a thousand years the random chaos might totally overrun this land, and all traces of this great city may be washed away under streaming water or ocean waves. Humans might be part of Nature, but we are excruciatingly temporal. Nature is timeless.

But for now there is a city on this bend of the Mississippi River, a city of trade and travel, of music and mirth, of food and family. For now, we live, love and prosper in this place, this water-shaped land that has been a home to someone at least since 1718.

We know Hurricane Katrina was not the first storm to pass this way. Many people before us survived the wind and water and rose again. That’s a thought that gives me strength, that bolsters my resolve to stay and build again.

Although we’re a bit beaten up now, we look forward to the day we will all stand tall and smiling in the sun.


DrumsNWhistles said...

You always inspire. I look forward to your posts because you have a knack for turning abject disaster into object lessons for hope.

And I love sunflowers. :)

Marco said...

Let it shine!

Frolic said...

Sunflowers also absorb lead from the soil.

redheadgirl said...

Oh, you make me cry. I hope the day when you stand and smile in the sun comes soon. I think of you all often. God bless you.

Adrastos said...

Another fine post, Tim. The way sunflowers have popped up in the flooded areas is amazing. They're all over Gert Town, Pigeon Town and Hollygrove. On Earhardt Highway near the Parish line someone has tamed them and it looks like a pre-planned neutral ground. It's truly a sign of nature's resiliency.

Angelle said...

Actually, Adrastos, I've admired sunflowers on the Earhardt neutral ground for years. It lifts my spirits to see them again.

Tor said...

Well done! It's wonderful that you're able to keep a long-term perspective on this -- one that is likely longer than humanity's future on this orb.

Mark said...

The sunflowers always make me think of my last residence in North Dakota, where lost seed from the commercial harvest littered the sides of the highway with rows and rows of feral sunflowers.

Sophmom said...

Another beautiful post, Tim.

Laurie said...

Beautiful post...again.