Upward, then Onward

Madonna of the Trail  ~ Council Grove, Kansas

Confused, frightened, or hungry for attention, children quickly learn the value of the single word, “Up!”  Whether shouted as a demand or whispered as a plea, the word is capable of bringing adult arms down to a child’s level: ready to enfold the needy little bundle of humanity into a blanket of security, lift it high, and ensure its safety.

The urge to flee upward seems instinctive. On my third birthday, neighbors decided I should have a pet. When the time came to share cake and ice cream, they appeared at the door with a tiny puppy in a box.  Black, glistening curls of fur and long floppy ears wriggled in pleasure as belly rubs and ear scratches were offered.Then, the puppy was turned loose. After making a few quick circles, the creature produced a cascade of wild yips and headed straight for me.

My escape became the stuff of family legend. Bounding upward, I landed first on a dining room chair and then atop my mother’s prized mahogany dining table, shoes and all. The puppy continued to tumble and jump, trying to follow, while I screamed in terror, refusing to be reassured. Eventually, the well-meaning neighbors made their way home with their new dog, while I scooted off the table and was consoled with a second helping of ice cream.

Fifty years later I met French Charlie, a sailor who’d had his own experience of moving ‘up’ in the world. Born in Marseilles and given to crossing the Atlantic at the first hint of boredom, he preferred single-handing in cast-off, creaky old boats. Everyone agreed he must have had angels as crew, since it was the only way to explain his survival.

Charlie liked to say he’d made five-and-a-half crossings of the Atlantic. The phrase ‘half-a-crossing’ always got someone’s attention, giving Charlie a chance to tell his favorite story: how he left Marseilles in a bathtub of a boat; how one failure led to another; how, ankle-deep in Atlantic waters, he radioed for help before clambering to the top of his boat to hang onto the mast and await death.

With his boat slowing sinking beneath him, his angels brought a Danish freighter to his side. “What do you need?” called the First Officer, leaning over the railing in amazement. “Up!” Charlie responded, in the wavering tones of a brave five-year-old. Taken aboard the freighter, he watched his boat sink beneath the waves. Not long after, he decided coastal cruising might be more to his liking, and he left the open ocean behind.

Again and again, the impulse to head ‘up’ has saved lives. Wakened from sleep, a vacationer in Phuket misinterprets screams outside his window as the foolishness of children until he looks, sees the ocean scouring the streets, and blindly begins running upward: scrambling from stairwell to balcony to the rooftop where he survives, witnessing the implacable rage of a tsunami.

Astonished by the sight of tropical storm Allison pouring into his home through still-closed windows and doors, a Houstonian clambers with his children from tabletop to stepstool to attic, where he watches the swirling water fill his house while he waits for the deluge to cease.

Terrified by Katrina’s second surge, thousands of people fled to their rooftops, blessing the Coast Guard, neighbors, and perfect strangers who rescued them by water and by air.

During the passage of hurricane Ike, a couple who’d chosen to stay in their home climbed from first to second to third floors until, as the storm’s eye passed overhead and the moon emerged from the clouds, they looked out to find themselves at sea. Bridges and roads, stop signs and billboards sank beneath the flooding tide. Only the circling currents and wind-driven waves reflected the hazy moon.

Galveston’s 1900 Storm Memorial Confronts Hurricane Ike ~ Houston Chronicle

In the face of rising storms, heading to higher ground is a reasonable choice. But while people can move, structures don’t.  In the Storm of 1900, Galveston learned that painful lesson. Not only their most vulnerable dwellings were destoyed. Substantial homes, churches, public buildings, and schools were ravaged equally, leaving the survivors with a decision. Would they run from the devastation, seeking new homes on the mainland? Or would the city itself move away from the coast in order to re-establish itself as an inland center of commerce?

In fact, Galveston chose a third option. Detailed by Cornelia Dean in her book Against the Tide: The Battle for America’s Beaches, Galvestonians determined to stay on their island, avoiding future calamity by instituting a remarkable plan.

Rather than retreating from the shifting sands to points higher elsewhere, the city decided to fence itself off from future disasters with a seawall. Everything inside [the seawall] – houses, churches, offices, trees, gardens – was raised by as much as 17 feet, and then flooded with silt. It was a plan that, even in an era of engineering, stood out for its size, cost and audacity…
The lifting operation was one of sheer brawn. Laborers ran beams under the buildings and mounted them on screwjacks that burly men turned by hand. A total of 2,156 buildings were laboriously hoisted, a quarter of an inch at a turn, until they reached the requisite height and new foundations could be built beneath them. Meanwhile, children climbed rickety catwalks to reach their schools; housewives hung their laundry from lines strung fifteen feet above the ground.
Even substantial structures took to the air. At St. Patrick’s Church, a three-hundred ton brick structure, services continued as it rose to the grunts of laborers manning two hundred screwjacks beneath it.
Galveston and Texas History Center ~ Rosenberg Library

Once the seawall had been built and the city floated above its island like a cloud, the process of grade-raising began. A canal dredged through the city center obtained fill from Galveston Bay. Dredges moved continually between harbor and canal, spewing out a slurry of water and sand on both sides in a lengthy process that required years of labor. During those years, people lived, conducted business, and attended worship in their ‘floating’ buildings, making their way around town on boardwalks fastened to the top of fences.

Houses raised and ready for filling
Photo by Zeva B. Edworthy, courtesy Galveston County Museum

The largest of four dredges was given the humorous nickname Leviathan, and gardeners grew oleanders atop their roofs until new topsoil could be brought from the mainland, but mostly there was hard, back-breaking work as an entire city literally raised itself out of despair.

Galveston and Texas History Center ~ Rosenberg Library

After the 1900 Storm, residents of Galveston elevated their city and raised one another’s spirits with a vision of new life. Roughly a century later, as that same coastline faced a series of hurricanes, Galveston’s seawall held, and their tradition of self-reliance held firm.

Up and down Gulf beaches and bay shorelines, people in surrounding communities encouraged and supported one another through the recovery processes. Through the years, an increasingly important element in that recovery has been the elevation of homes. In San Leon, Bacliff, Oak Island, Surfside, Clear Lake Shores, and Kemah — in all the towns and villages of southeast Texas — the wisdom spray-painted onto one of Hurricane Ike’s still-abandoned homes is cherished: “Move Up ~ Don’t Give Up”.

Today, elevation happens differently — no dredges are pumping slurry into neighborhoods — but the sense that higher is better has been written into hearts as well as building codes. Sometimes the progress is slow. But the work goes on, and every completed home lifts the heart a little higher.

Tiny bungalows and cottages rest on new pilings as lightly as a feather. Gardeners work the soil, hanging petunias and bougainvillea for color. Families incorporate bits and pieces of personal history into new construction while pondering questions washed up by the surge: How shall we reshape our lives? shall we stay, or shall we go? Are the answers offered by the past adequate for our day? Is there a way, finally, to rise above circumstance?

Even in years unmarked by the anguish and devastation of a major hurricane, the lessons of Galveston’s Great Storm are worth remembering. Not every flood is due to the river’s rise or a hurricane’s surge. Not all the debris floating through our lives is so easily disposed of as plywood and plastic. Not all of the filth that clogs our minds and coats our spirits can be washed away like so much clinging mud.

There are devastations of the spirit, surges of pain, winds of conflict or change that shake our certainties, unnerving us as surely as the worst storms of the season. Remembering those who both endured and prevailed over the natural world, we may find our own inspiration to create some higher ground; to raise our sights; to shore up our foundations and re-build our ties to one another before another, unexpected storm seeks to sweep us all away.

 

Comments always are welcome.

95 thoughts on “Upward, then Onward

  1. I have steadfastly avoided documentaries and books about the 1900 storm. I believe it’s just too frightening for me to face. I saw one documentary (Weather Channel?) many years ago and was astounded at the losses. And the recovery. Thank you for this well-written and poignant post. I may yet find the courage to revisit this particular bit of our coastal history.

    1. If you decide to revisit the 1900 Storm, one of the most compelling books I’ve found has the slightly off-putting title of The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror ~ As Told by the Survivors. It’s actually a compilation of letters and reports done in the year 1900 by a man named John Coulter, and it’s filled not only with dramatic storm stories, but also with detailed information about the recovery efforts.

      One particularly fascinating sidenote: the book also contains list of victims from around the area — not only in Galveston proper, but also in places like Hitchcock, Seabrook, Velasco, and so on. One of my friends always had heard stories about a family member perishing in the storm. Sure enough, when we looked through the list, we found her name.

  2. Well done, Linda. Your post gets one to thinking how we can move up and not give up on the way things are going today. I guess if those folks from the 1900s can do it we should be able to as well. Thanks for this bit of history and bit of pep talk.

    1. It’s a fascinating history. I suppose it resonates more directly for those who’ve lived through some sort of natural disaster, as you did in Port A, but even for those without such experiences, it can offer a hint of the possibilities for human creativity and resilience.

      It’s always interesting to see the “storm messages” left scattered through a hurricane’s debris. “Move Up, Don’t Give Up” is one. Another, from Pascagoula, Mississippi, was “Don’t Let Katrina Steal Your Joy.” And of course there are the words to live by that Varnish John gave to me after Ike: “Do what you can, not what you can’t.”

      1. The one phrase that stuck during the Harvey clean-up was “Port A Strong.” I have so many memories around that disaster. Little moments where humans demonstrated how beautiful it was to be compassionate. I have a photo I took of the Texas flag flying over debris. It was put up within a couple of days after the hurricane. When I saw it the tears flowed. It was a representation that there was a bigger place than the shattered little town. A place where hope was a reality. Harvey did not win. The spirit of the people wouldn’t let it. Thanks, again, Linda. I loved your post.

        1. I remember hearing one of the fishing charter captains from the area talk about that “Port A Strong” slogan. You’re right that Harvey didn’t win. It wasn’t easy, but your town came back — as did mine, and uncountable others stretched across the coast.

    1. I had to smile when I read that you didn’t know the story of Galveston, Eliza. Around here, it’s such a touchstone that I can’t remember it not being mentioned in one way or another every time another storm appears on the horizon. And, of course, there’s that seawall: as much a monument to our history as the sculpture designed to honor the victims and survivors.

      One of the most popular tourist attractions in Galveston is the Pier 21 Theater, where a half-hour film created by the historical foundation tells the story, and tells it very well.

  3. Well written, Linda. I’ve known a few people whose relatives lived in Galveston at that time; some survived, some didn’t.

    Your last two paragraphs are poignant. I wish all would read, and understand.

    1. My favorite book about the event is The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror, a compilation done by John Coulter in 1900. Apart from the details of the storm and reconstruction he offers, there’s also a list of the dead and missing from the entire area. In some cases, there are brief comments attached to the names, like “Tripo, Bosick (an oysterman).” In others, there’s no name, only a description: “One laborer at Dr. Fry’s dairy.” Areas outside Galveston proper were included, too. At Quintana, deaths were listed for “fifteen convicts” and “six bodies on beach believed to have floated over from Galveston.” It’s quite a read.

    1. I certainly do know Joshua Slocum, and have read that book — several times. It was one of the first historical books I read after I began sailing. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

      “After visiting Kimberley and Pretoria, and finding the Spray all right in the docks, I returned to Worcester and Wellington, towns famous for colleges and seminaries, still traveling as the guest of the colony. The ladies of all these institutions of learning wished to know how one might sail round the world alone, which I thought augured of sailing-mistresses in the future instead of sailing masters. It will come that that yet if we men-folk keep on saying, ‘We can’t.'”

  4. That generation of 1900 were unmatched for the people of today. Maybe there are folks as resilient and as ingenious but I sort of doubt. Those folks were remarkable in dedication and perseverance. I do know one thing though, it is too bad that other areas never learned by following Galveston’s example.

    For the record. did you ever overcome your fear of dogs? I know that you are ok with cats since you had Dixie Rose for many years but you have never mentioned having a dog for a pet.

    1. I did get over my fear of dogs by high school, although I still am cautious around them. For whatever reason, I’ve never wanted one as a pet. I’ll admire others’ dogs, and I’m friends with a couple of them, but there’s just not that special connection that I have with cats.

      As I mentioned to another commenter, there certainly are people as strong and resilient today as there were in 1900. After living through Alicia, Allison, Ike, and Harvey — and after watching friends rebuild from Katrina and Rita — I just can’t question that. Once the flood waters and storm surge recede, so do the media, and the truly important stories rarely get told. No matter. We know the stories, and we tell them to one another constantly: as reminders, and as encouragement. When the next storm comes, we’ll know better how to cope.

  5. You added with your stories new meaning to the word ‘up’. I think that people when faced with a disaster in war and in other tragic events look up to their flag for mutual strength and support.

    1. That’s an interesting perspective, Peter. I’m not sure about looking to the flag for strength and support, although it does stand as a symbol for a certain kind of community. My experience is that people look first to one another. The old divisions matter not a whit when you’re up to your neck in water, and the person driving the boat is Black, or White, or Redneck, or Cajun. If there’s any value in storms, it’s that they give us an experience of our common humanity.

      On the other hand, the Texas flag does fly high at certain times, and as another reader notes, it stood during “his” storm for a world larger than the devastation around him, giving that larger perspective that’s so important for moving on.

      1. I realize that the flag has often been misused and abused. But when dealt with lovingly and responsibly, it provides a unifying force under which people of different race, religion and political leanings can come together for the comment good.

        1. Of course that’s right, Peter. Here’s a tiny example: when the thirteen military members were killed in Kabul, small groups of thirteen flags started popping up on street corners. It was done anonymously, as far as I know, but everyone who saw them stopped for a moment, and remembered.

  6. I kept reading with some hope that this story was exaggerated. I guess not. What weak wimps have developed from those loins! Maybe I am too harsh, but the jobs report today is giving me indigestion.

    1. If you lived in Texas or Louisiana just now, I don’t think ‘weak wimps’ would come so easily to mind. Louisiana, particularly, still is recovering from Hurricane Ida, not to mention Zeta and Laura. Just down the road from me, the effects of Hurricane Nicholas were not as substantial as those of a Katrina or Ike, but they certainly were disruptive for those in the storm’s path.

      If Houston or New Orleans aren’t involved, the media loses interest quickly. The stories of strong, determined people in so-called ‘backwaters’ rarely are reported, but their rebuilding goes on. Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana was most affected by Ida; you might enjoy seeing this locally-produced video from the same parish in the days after Ike. The qualities that imbued the residents of Galveston in 1900 still exist.

      1. Sorry I was so judgmental. I still can’t see people as determined to lift a building as to wait for FEMA. But I have seen amazing attitudes and recoveries from tornado damage. The kind your video illustrates.

        1. No need to apologize. I certainly understood your point, and besides: there’s enough frustration and irritation these days to set any of us off. I think one reason to tell stories like Galveston’s is to remind ourselves that we are capable of more than we imagine: every day, not just in disasters.

    1. Thanks, Derrick. As fearful as storms can be, they’re fascinating, too, and the history of the people who confront them is compelling. I’ve watched the rebuilding process (from tornadoes and fire as well as from hurricanes) a few times, and the lessons offered are important.

  7. Memorials I have not known about and a well researched story of that storm, Linda. Thank you for teaching me this history.

  8. I had a dog once that everyone thought was spoiled because he always wanted me to pick him up when he was scared. I thought he was special needed or he confused himself with a real child. Good post, Linda.

    1. If I glimpsed things aright, you’re leaving comments from your new digs this morning — congratulations! I hope your needy pet was a small one. I have a friend whose dog would be in her lap during even the most mild thunderstorm; unfortunately, he’s a ninety pound Great Pyrenees.

  9. As always, you do a fine job of beginning a theme in one place and ending it in quite a different place, with unexpected links in between.

    Galveston has kept itself viable for more than a century since the great hurricane. If the sea level has risen a couple of feet by the end of the century, as some predict, what will that bode for Galveston? And there’s the bigger question that you raise at the end: will we succeed in shoring up our societal foundations?

    1. Some like to say “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” but of course with some stories the point of the journey is the destination: e.g., those final paragraphs.

      One complexity in this part of the world is that storm surge can come from two directions: from the Gulf and from the bay systems. In Ike, some of the worst surge damage actually came from the west, out of Clear Lake, and from Galveston Bay. Despite being well away from the Gulf, the damage was almost beyond description. It wasn’t at all funny at the time, but people laugh now at some of the memories, including the fancy Mercedes that landed in a marina swimming pool, and a French Provincial settee pulled out of a boat slip. It took months of scanning and dredging to clear Galveston Bay of debris.

      Given the realities of Ike, and the fact that we’re now surrounded by multitudes of petrochemical plants, it probably makes sense that proposed plans for dealing with future storms have been nicknamed the “Ike Dike.”

      1. A couple of hours ago I was thinking about the word settee, which I’m not sure I’ve ever used. I rarely come across it, and it strikes me as old-fashioned. I guess that’s just me, though, because when I checked Google’s n-gram viewer just now I found a strong increase in the word’s frequency from 1975 to 2014, with only a slight decline since then.

        1. I think the decorators and furniture retailers are partly responsible for the change. I grew up with sofas, and in the 50s and 60s, bigger was better. Now, I think of a settee as a smaller version of a sofa, meant for two people — three at most. Decades — centuries — ago, they tended to be used in reception areas or sitting rooms. Now, they’ve moved into living areas, and are marketed for that purpose.

  10. I’d never heard the story of Galveston before – it’s extraordinary! At the moment it does feel as if we’re facing a rising tide of all sorts of troubles – I hope we can find our way ‘up’.

    1. Interestingly, Rising Tide is the title of an excellent book about another natural disaster most people in the U.S. probably don’t know about: the Mississippi River flood of 1927. The consequences of that event arguably were more significant than even the Galveston Storm of 1900, but historical memory is short, and getting shorter. Most people have forgotten or never knew that the “four olds” Mao’s cultural revolution sought to destroy were old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. There’s more than a whiff of that today.

  11. I lived in Houston all my life except for two years away at college until I moved out here. we had a beach house on the west end of Galveston from the time I was about 13. I knew of course about the 1900 storm and that they built the seawall after but I did not know the story of the recovery, that they did and how they lifted all those buildings raising the level 17′! Humans can do some amazing things with simple tools when they have the desire…witness the pyramids and all the monumental structures, the temples carved out of solid stone.

    I still can’t get to your other blog which I really love going to. Neither Chrome nor Safari will let me go. Here is the message I get from Chrome:

    lindaleinen.com normally uses encryption to protect your information. When Chrome tried to connect to lindaleinen.com this time, the website sent back unusual and incorrect credentials. This may happen when an attacker is trying to pretend to be lindaleinen.com, or a Wi-Fi sign-in screen has interrupted the connection. Your information is still secure because Chrome stopped the connection before any data was exchanged.

    You cannot visit lindaleinen.com right now because the website uses HSTS. Network errors and attacks are usually temporary, so this page will probably work later.

    1. I can’t imagine what your issue is with Lagniappe. I usually use Firefox, but I just tried with both Chrome and Safari, and had no problem, with wifi or otherwise. I asked a couple of other people to give it a whirl, and they were able to get in, too. It’s odd. It may be a temporary glitch. Try clearing your cache, and see if that takes care of the issue. Are you getting email notifications? There shouldn’t be any issue there, since those come from WordPress.

      Try this link, or use the link at the top of this page, and see if that gets you through. You might try another browser. If none of that works, let me know, and I’ll send your message over to the WordPress gurus to see if they know what’s causing the problem. How are you connecting? What’s your operating system?

      If the pyramid builders and the city raisers can accomplish those tasks, we ought to be able to get you connected to Lagniappe!

  12. Here it’s the flash floods that scour the canyons and sweep everything out onto the prairie, with signs imploring folks to climb ‘up’ to safety. For those along the coast, though, it’s not just storms they need to prepare for, but the slow rise of the oceans themselves. I think the high rises in Miami may require more than just jacks and burly men.

    1. When I first moved to Texas and began exploring the hill country, I didn’t have a full sense of why those flood gauges were standing next to so many dry creeks at the bottom of so many steep hills, or what the phrase “watered in” might mean. Experience is a great teacher, and now I pay attention. Flash flooding is nothing to mess with.

      As for coastal issues, one of the most interesting phenomena just now is the creation of new delta at the mouth of the Atchafalaya river. As this article notes, the dynamics there may offer a clue to more productive ways of dealing with land loss in the future.

  13. Well told, as always. Only a portion of which I knew. In Dayton, Ohio, after the Great Flood of 1913, the rallying cry to enlist donations and labor for rebuilding was “Remember the promise you made in the attic!”

    1. Now, that’s funny. I suspect there’s not a person alive who hasn’t made one of “those” promises at some time or other, and within a short time has forgotten or dismissed that same promise — perhaps uncrossing some fingers in the process. It’s such a human thing to do, and that’s precisely what makes the appeal for labor and donations so charming.

    1. I always figure if you’re going to spiral, it might as well be up as down! Heaven knows these storms, like life in general, provide enough ups and downs for any of us. In the best of circumstances, they strengthen community ties and increase resiliency: that’s why we love telling and retelling the stories — to remember the good and set aside the bad.

  14. If you decide not to leave after such destruction, building up seems up like the only option. People must love the place!
    I know about the Galveston disaster mainly from the song “Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm”.

    1. Amazing — I’d never heard that song. It’s a good one. As for leaving: I know people in Louisiana who are in the process of rebuilding for the umpteeth time. The ties to the land and the water are strong, just as they are along our coast. It’s home. When generations have lived on the same land, done the same work, and shared the same traditions — why would you leave? Eventually, it may have to happen, but it won’t happen by choice.

      1. I just read a review of a book about the New Orleans batture settlements. People who live in shacks on the river side of the levee. In storms, they just ride up and down. No “up” for them, off the grid, off the tax rolls. They have to rebuild, of course, improvising from flotsam. The book is They Called Us River Rats by Macon Fry. Glad you liked the song, folkie favorite.

        1. There’s an independent film I wrote about that I think involved folks living that sort of life; I’ll have to dig it out and see what the setting actually was. I can’t remember if they were on the river or outside the levee. In any event, you’ve also recalled a book I’ve not yet finished called The Cedar Choppers, about a similar community in the Texas hill country. The setting is different, but the dynamics are similar.

  15. Wonderful writing, with a powerful sense that you poured yourself into this story and lesson. I’m a fan of (most of) Eric Larson’s books, including “Issac’s Storm” which included a lesson about hubris and placing our faith in what we believe to be “science.” It’s pretty well written, and at some point reminded me of reading “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” in the sense of an inevitable oncoming danger.
    You’ve done a really admirable job with this article, Linda, congratulations.

    1. Isaac’s Storm is a great read. It’s a favorite of most of the storm chasers and professional meteorologists I know, and a good many I don’t know. One that’s even more compelling is a compilation of notes and contemporary reports by a guy named John Coulter, who went through the storm. The title is The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror — As Told by the Survivors. It has fantastic details about the rebuilding process, and a list of all the dead — even those from the little towns and settlements outside Galveston.

      There’s just “something” about these storms. Yes, they’re terrible and destructive and frightening, but after a while, they”re so familiar we can joke about them — even while we’re putting up the plywood again.

    1. It is amazing. What’s even more amazing is that a town called Indianola was the first Gulf port of importance — then it got wiped off the face of the earth by two successive hurricanes in the 1800s, and everyone moved up the coast to Galveston. As the old saying goes, “you can run, but you can’t hide.”

  16. What a fascinating slice of history, Linda! You’ve mentioned the 1900 storm before, of course, but this post makes it come alive for me. I think it’s a bit of a cop-out for people to claim that people back in 1900 were braver than they are today. I think the will to survive runs pretty strong through most of our veins — as evidenced by the little child saying, “Up!” Why even Monkey knows “Up” is his cue to sit on my lap and get cuddles!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Debbie. Every time I read about it, I learn something new. Of course it was an extraordinary storm that reshaped meteorology, but the stories of the rebuilding are as fascinating as the extent of the damage. There’s a reason the weather channels show documentaries of these storms; we’re as fascinated by them as we are fearful.

      One of the problems today may be that we’re surrounded by people saying “You can’t cope; depend on me.” That “me” usually is the government. We’d be better off if there were more people saying, “You’re stronger than you think. Depend on one another.”

  17. First of all, I loved the story about the puppy, because it reminded me so strongly of the reaction of my sisters and I when our parents brought home a rambunctious puppy. We screamed and ran, and my sister (while standing on top of a chair) declared, “Either that dog goes, or I go!” They both ended up staying, but that’s beside the point.
    Thanks for the background on Galveston, I had no idea it had been built up that way. But what I really liked was your conclusion. It is indeed time to move to higher ground, in our lives and more importantly, in the way we treat each other. Sometimes I do worry we’re all going to get swept away in a tide of indignation and hate!

    1. So we have similar puppy memories; that’s delightful. I laughed at your sister’s declaration. I might have profited if my parents had encouraged the puppy to stay, but I wasn’t much of a shrieker, so the fact that I suddenly turned into one could have terrified them as much as the puppy terrified me.

      Just think: if everyone who spends time online (or in real life) harassing, haranguing, and seeking to destroy their so-called ‘enemies,’ we might begin climbing out of this mess we’re in. Divide and conquer has been accepted wisdom for millennia, and as long as we allow forces to keep dividing us into smaller and smaller warring factions, there’s going to be trouble.

    1. You weren’t kidding — I just looked at your radar. Here’s hoping it moves fast and gets out of there without leaving too much damage. Honestly, tornadoes unnerve me more than hurricanes – you can get out of the way of a ‘cane.

      1. You’re right, Linda. It’s hard to dodge tornadoes. Fortunately this line didn’t pack a lot of wind just a lot of hail. The windows in Norman got beat up again.

        1. Glad to see you up and about! That same system rolled through Texas last night, and we’ll have one day of cooler temperatures and lower humidity before the next front rolls through. It will be a perfect day to honor Columbus by doing a little exploring.

    1. I suppose every place has stories. Thank goodness they’re not all as dramatic as Galveston’s! I am fascinated by the twists and turns of our history here on the coast, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!

  18. Perhaps we should remember “E Pluribus Unum” — One out of many. In our very diversity is our strength, for we can bring together the best of our diverse backgrounds and many cultures to contribute to the survival of the whole. When the going gets tough, the best hand is the one held out to help.

    1. I’ve never heard it put just like that: “the best hand is the one held out to help.” Exactly so. Another bit of advice I’ve heard is related: “Who should we help? The one who needs it.”

      Of course, to swerve in another direction entirely, one of my favorite quotations is from Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson: “When the going gets tough, the tough turn pro,”

  19. I am very late getting to this, but as usual I connected strongly with your story. The Anadarko, OK tornado on Sunday evening reminds us of how most folks move upward and onward when catastrophes come along. It’s the will to survive, and the desire to see that other’s are cared for. I can’t tell you what it’s meant to see my cell phone blowing up with text messages and calls over the last two days – people asking about us and offering help. I’ve been fairly emotional. We were lucky here with minimal damage. It will take time to cleanup – but then, we’re still cleaning up from that ice storm in October 2020! It’s an amazing thing to see neighbors helping neighbors. I’m always glad to see “gumption” in moving forth.

    1. I had no idea that tornado came so close to you. Of course, I was focused elsewhere and away from home most of the weekend, and never looked at the news. I only knew there had been bad weather stretching from Texas through Oklahoma because I was concerned that bad weather would affect my own plans. Sometimes, going off-grid can be good, but sometimes it means missing a few important things!

      It’s good to hear that the effects at your place weren’t catastrophic. Cleanup is a part of life, it seems. No one gets to do the dishes just once, and be done with it. In the same way, wind, water, ice, snow — and even drought! — create messes that demand attention. When they occur, it is good to see people helping one another.

      Speaking of helping, you might be interested in my current post on Lagniappe. I came across a very unusual sight at the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge this week. They’ve found a way to begin controlling fire ants that’s both increased the number of desirable insects on the prairie and increased the number of birds. The product they’re using doesn’t harm other creatures, and it’s meant to be broadcast rather than applied to mounds. It sounds like an effective way to deal with the messes that fire ants create!

  20. Those photos of Galveston raising itself UP are interesting. i knew they had done that but I hadn’t seen any old photos. I could look at vintage pictures for hours.

    I was reminded of the Edison films of the aftermath of the 1900 storm. Which reminds me: it’s about time for a re-read of Isaac’s Storm. It is good to be reminded of Mother Nature’s wratch, lest we get complacent.

    Some of the owners of historic homes in downtown Charleston have been getting permits to raise their houses, basically giving themselves what passes for a basement here.

    We are seeing more and more sunny day flooding here just from regular high tides and when it rains? Lord have mercy. Add in some King Tides for some added fun. I think the NWS should send out advisories here when it is NOT going to flood and save themselves some time.

    1. Like you, we experience tidal effects even where there’s no flooding rain or named storm in the neighborhood. Our normal tidal range is only about a foot and a half, but in winter the strong northerlies or westerlies can turn the lake into mud flats, and strong southerlies (like those that have been blowing for several days, on top of a bull tide) can flood low-lying roads. They sometimes flood my workplace, too — water over the docks isn’t unknown. This week, it’s been impossible for me to board one boat I’m working on. Those on floating docks are fine, but on a fixed pier, the rising tide does lift all boats; even with a small step ladder I can’t make it on board, and I don’t intend to break my neck trying to get off.

      If you want a really good read about the Galveston Storm, check out The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror: Compiled by John Coulter in the Year 1900. Be careful, though — there are other books trading on that title that aren’t Coulter’s. His was published two months after the storm, which adds to the effect. It’s filled with details: about the storm itself, about the human toll, and about the rebuilding. Interviews with survivors who reached safety in places like Chicago and elsewhere are particularly affecting.

      1. Oh, thanks! I’ll add that to my “To Read” list.

        I’ve gotten several storm books from my local library. Fascinating reading, though not the best for rainy, windy evenings with lots of lightning. They tend to lead to some restless sleep!

        Walter J. Fraxer Jr has a good one: Lowcountry Hurricanes; Three Centuries of Storms at Sea and Ashore.

        1. I’ll check that one out. If you want to read a classic offshore storm account, try Fastnet: Force Ten. When I began learning to sail, my first instructor put that book in my hand and said, “Read this. If you still want to sail, we’ll keep at it.”

  21. You have an uncanny way of taking a motif and weaving stories and anecdotes with its help. Quite an accomplishment that you do not lose your thread. Also, you resist the temptation to use verbs and adjectives that echo the motif. What a master you are! I, too, loved Isaac’s Storm.

    1. In 2008, when I just was beginning this venture, I published a post with a title that gave a twist to Kierkegaard’s famous “purity of heart is to will one thing.” I changed it to “purity of prose is to write one thing,” and that’s been one of my mantras through all these years.

      Even a master like John McPhee hews to that line. Books like his Oranges or The Control of Nature are about ‘one thing’ — however extensive his explorations become. When I began tackling historical subjects that required two or three consecutive posts, I realized just how much effort was required. I still have some great tales waiting to be told, and with winter coming, I feel ready to move away from photography a bit and do more writing.

  22. Marvelous research and writing, Linda. I knew little of the Galveston story and had not heard of the raising construction. What an undertaking and example of human determination. When we visited my sister-in-law’s vacation home on the Delaware coast we noticed all the homes upon stilts as they flood often. I’d guess that idea rose from Galveston’s example. I remember hearing of Galveston dealing with a hurricane in the late ’50s as my earliest recollection. It’s amazing that the locals endure there.

    1. Of course, a good number of locals here wonder how in the world you folks endure through the winter, even absent a blizzard. As for the stilts, they’re common now: partly because building codes have changed, and partly because of experience. Raised homes are common along the bayfronts as well as the Gulf beaches,and not only because of storms. Our tides are wind-driven as well as lunar, and a long stretch of south wind can bring up the water.

      There are some ironies where Galveston’s concerned. One is that the city became the center of commerce in the late 1800s because the port of Indianola, a little distance down the coast, was wiped off the map twice by equally strong storms. The other is that many who bemoaned the loss of hundreds of trees — especially live oaks — after Ike didn’t know that those trees weren’t native to the island. They were planted by settlers who wanted a little taste of home! After Ike, there wasn’t any wholesale replanting of oaks. More island friendly trees, like palms, took their place.

    1. Just think — one of our first challenges in this world is to stand on our own two feet and begin to toddle. At the other end of life, there’s the challenge of getting off the ground after a fall. In between, the metaphorical fallings and risings affect us all!

    1. And now, more than a century later, the lessons they learned — and passed on — still are helping coastal dwellers understand and cope with these storms. Hurricanes aren’t new, although the population density along the coast is, and even the shape of the coast is different now. But if storms are storms, people are people, and their persistence and ingenuity constantly are being refreshed.

  23. Whether the storms in our lives are a result of weather or personal circumstance, our instinct is to seek higher ground. We reach up for a helping hand. We reach down to help someone in need.

    Thank you, Linda, for a very poignant post.

    The story of Galveston and the choices made by her citizens has been repeated throughout history. Humans don’t voluntarily abandon something they have struggled to build and maintain. We also realize we are strong together and have it within us to face adversity.

    1. Your most telling sentence may be, “Humans don’t voluntarily abandon something they have struggled to build and maintain.” When generations have known a bayou or barrier island as home, and have learned how to live with their environment rather than continually battling against it, it helps to explain why they hang on — despite all the good advice offered from New York penthouses and west coast mansions.

      The old song has it right. No matter how humble, there’s no place like home

  24. My boss has just moved to Galveston — her new home has survived three hurricanes and I guess she hopes that trend will continue.

    Your “up” theme reminded me of my friend’s one year old boy who’s currently obsessed with up-up-up-up and down-down-down-down. He visited his aunt who lives on the second floor and was completely thrilled to be going up and down stairs.

    1. Depending on her location, she’ll probably be fine: especially if the house made it through Ike. At least it’s the end of the season, and there’s not a hint of a storm on the horizon, so she’ll have some time to acclimate to life on The Island. I love winter there: fewer tourists, better shelling on the beaches.

      I’d forgotten about stair-climbing. I grew up in a two-story house with a landing between two sections of stairs. I soon learned that if I came down to the landing, I could listen to big people talk without being seen — but I had to be quiet, and not hit the squeaky boards!

  25. There are devastations of the spirit, surges of pain, winds of conflict or change that shake our certainties, unnerving us as surely as the worst storms of the season.

    So true, Linda, of these pandemic times as well.

    1. That certainly is true. Enormous and not always positive changes have come because the politicization that’s accompanied the public health concerns, not to mention conflicts of one sort or another. Now, economic consequences are appearing world-wide; whether we’ll be capable of dealing with it all still is an open question.

      In a more positive vein — how nice to see you! I’m hope all’s well in your world. I just checked, and found that you’re another whose blog I somehow became unsubscribed from. I’ll remedy that right now!

  26. As you know, I can be a bit of an alarmist about “the State of Things.” But one thing I keep in mind is that as bad as I think things are, they have been worse. Much worse. For example, what would it have been like living in Galveston in 1900? My life is SO EASY in comparison! Not to say we can’t make improvements that help all our neighbors, but there’s no need to be in the depths of despair.

    P.S. I was terrified of dogs when I was younger (still am, if they seem the least bit unfriendly). I would have been right behind you climbing UP UP UP!

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