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A jog of memory

Trying to repair the damage inflicted on body and home, our author stumbles upon two survivors of Hurricane Isaac who don't seem to care for schedule.

Jim Gabour
9 September 2012

I am returning to home work once again to a huge cleanup and massive chainsaw work after an initial university stint of dealing with 1500 incoming freshmen, all of whom just spent their first week away from home locked steaming dark dorms with all the hell of Isaac raging outside. Most thought it great fun.

Ironically my first week at school was spent the same way, when on 9 SEP 1965 Hurricane Betsy came right up over NO and Baton Rouge, and I awoke at University to knee-deep water, and three Cajun bunkmates each with a case of beer, in my room. 

Ah the cycles through which we wade.

Still, I try to exercise each morning, storm or no.  Yesterday I again continued the abuse, trying to jog the fuzziness out of my head.

My internal organs began making odd noises.  I dropped pace to alternate with an arm swinging stride every dozen steps.  Though my recent days -- all this past week, actually -- are inevitably bracketed with manual labor, I am most definitely still out of shape.  At best, I am in an unpleasant shape.  I am already hurting all over, even before starting to run.  Every morning I have to push my stiff fingers at an angle onto the bathroom sink to get them used to bending. 

The storm-nervous cats have scratched my legs to ribbons. 

My knees pop whenever I sit down.

Dragging forty-two bags of tree limbs to the curb last weekend had not caused my overall body pain to rise to a noticeably greater level.  It is already at the max.

I try jogging again.  Make it at least fifty feet before I am forced to slow to a walk.

“Bahhhhhhhkk!”

What the hell?  I am instantly on the alert.

“Baaahhhk!”

There it is again.  I feel my thudding heart.  Is it pumping even more awkwardly than I thought? Had fig preserves given me a concussion?  Maybe all that bourbon at Tujague’s has finally coagulated, put up a resonating roadblock in my coronary highways and byways?

“Baaahhhhkkk!”

This time, the sound most assuredly did not come from my chest.  It came from my left, and nearby.  I looked down, on the river side of the levee.  Squinted into the morning shadows near the thick, ever brown water.

Nice contrast to the electric green of new growth willows, I think. This may be the first positive notion I have ever entertained about the water of the Mississippi River.  The concussion theory becomes a looming possibility.

Then I see them.  There, standing in inch deep water aquiver with minnows, pose two incredibly stately birds.  Over three feet tall, silver bodies with bright white stripes across their otherwise black heads and a brilliant plume on top.  They look at me with something less than welcome in their eyes.

“Baaahhhhhkk!”   Their vocal repertoire does not quite match their visual beauty, but I am nonetheless quite affected.  They are supposed to be there.  I am the intruder.  I leave them alone as unobtrusively as I could, backing down the levee road until they are out of sight.

I manage to jog back home, totally covered in sweat and breathing heavily, but inspired to find out what I had seen.  I’d forgotten the storm.  Maybe I’d seen an egret.  Surely not a crane. Pulling my Audubon Wetlands Guide from the shelf.

Got them:  “Yellow crowned Night Heron”.

The editors say the bird “Quawks like the Black Crowned Night Heron but higher in pitch.”  Oh. The picture is definitely the two birds I sighted, in spite of the Baahhhkk vs Quawk issue.  My thought processes are scrambled.  What were Night Herons doing out in the day?  Were they late or early?  They were fishing on the side of the levee directly opposite the bars of the Faubourg Marigny.  Maybe the birds knew the establishments are open 24 hours, and had been drawn by a warbling jukebox that tolerates nothing newer than 1964.  

Possibly Yellow Crowned Night Herons are simpatico to the Late Night Beer Breathed Blues Singer?

I have to get back to work.  This bird stuff will make anyone crazy.  Just like it did Audubon.

I  am no bird watcher.  I coincidentally and with some purpose -- though I have no idea as to what purpose -- read about Maya aviaries as a diversion from my research on a recent writing project. The bird images in that people’s glyphs and spoken language are fascinating.  I like the calm, ornate nature of the culture, though there may have been a genetic humor deficiency within the tribe.  I mean, they named a bird quetzlcoatl, for god's sake, and didn’t laugh out loud every time they said it.  Maybe the Maya knew Audubon, too.

Living in New Orleans, I know that tropical weather has an effect on language.  Just as it did on roof joists and the hours kept by scientifically named and hyphenated species.  But the herons know where they will sleep, and obviously don’t care for schedules.

I have to care.  I have logs to saw, leaves to gather, a roof to repair and just three days to make my house a tad more habitable before school starts once again.

I will do that, come winds, rains, herons, or high water.  It is my real job.

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