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Genus Magicicada, Brood XIX – The Great Southern Brood of the 13-year cicada variety  they are here in the millions.  “Cicadapocalypse”, as one of the boys calls it.  I honestly can’t remember seeing them this prolific before; the throbbing noise in the trees outside almost borders on being painful to the ear.  You can’t walk across the driveway or sidewalk without crunching underfoot.  Dropping out of trees, landing on your head, your shoulder, and screeching in your ear.

Riding a bike through their erratic swarming masses is like being pelted with, well … very big bugs.

Still, I am fascinated by them – and I love going out and standing under the trees to watch them.   Their tenacity, their big red eyes, even the pulsating noise that drowns out everything else.  And despite their scary looks, they are gentle and fairly docile when they land on you (once you get past the scratchy feeling of their grasping little legs).  After spending 13 years underground, the’ve emerged with joy (?) to find a mate and to complete the cycle.  And I wonder where I will be and what I will be doing when their progeny arrive?

It may be a good reminder:  to love much and make all the noise you can while you’re here and have the chance? 😉

a bugs'-eye perspective?

disaster relief on two wheels

a hawk dropped into the frame

It is a very good thing that I completed #330daysofbiking when I did … I think I have just had the longest stretch of not being on a bicycle in several years.  Twelve days, no cycling; fourteen days of Red Cross Disaster Relief.   And not a moment of regret.  It has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Are things back to normal?  Hardly.  A funny thing about natural disasters  – from tornados, to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods – when cable news has moved on to the next breaking story, the communities that were effected will spend months, even years, recovering and rebuilding.   Healing –  on all levels –  takes a very, very long time.

I have to believe that almost everyone who lives here has been affected, either directly or indirectly.  Colleagues at work who have lost their homes, neighbors who have lost family members, friends at school who were severely injured … everyone is connected to the devastation to some degree.  Lives have changed.   At present, we are simply out of the immediate “crisis” mode.  Now begins the recovery.  And it will be a long ride.

My boys have all arrived home from college (for a few weeks, anyway), and on my first day “off” and away from the disaster efforts, I finally had a chance to take long and much-needed ride with my son Mason.

While too many familiar landscapes have been drastically altered and damaged, and it’s still nearly impossible to travel many of our local back roads without encountering various work crews still continuing the endless repairs and clean-up, I realized that I really needed a change of course.

I needed to leave the piles of rubble and the smell of burning pine behind me.   I needed some open space, green fields and fresh air.  I needed roadside daisies.  I needed to find beauty again.

And my heart lifted when I found that it was all still out there.

Getting out on my bicycle again, seeing green fields, being with my son, feeling the rhythm of  heartbeat, pedals and breath … it was my own personal disaster “relief”.

What lies ahead?  I am not entirely sure.  I have signed on with the Red Cross as a regular volunteer and have enrolled in their Disaster Services Human Resource System.  I’m continuing to help with follow-up work being coordinated through our local Chapter’s office, and am looking forward to continuing disaster response training and becoming an active responder.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with experienced Red Cross Disaster Relief teams who came in from around the country; I learned so much from them, and made some very close friendships along the way.

I also want to extend an enormous and overdue thank you to all of my friends (both local and cyber) who extended so much help and support – from your personal notes, to finding much-needed material items (including a twin bed), monetary donations, offers of manpower, and even mailing a hand-crafted prayer shawl across the country for a woman in our community.  Your generosity and kindness is unparalleled, and has been appreciated more than I can express.

Mostly, I have been forever touched by the individuals and families I have been privileged to serve and have gotten to know over the past few weeks.  You are in my heart, and I will never forget you.

(Slideshow:  amazing friends from Red Cross Disaster Relief)


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beyond plight

I took this photo with permission from the incredible young woman standing beside the tree, with hope that it will get someone’s attention – and some desperately needed help for her.

This is the mobile home she had been renting, and what you are looking at is huge tree that had fallen right through the center of it – directly onto her young son’s bedroom – literally splitting the structure into two halves.  You are looking at the “inside” of the center of her home.  When the storm approached, she was alert enough and quick enough to snatch her son from his bed only moments before it fell, saving his life.  Miracle.

One half of the structure has no roof – and there is rain in the forecast.  She is living in the other half a good part of the time,  relying on the generosity of friends at other times, and working to find affordable new housing.   But like so many others, I know she is still functioning in a state of shock – shaken, upset, and often barely holding it together.  Most of what is left of her belongs are damaged beyond recovery, scattered across the hillside.

Here we are – almost 7 days later.  There is no power, no water, and her landlord is demanding that she vacate and remove her few remaining possessions from the property within the week  … and she has to climb over this damn tree every time she enters or exits.  It is just beyond ridiculous.  She cannot find anyone to help her get this behemoth removed.   We can bring her meals, batteries, diapers and bottled water – but we can’t get the stupid tree out of her way.

And this is only one desperate story of hundreds I have heard over the past few days.

We’re doing out best out in the RedCross vehicles from 10 and 13 hours a day, bringing hundreds of hot meals, emergency supplies (as we have them), and as much comfort and consolation as we possibly can.  And there is just not enough.   We start making friends, we learn the names of the family dogs, we hear and see the unbelievable; we hug, we laugh, we cry.

Yet I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated as the days pass –  mostly over the mind-boggling absence of coordination and horrible logistics planning among the gazillion number of churches, organizations, schools, relief agencies and everyone else who has the best of intentions (I truly believe this), but seem to be operating in nothing short of barely-organized chaos.  (And yes, I well-remember Katrina, and I know this is nothing compared to that mess).  I realize that no one is perfect, and the scope of this disaster is extraordinary for this area.  But unbelievably, there is almost possessive in-fighting among various groups, over who should/shouldn’t be handling this or that – and to me, that is completely unacceptable in a situation as dire as this one.  It helps no one, and it must change.

At the very, very least, we need to get this tree out of this poor woman’s way.  She doesn’t care who does it – it just needs to get done.  (Insert expletive).

love letters

Today I cried.

We returned to one of the houses from yesterday – the house with the little dogs.  Thankfully, they are now being well-cared for and waiting patiently for their injured owner to recover.

We were helping to clear a spot on the property for some heavy equipment to come in and do the big work – moving branches and pieces of lumber, sorting out scrap metal.

We also made an attempt to retrieve some salvageable items and personal belongings – somewhat unsuccessfully, as the debris pile was so incredibly broken.  It was literally like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.   Yet here and there we would uncover a small porcelain figurine that was miraculously intact under a pile of cinderblocks and a steel door.  There was no pattern to what had survived and what had not.

found a quilt

My tears came when I found an old box of letters – postmarked from the late 1950’s, handwritten in beautiful scrolling penmanship on delicate paper – the kind that was once used for air mail.   They appeared to be love letters.  The salutation on one of the open pages began: “My Dearest Beloved …”  And I read no more, but gave them directly to the person collecting the personal possessions.

It’s difficult to handle the pieces of someone’s life – much more so than I ever could have expected.  We tried to save even the smallest items that were intact, because how can you possibly know what might have a special or sentimental meaning to the owner?  And to pick up something private and dear like an old letter … well, it can feel almost intrusive.

By mid-afternoon we had done as much as we could at the site, and left to help with a Red Cross van that was delivering hot meals to people in need.  The number of people who are able to stay in their homes but are without power (and often water) remains significant.  Eating cold sandwiches gets old pretty quickly.

our (empty) Red Cross van ... which was filled with boxes of hot meals prepared by the volunteers at Walker Valley High School

 While I am tired, and stinky, and a little bit sunburned  … I feel so incredibly fortunate.  The people I love are close and safe.  I can take a hot shower and drink a cold glass of water – with ice.  I have lights, and the little music box that was a gift from my boys is in its place on my bookshelf.  My bicycle is not wrapped around a tree.  I have clean clothes to change into, and a soft bed to sleep in.  I am truly blessed.