My Houston Flood

And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground.  Exodus 9:23

Photo Credit: The National Guard Flickr via Compfight cc Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photos by Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017 – This morning the sun was shining in Houston when I turned on the news.  Maybe the worst of Hurricane Harvey has passed.

Back in the nineties I lived in Houston for a few years.  By day I worked for an oil company.  At night I took continuing education classes at Rice University.

One evening, sitting in a philosophy class listening to a lecture on Exodus the wind began to blow outside the classroom window.  Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt as I watched the big oak trees bend.  A crack of thunder made me jump and a bolt of lightning lit up the sky.

Outside the rain was coming down, hard and steady.  I ran to my old BMW certain I would be able to drive the short distance—less than two miles—home.  Before I got out of the parking lot, the car started to make a knocking sound, taking on water.

I scuttled back into the building and called Dave on a pay phone to let him know I wouldn’t be home anytime soon.  I had lots of company:  the lobby was filled with dripping students and teachers, waiting for a break in the storm.

Forty-five minutes or so later, Dave showed up in his slicker and galoshes.  I was thrilled to see him until I realized he expected me to walk home, in the dark, in the rain.  But there was really no choice.  We set out on our journey, looking for the safest route, but found water running in the streets, eddying around sign posts, rivers up to our knees.

The next morning the streets were clear.  The only signs of the evening’s deluge were a few tree branches in yards and mud on the sidewalks.  Dave and I shuttled the car over to see Louis, our mechanic, who found no permanent damage.

My tiny, localized flood was one short, scary evening.

The people of Houston are used to tropical storms, heavy rain, flooded streets, power outages.  Harvey is something different:  endless days of record rainfall, entire neighborhoods under water, displaced people, losing everything.  It will take years to recover.

I’ve checked in on a few friends I still keep up with in Houston.  They are all safe.  This storm has made me miss them.  They were the best part of the years I spent in Texas.

It’s hard to watch from a distance and wonder how best to help.  This  article in Consumer Reports gives a few suggestions from providing housing through Airbnb, to donating blood, to adopting pets from Texas shelters.







Where I’m From

The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio
tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed
in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed
telephone wire in tones less strange than the bird songs
of Charlie Parker.
—B.H. Fairchild, Hearing Parker for the First Time

What a thrill it was to read my first Fairchild poem, Angels.  By the time I got to the second line “hauling a load of Herefords from Hogtown to Guymon” I was hooked.  He knew the world I grew up in, from the maize fields to Highway 54.

One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
Richard Blanco

I don’t remember hearing if there was a poem read at this year’s inauguration—I was in a bit of a funk— but I think it is a fine tradition. Blanco read his poem, One Today, at President Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

I love the image of the sun “charging across the Rockies.”

Veterano Sanctuary 

Full moon,

Paint job
half faded
summer nights
leave us half-faded.
Aye que Burque!
She’s one crazy lady!
—Carlos Contreras Time Served

I discovered Albuquerque poet Carlos Contreras in the AAA New Mexico magazine and was pleased to find  his book at my local library.

From the interview: “Like exercise is good for the body, words are good for the heart and soul.” I couldn’t agree more.

An Alternate Route

An Alternate Route

Nature (unlike some
huge metropolis)
treats us like adults:
we must discover all
its glory by ourselves.
Imagine how disheartening
if wandering inside this
intricate wood we came upon
small placards reading—
TURN LEFT for Quaking Aspen.
SLOW DOWN: Strawberries.
—Miles Merritt

I found this poem in the Poetry Issue of our local weekly, The Santa Fe Reporter.  It was my favorite of the bunch and makes me feel like I need to get outside, see what’s new.

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water.
Ted Kooser

Nebraska is Ted Kooser’s home and his poems take me back to the plains where I grew up—dark skies and the never-ending horizon.  He was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006 and these days edits the column American Life in Poetry.

Here is the link to the full text of his poem Flying at Night.

The Comet of 1910

It was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at a frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
—Stanley Kunitz

Reading Halley’s Comet makes me think of my grandfathers.  Like the poet, both were in grammar school when the comet made its first appearance of the 20th Century—it comes close enough to Earth be visible once every 75 years or so.

Did those little boys look up at the night sky searching for a streak of light?

9 Hours 53 Minutes 3 Seconds

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake.
—Timothy Steele


Photo by: Paula Nixon

Before this shortest day of the year is over I’ll share these lines from Timothy Steele’s poem Toward the  Winter Solstice and my shot of the L.A. sky, taken yesterday afternoon.

Here’s to a joyful and peaceful holiday season.  There will be lots of work to do in the new year.

Too Many Words

I have been trying to figure out what to write since Tuesday night. I finally decided—not much.   It’s been a loud, long campaign and now it is finally over.   We all need a break, a little peace and quiet.

I will share a couple of  brief comments from two of my favorite writers who inspired me this week.

From Terry Tempest Williams on election night:

A couple of days later from Sherman Alexie:

And finally, from Hillary Rodham Clinton in her November 9th speech:  “Make sure your voices are heard going forward . . . Fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Good night.  Don’t forget to go outside and take a look at the full moon.  EarthSky says it will be “equally awesome” tonight and tomorrow night (November 13th and 14th).

One Day, Three Rangers

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

Glacier National Park
June 2013
Ranger Brian pulled a grizzly claw out of his jacket pocket and explained that the bears were making a slow comeback, in part because the females only have cubs once every three years.  The small crowd, sitting on hard benches in the Discovery Cabin, listened attentively.  The perimeter of the rustic room was lined with shelves filled with animal pelts, skulls,  teeth—the props Brian used as he described the diverse animal population in Glacier National Park.  A couple of kids in the audience jumped up when he asked for volunteers, eager to assist in his demonstration of the difference between antlers and horns.

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

There are lots of ways to explore Glacier but on this cool, rainy June day Dave and I opted to stay close to the lodge.  Ours was going to be a very short visit after a very long trip—a late night flight into Idaho Falls two days earlier and then a 400-mile drive through Montana with stops along the way to look at construction projects. It was a mini-vacation at the end of our work week—the opportunity we had been looking for to get back to a favorite national park.

We decided the best way to make the most of our one full day in the park was to go to as many ranger programs as we could squeeze in.  We started with the Amazing Animals talk in Agpar Village and after Brian finished answering questions, he stepped outside to identify an unfamiliar pine tree for me.

Back at the lodge we hustled out to the dock for a cruise on the DeSmet.  Ranger Doug was waiting, microphone in hand, when we boarded.  Rain threatened our tour of Lake McDonald, but a little foul weather wasn’t going to deter the veteran ranger.  With more than fifty years of service in Glacier, he had lived through more than a few fires and floods and had tales to tell.

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Bear Grass. Photo by Paula Nixon

As we motored around the lake, he stressed the importance of water, fire, and ice in the ongoing evolution of the park.  Doug spent years hiking on the glaciers and remembers when the ice first began to recede.  Thinking it was only temporary, he found it hard to believe when he realized it wasn’t returning (the current estimate is that glaciers in the park will disappear by 2030).  Before we disembarked, Doug left us with a piece of advice, “Next time you get on a boat make sure there’s not a ranger on it with a big hat and a mouth to match.”

At dusk we parked and walked to Fish Creek amphitheater for our final event.  I regretted my forgotten umbrella,  but the shower was short-lived and Ranger Sarah’s enthusiasm was contagious.  She had just finished college with a degree in chemistry and this was her first summer as a ranger. She focused on the diversity present in the park starting at the lowest level—diatoms and moved up to insects.  They’re not nearly as engaging as a mountain goat or a gray wolf, but by the time she was finished we were all rooting for the survival of the western glacier stonefly, a tiny creature found only in the park whose existence is threatened by the shrinking ice.

Back at the lodge I had a buffalo burger and a beer and scribbled all I could remember from the ranger talks in my notebook before I fell asleep.

Three years have passed since that day spent at Glacier but the memories stay with me:  bunches of fluffy white bear grass in the forest; a sunbeam breaking through the clouds and lighting up the lake;  three foxes with white-tipped tails next to the trail, as curious about us as we were about them.

To Rangers Brian, Doug, and Sarah I thank you for your passion, wit, and generosity!