The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 98: Looking Back At Baton Rouge- Part 1

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September 6, 2020-

Today presented itself, back at Home Base, with a few responsibilities right off the bat- two Zoom calls and two loads of laundry. Mostly, though, I had plenty of time to ease back into the routine that occupies me here.

It’s apropos to note a couple of subjects that derive from the day or so that I spent in Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital ha,s at times, languished in the shadow of its Big Easy sister to the southeast. New Orleans was, in fact, offered me as a place from which to fly homeward, yet, with a guaranteed ride to BR and none to NOLA, I politely declined the offer.

The free day, that resulted from my catching a ride to Baton Rouge, provided a chance to get a look at a preserved plantation property: Magnolia Mound. It was medium-sized, even its heyday-with 80 enslaved people working the property, at maximum, primarily for sugar cane production. There were a series of thirteen owners, between 1797 and 1905, the latter owner running the place as a sharecropping enterprise, after a brief period (1863-7) in which the freedmen remained on the property and ran it as their own business, in a time of confusion as to the whereabouts of the owner. In the mid-1960’s, the property was purchased by the City of Baton Rouge, as a park, in order to preserve the French Creole architecture and artifacts.

I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the Historic House (manor) from a delightful young lady, named Cat, with encyclopedic knowledge of the various aspects of the grounds and buildings. No photography is allowed INSIDE the Historic House, but here are some scenes of other parts of the park.

Magnolia Mound Visitors Center
Hart House, the home of a post-Emancipation owner of Magnolia Mound, who had his mother live in the mansion, though without running water. Nice guy, Mr. Hart.
The magnolia is one of two dominant trees on the property.
La Grange Pavilion is a former barn, now used as an event center.
The Live Oak is the other dominant tree on the property.
This is an external view of a Slave Cabin. Each cabin housed five people. There were at least sixteen such cabins on the property, at the height of its operation. The cabins were destroyed by a tornado in 1871. This structure is similar to those destroyed, but was itself brought from another plantation.
This shows the sleeping area of an enslaved person’s cabin. There were likely two or three other beds in the room, as well.
Looms were a critical tool of the enslaved women who worked in the Main House. They tended to all matters involving the property owner’s family, as well as making their own clothes.
This is the Overseer’s House. Overseers were, generally, just a notch above the enslaved- and could have been anyone from a poor Scotch-Irish farmer to a freed African-American. They were, however, not enslaved.
Here is the open hearth of the outdoor kitchen for the Plantation House. Enslaved women prepared all the meals here.
Here is a view of the front to the Plantation (Historic) House. The construction is a blend of Spanish, Creole and Caribbean archtiecture.

Enslavement has always bothered me, especially as an institution. That it was deemed necessary to build our nation’s economy is particularly odious. The story, though, ought not be erased or canceled. It needs to remain as part of the larger cautionary tale, lest it ever happen again.

Next: Louisiana’s State Capitol

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 97: Cramped, but Not Squished

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September 5, 2020, Phoenix-

America’s hottest (temperature-wise) metropolitan area welcomed me back, this evening-with an air temperature of 113F-at 8 p.m. This is just another reminder of why I left this city, nine years ago. It could, of course, be worse- I could always find myself, at some point, on the plains of northern India, in the Arabian Desert or in Baghdad. I will wait, though, and not be in any hurry along those lines. Thankfully, it was a short walk from the air-conditioned terminal to the air-conditioned van that will bring me back to Prescott (Air temperature, a balmy 81F).

The day started in Baton Rouge, with a relaxing morning and a lunch of left-over jambalaya and crawfish pie, from the delightful Rice & Roux. The business manager of Spring Hill Suites drove me over to the airport, as she has NO desk or transport staff, at the moment. Such is life, in the sneering face of COVID-19.

Baton Rouge Regional Airport is a small enterprise, and was rather languid, even somnolent in places. TSA, though, was alert, and I found that I had not been thorough enough, in sorting stuff out of my carry-on. A nearly-full bottle of water and some plastic cutlery bit the dust.

The puddle-jumper to Dallas-Fort Worth left on-time. With the two seats in front of us remaining empty, my young row mate got his own row-giving both of us some sorely-needed space. The other good thing was that the tiny plane was in the air for barely an hour.

A snack and a vitamin water, at DFW, sufficed before I boarded the somewhat larger plane to Phoenix. We were told that the plane would be “quite full”, leading a different young row mate to take her seat in the middle of the row, with me in the window seat. Fortunately, she was able to take the aisle seat. Given that there was a large backlog of planes waiting to take off, and the seat space is much smaller than I even remember from two years ago, I can’t imagine how it would have gone, had a third row mate shown up.

Two hours later, the still restless and anxious young lady, facing God-knows-what, in the hours and days ahead, was off the plane and out the terminal door like a shot. She said nothing, only glancing at my copy of “The New Jim Crow” and taking note of the title and author, then going back to availing herself of what little comfort the seat allowed. I felt nothing but empathy.

Another friend had suggested ditching the plane in Dallas, taking a train to OKC and from there, going to Flagstaff, via Amtrak. Two things- I flew on the Red Cross’s dime and there is no direct transport from Flagstaff to Prescott. The train is always an option for the future, but I do like the freedom offered by driving.

So, off we go, up to Prescott, and at least two weeks of respite from disaster response.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 96: Remembrance of Alexandria

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September 4, 2020, Baton Rouge-

Tommy sat on a concete ledge, taking in the goings on, around a downtown park. He said he’d been struggling, but was determined to get back up and keep on going. He noted the three frames of tile mosaic, in front of us, saying he found something new in each tile, everytime he looked at them. This, he noted, was the true beauty of art. He expressed appreciation for our Red Cross efforts on behalf of Rapides Parish- a sentiment shared by many around this mid-state community.

There was a brief two hours, on Wednesday, when I was let loose upon downtown Alexandria, to get in some walkabout time and check out a four block radius of the district. Alexandria is a rather utilitarian city, with few landmarks of note-but there is a small park, near City Hall, which also doubles as Parish House.

Here is sundial motif, designating the seat of Rapides Parish.
Alexandria Museum was closedm by the time I got downtown.

The following three frames are a triptych of tile mosaics, in City Hall Park.

Tile mosaic of marine life.
Tile Mosaic of land animals.
Tile Mosaic of more animals, and people wprking together.
Alexandria Towers
Weiss and Goldring water tower
Capsicum, in ground box.

As it was time to get back and resume my own work, I got back in the truck and drove around, through the south side, passing people out enjoying the evening air-seeming just glad to have their languid, but clear skied, days back, after the storm of August 26.

The Summer of The Rising Tides, Day 95: The Wrap

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September 3, 2020, Baton Rouge-

All things come to an end, though their successor events take up the slack, right away. So it was with the ten-day sheltering exercise at Rapides Parish Coliseum, Alexandria, LA. (For those not familiar with Louisiana, a parish is the state’s equivalent of a county.)

We started early, maintaining services to the clients, until their 2 p.m. departure, either by chartered bus or personal vehicle to Louisiana State University at Alexandria, where they were either assigned to a mega-shelter or offered a hotel room somewhere else in Louisiana. A few stragglers came in during the day-two requesting lunch and one who thought he could stay the night. The couple got their lunch and the homeless man was given a couple of phone numbers to call for further assistance.

The hard work of breaking down sleeping cots and gathering up blankets lasted nearly four hours. Then, it was time to bid farewell to “Alex”. A dinner stop at Logan’s Road House, itself a happy, but somewhat chaotic establishment, provided fine food and good cheer.

Two hours later, we were here in Louisiana’s capital. I have tomorrow, and bit of Saturday, to rest up before the flight back to Arizona. It’s been a fascinating, sometimes grueling, deployment-getting to know and care deeply about, a cross-section of southwest and central Louisiana’s displaced people, both storm-displaced and homeless. There was no Black vs. White or Cajun/Creole vs. English- just a hundred thirty souls, all in the same boat.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 94: Staying the Course, In Twilight

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September 2, 2020, Alexandria, LA-

This city, I found out today, was named for the original landowner, Alexander Fulton. The settlement was platted in 1805. It was originally a link between Baton Rouge, to the south and Natchitoches (NAT-chit-uh-chiz) to the north.

So, there’s that. Today, Alexandria is a mostly easy going, sometimes bustling city of about 50,000 people. I got to see a bit of the Red River preserve on Monday, and some of downtown, today. A photo post will come, next week.

Today was mostly spent breaking down parts of the shelter area, whilst still maintaining a sense of security and hope for those staying with us tonight, and part of tomorrow. No professional team drops the ball on those being served, and we most definitely go on. One had to leave, for violating rules of safety and hygiene. That individual received guidance and a way forward. The rest are still with us. I have, for my part, maintained rules of hygiene and courtesy-for which the vast majority are grateful, and in which clients have started to share. This is true, across all socioeconomic and ethnic groups here.

Tomorrow is likely to be a long day, as transition days usually are. Some will be on edge. I will just stay the course and remain mindful of all that I need to do-one thing at a time.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 93: That Hamilton Woman

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September 1, 2020, Alexandria, LA-

The Disney enterprise once had a masterful cartoonist, in Bruce Hamilton. His signature characters were Donald Duck and his family, His back-up, his leading lady, was Helen.

Bruce passed on, several years ago, after a lengthy illness, leaving Helen as matriarch of a talented family of artistes. She was the focused eye of reality, keeping all her dreamers on track.

The Hamilton home, in Prescott, was well-appointed and always welcoming. Hollywood posters, from the Golden Age, abounded-with the signature “That Hamilton Woman”, promoting a period piece from 1941, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Disney memorabilia, and Bruce’s life’s work, adorned all common rooms.

Helen passed on, yesterday, after a lengthy illness. Her legacy is one of clear vision, cultured generosity, and a structured approach to life-all coming forth from a gentle demeanour. She made the finest brownies-and I’m told, delectable deviled eggs and egg salad. She and Bruce traveled widely-across Europe and South America, as well as all over the United States.

That Hamilton woman was regal, and will be sorely missed.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 90: Diurnal, Nocturnal

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August 29, 2020, Alexandria, LA-

The good of the whole

sometimes

calls for the topsy turvy

to take hold.

So, a day of rest was prescribed

for yours truly,

both before and after

an overnight shift.

I sense the calm before the storm.

The day let me wash and dry clothes,

see a bit of the Red River’s banks,

and enjoy Mexican food, Louisiana-style.

It’s actually a pretty good fit, “LaMex”.

The night, as it happened,

was peaceful and went very, very slowly.

I was thus also prescribed whatever

sleep I needed.

The calm before the storm, indeed.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 89: Deferred

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August 28, 2020, Alexandria, LA

The Internet was down today, and will be, until the 31st. So, I have decided that deferral of this blog series will just be a fact of life. In the meantime, I jotted down some notes and can say that there is actually no place I’d rather be, right now, than among the displaced and downtrodden of western and central Louisiana.

We are put among people who need us, in this life, and maybe we need them, just as much. There had to have been a good reason why I dreamt of being deployed to Alexandria. Some, from other parts of the country, put down the South, and the Deep South in particular. I dissent from that view. So far, in fact, Blacks, Whites and Hispanics have been together, under the roof of Rapides Parish Coliseum-for the past five days, in COVID-protocol close quarters, getting along well, because their circumstances are the same and becuase our team treats them all the same.

So, in gratefully accepting the Red Cross Challenge Coin,the organization’s certificate of merit, this evening, I noted that I am accepting it on behalf of everyone who is on staff.

A week remains, as do further challenges that come with a community in recovery. It’s nice to hear, though, that I am always welcome in Alexandria.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 87: Facing the Mother Bear

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August 26, 2020, Alexandria, LA-

Hurricane Laura’s forewinds began to pound the coast of Louisiana, around 10 a.m. The long process of rain showers, followed by clear skies, then increasing winds, and more rain, pretty much summed up the pattern of the day’s events.

Amazingly, Laura did not throw a storm surge at the vulnerable coast, which is already waterlogged, given its low elevation. We, here, in the middle of the state, have vulnerability to flooding as well, owing to the many rivers that are tributaries of the Mississippi, as well as the Red River.

I devoted the better part of twelve hours today, to getting clients settled and helping with logistical matters, like trash and feeding. This comes with recognition, which has taken me many years to learn to accept. It sure does beat criticism, though.

By bedtime, we had a plan in place to beat back Mother Bear Laura. The beast would give us her best shot.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 86: The Move, The Rest and The Second Move

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August 25, 2020, Alexandria, LA-

Our day began in Beaumont, with slight overcast but gathering clouds off to the south. Tropical Depression Marco had dissipated, with little effect on the coast. Hurricane Laura, on the other hand, was shaping up to be either a Category 3 or 4 storm.


So, the preparations began for our Red Cross team, called a “Strike Team”, so named for our specific mission. Ours is to be ready for the surge of people who are likely to come to this small city, in the center of Louisiana, in advance of Laura’s anticipated surge of 10-15 feet, just south of Lake Charles.

I had a dream, last Tuesday evening, that I would deploy to this city, which I know only from a news item about three girls transferring to a private school, some thirty-five years ago. The women have likely moved on, but Alexandria has grown a bit and has taken a place as a regional hub for the mid-state.

Getting back to our day’s itinerary, the call came to pack up and move out, so we were on the road by 10 a.m. Bye, bye, Beaumont. and two hours later, Bon Soir, Baton Rouge. We got settled in our rooms, I went over to a take-out only International House of Panckaes, got a burger, onion rings and a large lemonade, walked back in a brief shower, enjoyed lunch and laid down for a brief nap. Then, five minutes later- Up and out!

That was my shortest motel stay, ever-having never engaged in illicit affairs. We were once again on the road, this time to Alexandria. My dream having transpired, we engaged in setting up sleeping cots, bringing in basic supplies and getting a decent night’s rest. We are. presently, prepared to stay here, at Rapides Parish Coliseum, for 3-5 days. That, as we learned yesterday, is subject to change-at the command of the storm.

It is likely that Laura will hammer the west central to middle Gulf Coast and several hundred miles inland, then become a tropical depression, stretching from Arkansas to Cape Cod, via the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic Coast, before returning to tropical storm status and heading for Nova Scotia.

It”s going to be a long week for many-and we still have room in our hearts for those suffering from fires in California and in Globe, Arizona.