Sunday, September 25

THE CALM AFTER THE STORM -- A POST-RITA SUNDAY MORNING

My wife and I were fortunate -- very fortunate -- as were thousands like us in the greater Houston area, and we're counting our blessings this morning. Rita missed us and the air-conditioning is running.

Our house is intact, our landscaping unscathed, save for a large bougainvillea that toppled over, and the swimming pool, while a mess, has no more leaves and sundry debris in it than we've seen after big thunderstorms. Indeed, we've had far more violent weather here than was felt Friday night and through yesterday up until 5:30pm, when suddenly the gusty, 30 mph winds stopped on a dime and dissolved, as if on cue.

And rain? Laughable! Compared to a good ol' Texas-style "gully-washer," what Rita's outer bands brought to our small chunk of "dry side" property was more like a misting. We even had to top off our swimming pool, which we had let evaporate down to the top of the plaster last week in anticipation of a Rita deluge. And, unbelievably, with temperatures forecasted to reach 97 degrees here this afternoon, we'll have to turn on the lawn sprinklers!

Out here, north of Houston, in the Lake Conroe area, it's a postcard perfect day this morning. The lake is glassy-calm, reflecting a cloudless, azure blue sky, and there appears not to be even an occassional whiff of wind in the treetops of the tall, loblolly pines, as if God has declared a moratorium -- a respite from their intense swaying of yesterday. (Their backs are likely as sore as mine became from hauling inside all of the furniture and statuary from the yard.)

I spoke with one of my sisters yesterday afternoon and she inquired about flooding. I laughed and told her the only flooding we experienced was when, like an idiot, I tried to empty a Coleman water jug the size of an oil barrel into the kitchen sink and the ensuing tsunami wave covered the kitchen counter, cabinets, floor, and most of me. We had enough potable water stored in containers to have lasted us through the equivalent of the siege of Warsaw. And between the swimming pool and the filled-up bathtubs, we had over 37,000 gallons of water on hand with which to flush toilets through the next century.

My wife spent a good part of yesterday afternoon putting the house back in order, while I searched futilely for a college football game amidst the 342 cable news channels showing the same "live feed" of homes-on-stilts left standing along the Galveston shoreline. Neither of us has ever experienced a hurricane before, so we took everything to heart in terms of countless preparation checklists and may have, upon reflection, over-reacted a bit (or at least she did). My wife even removed loose items from mantels, countertops, and the tops of furniture, as if every window of the house was pre-ordained to implode and a piece of Waterford or a framed photograph of our grandsons could become a life-threatening missile.

She had prepared a windowless, walk-in closet under a staircase as an evacuation shelter for the two of us and our two small dogs. She had stocked it with provisions as though we might not have been able to make it the two giant steps into our kitchen. I left her mostly to her own volition in preparing it other than putting my foot down when she wanted to place an axe and a shovel in the closet so we could "dig out" in the event emergency responders couldn't reach us. I suffer from claustrophobia, acute at times, and I think I dreaded going into that closet more than I did the prospect of Rita dropping an oak tree on my chest. To me that closet looked more like an MRI, than a makeshift storm shelter. As it was -- remarkably -- we were able to sleep fitfully in our own bed Friday night, as heavy winds whipped about and their sounds occassionally became strident.

What we need to do most now once we get the garage emptied out of what belongs in the yard, as well as the yard and pool swept clean of debris, is to have a post-Rita party. We have enough food stocked in the pantry to hold a wedding reception for 500 people. I only hope our friends like Del Monte Cling Peaches, Campbells Chunky Clam Chowder, and Jack Link's Beef Jerky. They can wash it all down with Aquafina.