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Power lines on W. Thomas street are damaged from falling tree after Hurricane Ida came through Hammond August 29th.

My wife and I returned to Louisiana after a two-week vacation to find Hurricane Ida on our doorstep. It wasn’t the best homecoming, but I wasn’t surprised.

Before we left last month for travels west and east to see loved ones, I secured our house against bad weather. Ida had yet to appear, but I wanted the place ready in case a storm arrived while we were away.

No special skills of prophecy were needed to anticipate a hurricane coming to Louisiana at the bottom of summer. Katrina, embedded in the mind of anyone who’s lived here awhile, has taught us to think of late August as a minefield.

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One leg of our vacation took us to San Diego, where my wife asked an Uber driver about the weather, prompting a polite shrug. “The weather today is like this,” he said, pointing out the windshield to a flawless blue sky. “It’s this way every day.”

During our week in Southern California, the driver’s idyllic forecast held true. The days were so bright and pleasantly cool that they seemed controlled by a cosmic thermostat. I found myself taking them for granted. It was much the same during our subsequent week at a cabin in North Carolina, where the mountains brought mild mornings and crisp afternoons.

It’s easy to idealize places far from home, and I try to keep in mind that other regions have problems, too. Northern California is dealing with droughts and wildfires, and North Carolina’s New River, which snaked near our cabin, had recently swelled with flood waters. No part of the planet is immune from life’s misfortunes.

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Even so, it was nice to visit for awhile in communities where conversation about the weather is usually a form of small talk rather than a matter of life and death. I grieve about how much time people in Louisiana must spend each year talking about storms and flood. It would be refreshing to discuss other things, like improving our schools or building better roads. I’m afraid I’ve developed a codependent relationship with my TV meteorologist.

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At the very least, Louisiana’s long history with hurricanes gives us a shared story, which is something hard to come by in the country’s fragmented culture. Only recently has it occurred to me that hurricanes hang like signposts in my personal biography, a way to navigate the years. When I was a baby, my mother rocked me through the long night of Hurricane Betsy, an experience she often recalled as a parable of perseverance. My wife and I began courting as Hurricane Andrew arrived, and weathering the storm together helped make us feel we could handle marriage. Katrina and Gustav taught our children about resilience.

Ida, too, will now mark my life, as it will with everyone in south Louisiana. Finding some good in this bitter gift will be our privilege, I suppose, and our obligation.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.