Vigilance and Stevie Wonder

From Sunday’s walk. I believe those were clouds related to the first storm.

Note: this post has nothing to do with vigilantes, a noun whose meaning is significantly different from “vigilance.” It’s a pity the words look so similar.

No, I’m concerned with the state of vigilance: “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.”

And Stevie Wonder? I’ll get to him in a bit.

I have a propensity to be hyper-vigilant. Especially during hurricane season. This past weekend, with two storms headed toward Louisiana, my Hurricane Tracker app was definitely getting a workout. As of right now, the first storm has passed, with little to no impact on the area where I live. The second storm, Laura, is forecast to become a major hurricane and come ashore near the Louisiana-Texas border late Wednesday night, Aug. 26.

So I’m still hyper-vigilant right now. While the eye should pass well to the West, we are likely to see high winds and rain.

And in the midst of this, it occurred to me — I’ve been in a state of hyper-vigilance for the past six months. Checking the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 information site daily (but only during work days, I give myself a break on weekends). Watching the hospitalization trends, ventilator usage.

Here’s the crux: I’m not sure how this state of prolonged hyper-vigilance is affecting me. My guess is, it’s not a net-positive.

This is where Stevie Wonder comes in. On Sunday, I happened to hear a snippet of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” his #1 single from 1974. I queued it up on Spotify for a better listen, and it did NOT disappoint. It has everything I love about his particular style of funk. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube, if you’d also like to take a listen:

But I also paid particular attention to the lyrics, probably for the first time. They really struck me. Catch the opening line:

“Ow
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do”

I wondered if he had written it about Richard Nixon, and Wikipedia proved my assumption correct. Apparently, Nixon resigned two days after the record’s release (though I’m pretty sure the record was not the reason).

Personally, I think the song translates very nicely to our current era, but Nixon is the only Republican politician I’ll reference in this post. Instead, I’ll take the song’s accusation and tie it back to my personal life.

What if my hyper-vigilance, against forces of nature (plagues and storms), has caused a paralysis? Six months ago, when I found myself home A LOT more, I thought it would be a boon to my writing. So far, that hasn’t panned out. Regarding the necessary re-writes and edits on my third novel, to quote Stevie, “I haven’t done nothin.”

So I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for what I’m reading as a fortuitous kick in the pants. While it’s not in my nature to lose the vigilance completely, I’m planning to be more mindful of its negative impacts.

If the Path Be Beautiful

The quote on this month’s “Pathways” calendar page feels particularly poignant. One of the things that the stay-at-home guidance has afforded me is almost daily sunrise walks in New Orleans City Park. I have indeed seen some beautiful paths over the past 5+ months. And even though the paths are the same, the scenery does change, because the light hits differently as the Earth makes its way around our star. I’ve included a few of the more wondrous sights at the bottom of this post.

When I looked at the front of the calendar, to check its title, lo and behold, it features this quote: “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” Attribution unknown. Could there be a better overarching hope for this singular year?

Just a few observations about the quote for August, before I share some of my beautiful paths. “If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads” is attributed to Anatole France. Although I couldn’t find which work it’s from. I’ve also been curious about his name — a French writer with the last name of France — and found out it’s an assumed name. He was born Fran├žois-Anatole Thibault, which seems more likely for a child born in 1844.

Without further ado, here are some sunrise photos from the past several months.

April 13, 2020
April 24, 2020
June 2, 2020
July 4, 2020

Comet NEOWISE

I went looking for a comet last week. Didn’t have much luck.

Armed with my Sky Guide app and a telescope, I met up with three nieces at the Bonnabel Boat Launch on Lake Pontchartrain. Just a quick aside — the Bonnabel Boat Launch is just a few blocks from where I grew up. It has expanded quite a bit from the days when I used to run down there, looking for slate to skim on the typically placid lake.

While there were more people hanging out than I expected to see, we still had a clear view of the northwest sky. That’s where the Sky Guide app said to look for Comet NEOWISE. It came closest to Earth on July 22, and just a week or so had passed from that date, so I figured we should have had a pretty good shot at seeing it.

Except…we discovered the telescope was missing a critical component: the eyepiece. We were trying to look at Jupiter and Saturn, which were visible in the eastern sky. But without that additional lens, all we could see in the viewer were two dots, on a much smaller tableau.

The fair amount of light pollution in the New Orleans atmosphere, and my aging eyes, didn’t bode well for my chances of seeing it unassisted. My nieces thought they caught glimpses of it with their naked eyes. When I looked where they indicated, I think all I saw was a floater.

Having read War and Peace this year, where the Comet of 1812 plays a pivotal part in Pierre Bezukov’s epiphany, I took the Comet of 2020 to be a sign of some sort of modern-day pivot. What kind of pivot, I don’t know. And I wanted to see it while I still could.

Instead, I witnessed a beautiful sunset (pictured above) over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, with three of my most favorite and beloved people. I’d be good with more of those sort of pivots.

Marathon Update

Sunday’s first “hill.”

So, my last pre-pandemic post, in early March, was about how I had signed up to run the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. Wha wha wha.

Cutting to the chase, the marathon was officially canceled on June 24. But even prior to then, I had deferred my participation to 2021. The good news? All of this means I can put off my 20+miles-in-the-heat-of-the-summer training runs until next summer.

I’m still following my training plan, but on weekends when I’m supposed to do a long run, I’m fudging on the distance, and aiming for a total time, instead. Like, go out for a total of two hours. I’m hoping to get out for three hours total at least once this summer, but I’ll have to start super early.

A super early start was not in the cards this past weekend. I started 2 hours later than I had intended, when the heat index was already bumping up against 100 degrees. So I scrapped all expectations on total time (I managed to stay out about 90 minutes), and thought to challenge myself with some “hills.”

“Hills” get quote marks, because anyone who knows New Orleans, knows the city is about as flat as a place can be. Flat and sinking. Training for hills in this city usually means running up and down the levees, and working the Wisner overpass into your route.

Wisner passes over Interstate 610, right at the boundary of City Park. An upgrade a few years back included a nice pedestrian path. This overpass just so happens to fall within the perimeter of my typical routes, though I usually exclude it from my outings (I know how to get around it). On Sunday, I decided it would be penance for starting late.

Herewith some more pictures from my “hill” run. That’s it for now!

The view from the top (of the Wisner overpass).
My second hill — Laborde “mountain” in the Couturie Forest.
A nice benefit to not being fixated on time or distance is noticing nearly hidden things (look right below the bright green leaf).
The very next day, on a recovery walk, I got judged.

The Very Next Day

Thursday, May 21, 6:03 am.

I witnessed a pretty remarkable sunrise in City Park the morning after I published that last post. I captured some photos over the course of roughly thirty minutes, and was very pleasantly surprised when I scrolled through those photos later.

The way the light and sky changed depending on where I pointed my iPhone, and the varied focal points — it all made me feel like I had covered far greater ground over a much longer time. I look at the photos now and still feel a certain sense of accomplishment, however unwarranted it might be. Hey, I’ll take it where I can get it!

This is my first time sharing these photos, and it’s also all I have for this post. I figure it’s the equivalent of 5,000 words…

Thursday, May 21, 6:04 am. Never mind the pond (rebel) scum.
Thursday, May 21, 6:11 am. I almost captured the full orb of the sun without tweaking the camera.
Thursday, May 21, 6:30 am.
Thursday, May 21, 6:34 am.

Within a Week

Saturday, May 16, 5:56 am. View of City Park’s Peristyle from across Bayou Metairie.

I considered titling this post “A Slice of Stay at Home,” but since only one of the pictures is from inside my home, I figured that might be misleading.

Maybe “A Slice of My New Normal” would be more appropriate. I was coming up empty on topics for this week — I haven’t read anything of note since Macbeth, and I’m taking a little break before diving into a new (for me) classic. It will most likely be The Canterbury Tales.

But I digress. In lieu of anything else, I figured I would share some photos from my iphone, captured over the course of a week. Most of them are from New Orleans City Park. I live a block away from City Park, and I’m very grateful for that!

Even pre-pandemic, I was in the park for exercise, maybe three times a week. Now, with no morning commute to contend with, and with the sun rising earlier as we move toward summer, I’m usually able to get out for a sunrise walk most days of the week. A bonus for heading outside that early: it’s very easy to maintain social distance.

I put my favorite photo of the bunch at the top of the post. The rest are in chronological order.

Monday, May 11, 1:50 pm. An uninvited visitor found his way to my home office.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:09 am. Sunrise over Bayou St. John.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:13 am. Still sunrise, still Bayou St. John, looking toward St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:22 am. Left the sunrise behind and headed home.
Monday, May 18, 7:27 am. Had to head to a different part of town for an early morning appointment. Got a view of the Mississippi River.

206 Years Ago

Sunrise, April 13, 2020.

On April 11, 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated the throne of the French empire, and was sent off to exile. The first time he was exiled, it was to the relatively accessible island of Elba in the Mediterranean. (Those seeking to be done with him would not repeat the mistake — the second and final time he was exiled, it was to the island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean. This place is exceedingly remote, even by today’s standards.)

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time with Napoleon in the past year. I read The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle of 2019, and that book is set in the immediate aftermath of Napoleon’s reign. And Napoleon’s all over War and Peace. I’m 89% of the way through Tolstoy’s epic, and currently in the story, it’s October 1812 and Napoleon is hightailing it out of Russia.

Napoleon’s doings seemed to be the cause of a lot of uncertainty back in the day. I’d never really thought of it that way before, I think because I tend to look back at history as a concrete thing. “This happened, and then this happened because of it, and these were the effects.” But reading War and Peace has put me right back in that time, as only good fiction can. I felt the uncertainty of the characters as Napoleon’s army came into Moscow, and I feel it as the French abandon a burnt-out city and country.

It’s hard not to draw parallels with our current level of uncertainty.

So on Saturday, when I read that it was the 206th anniversary of Napoleon’s abdication, it had a little more impact than if I had not spent the better part of this past 12 months in Napoleon’s world. It was like a reminder of the fact that the French really did leave Russia, and Napoleon was forced from public life, eventually. And, oh yeah, he’s been dead for almost 200 years.

The live oak pictured at the top of this post could have been around 200 years ago. It’s not far from some oaks that are believed to be between 750 and 900 years old. While it may not be too long before we can all say, “this is what happened as a result of our 21st century pandemic, and these were the effects,” that’s little consolation for our immediate anxiety. Thinking of what that tree may have been around for, and seeing it still standing strong, makes it feel like a beacon of hope.

Duck Life

Around this time every year, I usually see the duck couples. Waddling around in pairs, touring the local environs. I’ve always fancied they’re house hunting, or habitat hunting, or something.

Several years ago, I remember a pair walking down the sidewalk in my Mom’s neighborhood. Mom’s been gone more than 5 years now, so maybe this was 7 or 8 years ago? Her house was a good half block of paved street away from the nearest water source, a drainage canal.

This pair took a detour onto her lawn and perused her garden, then continued down the street. Why they chose to waddle, and not fly, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not fluent in duck-speak (though I kinda wish I was). I suppose you get a much better feel for a place when you’re on the ground, rather than many feet above it.

I had a surprisingly emotional reaction when I encountered a duck couple, just a few days ago. Yes, it’s the time of year I’d expect to see them. But so much is extraordinary about these times we find ourselves in, I was touched to happen upon something so ordinary and expected. I guess it’s business as usual for aquatic fowl.

Since I’m accustomed to practicing social distancing with wildlife, it was business as usual for me, too, as I observed the pair for a moment. I hope they find what they’re looking for. And I look forward to seeing more duck couples in the few weeks ahead, and then certainly again next year.

The couple from a few days ago is pictured above. Below are some other photos I captured on that solitary, sunrise walk.

In times of war, disaster, epidemic, and illness

Spotted during a “socially distant” walk along the Mississippi River levee.

So, a couple of things. First, it’s rapidly becoming clear that New Orleans is a hot zone for the COVID-19 outbreak. While these are strange times all over, it feels extra strange and scary here. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to assume that this contagion was silently spreading among us as the city celebrated Mardi Gras, just three weeks ago.

Second, I continue to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Why wouldn’t I continue, now that isolation is the order of the day/week/month?) I’m at the spot in the story where Napoleon’s march on Moscow is imminent. This quote struck me in a particular way as I read it:

“As the enemy closed in on Moscow the attitude of the inhabitants to their situation, far from becoming all serious-minded, actually became more frivolous, as always happens with people who can see a terrible danger bearing down on them.”

Now, New Orleans is not Moscow, nor is this viral pandemic Napoleon. But New Orleans is no stranger to either war or epidemic. We had our own war in 1812, the same year Napoleon invaded Russia; and yellow fever was a major scourge to New Orleans for most of the 19th century.

Which brings me to the title of this post. It’s from a prayer, specific to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I’m pretty fond of this prayer. While I don’t know all the details of its provenance, I assume it was crafted with the intention of stemming the tide of gun violence in our city. Now feels like a good time to share it.

A few notes, regarding some very New-Orleans-Catholic references: Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Virgin Mary, a long-time patroness for the city. (Prompt succor means “quick aid.”) Mother Henriette DeLille was a woman of color who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family holy order in the 19th century.

Here’s the prayer. May you read it with the faith that we will get to the other side of all these scourges.

“Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.

We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.

Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us. Mother Henriette DeLille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.”

More photos from the river levee walk.

Mardi Gras and Lent

Marking the Mardi Gras season at our door.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Yesterday was the end of all the festivities that make up the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.

I’ve come to realize over the course of many years of adulthood that Lent fits into my lifestyle more easily than Mardi Gras does. Especially my writing lifestyle. When you work full-time, and focus on writing during your “margin” times, I look to the weekends to make progress on my works-in-progress. Or at least think about making progress while I’m doing laundry and other stuff I tend to save for the weekends.

This year, I made a conscious effort not to feel guilty or anxious about the writing I don’t do over Mardi Gras. I had some success; I certainly felt more at ease with the frivolity this year than I have in years past. That writing anxiety is pretty much antithetical to the whole spirit of Mardi Gras, and I would hate to be against the spirit of the season.

Making progress on positive, life-affirming goals — writing and otherwise — is what Lent is for, anyway.

Every Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Endymion parade turns our neighborhood into one big block party. Stared at this float while waiting for the parade to start.
Touring the neighborhood Saturday, captured this gorgeous tree in bloom. Not sure if it’s a Japanese Maple, Elm or other.
Early Mardi Gras morning, I watched the Clydesdales load up and head out toward the parades.