On Memorial Day morning, I got up with the sunrise, with the intention of capturing some photos in City Park’s Couturie Forest. I visited there a few weeks ago (without a camera), and wrote about the experience here.
For the next several weeks, I intend to post more picture-heavy posts, rather than word-heavy posts. I’m going off the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. Because I really need to get cranking on the third and final story of the trilogy I’ve been working on. For what feels like forever. Certainly longer than I’ve had this blog.
So anyway, the intention with the pictures, is that maybe I will channel the writing energy into the novel, while still sharing glimpses of the things I find compelling about this strange and wondrous city.
As it turns out, the Couturie Forest pictures will have to come at another time. A pad-locked chain link fence kept me from entering Monday morning. I suspect it doesn’t open until after 7 a.m., and I was a bit early. So I trekked about another half mile north to the City Park Fishing Pier. It was a beautiful morning, and early enough so that it was still cool.
I checked the Couturie Forest gate on my way back from the fishing pier–no joy. (It was still a few minutes before seven o’clock.) I will try again next weekend.
Last Saturday began with no agenda, other than to get out and get some exercise. And to do this unplugged. I walked out my front door, maybe fifteen minutes after the official sunrise time of 6:14 a.m.
The next hour (plus) went a long way toward recharging my battery. Funny how unplugging can do that. The only reason I missed my phone was for its camera. It might have been nice to capture some photos of the eastern sky, which was awash in color for the first part of the walk. But I did get one shot before I left the house:
On the latter part of the walk, I took a detour into City Park’s Couturie Forest. It had been years since I’d ventured into this sylvan escape, even though I pass by it multiple times in any given week. Even on my more ambitious runs of days past (Saturday’s excursion was maybe 30% run, 70% walk), it didn’t make sense to venture into the forest. The paths there are definitely not meant for running, and I never felt I could spare the time to meander.
That feels foolish on my part, in retrospect.
Here’s a description of the Couturie Forest, from City Park’s website: “. . .the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town! Combined with Scout Island, the 60-acre Couturie Forest is a nature-lover’s haven filled with native trees, scenic waterways, and fascinating wildlife — all in the heart of the New Orleans.”
It really is magical: you cross a small bridge, step onto a path, and instantly, the canopy of trees overhead muffle the sound of the roadway, no more than forty yards away. Well, that’s a guesstimate. . .the road is close, I know that much.
The highest point in New Orleans lies within the Couturie Forest. Climb Laborde Mountain, and you’ll be 43 feet above sea level. That was my first stop. There’s not much of a view, because the spot is surrounded by trees. But it sure is quiet up there.
There’s a lot more to write about the Couturie Forest, and I plan to visit again soon (with a camera). In the interest of not getting too long-winded, I’ll skip to my sighting upon exiting the forest. Around the bridge that marks the entrance (and exit), I saw a bright red bird, pecking away at the ground. It was still early, so maybe there were worms.
“A cardinal!” I thought. ‘Round these parts, I see robins, and blue jays, and these very loquacious green parrots; but cardinals are a lot rarer. But this little one didn’t have the features I’d associate with a cardinal: no black markings on the face, nor the comb atop the head.
I thought of my mother. . .while she wasn’t a birder, she was always one to pick up on the details of flora and fauna. I also thought of fellow blogger Dr. Rex, who wrote a lovely post about the meaning behind red birds and cardinals. (I hope you don’t mind me linking here, Dr. Rex!)
After conducting some sleuthing when I got back home, I decided the little red bird was a Summer Tanager, a member of the Cardinal family. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab has a very robust online library, that’s where I picked up the picture at the top of this post. (I hope I covered all the proper photo credits).
As often happens, I want to tie some direct spiritual or metaphysical meaning to my sighting of the Summer Tanager. It’s an exercise I have to remind myself, just as often, that’s fraught with peril. Trying to correlate cause and effect to these types of things never works out like I think it might. So I’ll just tie it to feelings. The things I was thinking and feeling during my unplugged walk, and the things that jumped out at me as I looked for the bird on the Internet:
I’m anticipating a convergence of my family members, coming into town for an upcoming wedding. It’s my niece’s wedding, she’s the second one of the next generation to get married, but it’s the first one my mom won’t be around for.
The first person I thought of when I saw the Summer Tanager was my mother.
The first line in Dr. Rex’s post about red birds is: “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you.”
So without going any deeper, I’ll just say that I’ll take this as an article of faith: that my mother will be with all her family as they gather here in the next week or so, in our hearts and memories. May her gentle spirit bless all the proceedings.
For anyone who’s spent any time in New Orleans over the past several months, there’s been no escaping all the tricentennial coverage, signage, and just all-around hullaballoo over this city’s 3ooth birthday.
I spent this past Saturday in the French Quarter, amidst some volatile Spring weather. I think tornadoes hit in North Louisiana, but we were spared down in the Southeast corner of the state. Walking the streets, and getting soggy, I wasn’t necessarily soaking up history, but I was definitely thinking about it. (I’m a pretty sensitive sort, and there’s a lot of misery in this city’s history. Gotta be careful about what I soak up, for self-preservation.) Several questions came to mind, that Google and Wikipedia helped answer:
Is there an actual date for New Orleans’s founding? According to Wikipedia, yes and no. It was founded in the Spring of 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who was heading up the French Mississippi Company at the time. The actual date has been lost to history, but someone apparently picked May 7 as a good springtime date to celebrate the anniversary. And as an aside, Bienville’s name has not been lost to history. He did a lot of settling all along the Gulf Coast.
Does the iconic St. Louis Cathedral predate the founding? Nope. There was a wooden church in the same location in 1718, not the big cathedral that stands today. It was upgraded in 1727, destroyed in the “Great New Orleans Fire” in 1788, and rebuilt by 1794. So the structure that stands there today is only 224 years old. It received its “cathedral” status in 1793, so it is, at least, one of the oldest, if not the oldest cathedral in the U.S.
What’s the big deal? Okay, well, neither Google nor Wikipedia could answer this question. But in the course of my searching, I discovered that New York City was founded in 1624 (as New Amsterdam). The English renamed it New York in 1664. So will New York go all woo-woo for 400 in six years? And then again in forty-six years? And what about St. Augustine, Florida? It’ll turn 500 in 2065. That seems like a big deal. (Yes, Brother David, it really is the oldest city in the U.S. The city of St. Augustine has been an inside joke between the two of us for roughly forty years, now. No way to make that long story short).
I don’t want to seem like I’m not supportive of all these celebratory efforts with that last bit of snark. It is a pretty cool thing to live in a city that’s been around longer than the United States. I guess I just feel that a celebration of that many years should be tempered with some recognition of all the things those years encompassed, the good and bad. And tempering, or temperance, is not one of the things this city is known for.
On Monday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend presentations at the FBI field office in New Orleans. Many thanks to the New Orleans chapter of Sisters in Crime for arranging this outing for its members. Sisters in Crime is a national organization offering networking, advice and support to mystery authors. (While I wouldn’t qualify myself as a “mystery author,” I certainly seek to incorporate elements of mystery into my stories. My membership in this group has proven very worthwhile).
Having never been in any real trouble with the law, my impression of the FBI is mostly formed from movies. So, of course I’ve had Hans Gruber’s aforementioned quote from Die Hard going through my head as I attempt to write this piece. And then there’s also Agent Kay from Men in Black, when he’s posing as an FBI agent: “We at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we’re aware of.”
Entering the FBI field office was certainly serious business. We had to pass a limited background check in order to access the facility. And as the picture above shows, you can’t just waltz through the front door once you’ve been approved. We had to sign in at a guard gate, and then we were escorted by private security to the front door, where “Federal Bureau of Investigation” appears etched in invisible ink around the arch. You can barely make it out in the picture—which is, by the way, the only one I have, because we were not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronics into the field office.
Once inside, we were escorted by the community liaison to the “Old Case Files” room, where we were greeted by the Special Agent in Charge, Eric Rommal. He explained a little bit of how the FBI is organized around the country. The largest offices are in New York and Washington, D.C.; but they each cover a relatively small geographic area. New York covers the five boroughs, and Washington the D.C. metro area. By comparison, the New Orleans office covers the entire state of Louisiana.
After the SAC’s introduction, the newly-appointed Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) from the local Cyber division presented a case study on the investigation into some criminals, who stole about $100,000 by hacking into and assuming someone’s personal email address.
Later, when it was time for a bathroom break, I got a glimpse into why there was so much pre-screening before the FBI just let anyone into their facility. We had to be escorted to the toilets, too—right past an open door with “Gun Vault” marked alongside the door frame. I could see a line of rifles—I think they were rifles, I’m no gun expert—secured against the wall inside.
Our final presentation in the “Old Case Files” room was from the SSA of New Orleans’s Counterintelligence division. He played a lead role in the investigation of Tai Shen Kuo, a New Orleans resident who was convicted of spying for China. The case has been declassified, so SSA Bob Thibault was able to present a fascinating, first-hand account of all the cool, espionage-y details. My imagination was definitely sparked.
Finally, before we left, we received a quick demonstration of FATS, a firearms training simulator. It was a sobering look into the use of deadly force, and how every single time it boils down to a judgement call on the part of law enforcement.
It was pretty phenomenal to get a look inside an institution as public, in-the-glaring-spotlight/news-every-day-kinda-public, as the FBI. They’ve been at this for over a century! In the few hours I spent in the New Orleans office, I got a sense of earnest people, just trying to do their jobs, protecting honest folks from bad actors. Sorry, Hans, that may not be miraculous, but I’m grateful people remain willing to do the job, just the same.
So, I’ve still been hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for The Trouble on Highway One, my second novel, and the follow-up to The Incident Under the Overpass. That’s how I spent the bulk of this past weekend, except for two breaks.
On Sunday, Husband Tim and I saw Black Panther. I really enjoyed it, and found it to be one of the better offerings in the Marvel movie franchise. And the character T’Challa as portrayed by Chadwick Boseman is a definite favorite. (I like to root for the good guys with a sense of humility. And for the record, I’m Team Cap all the way.)
On Saturday, I (mostly) ran the 504k race in Crescent Park. (504 is the area code for New Orleans. And this race is 5.04 kilometers long). For me, having run this race is worth noting for several reasons:
It’s the first race I’ve run in over two years. I really don’t remember the last race I ran. The years started catching up with my legs and lower back roughly two years ago, and I followed an orthopedist’s advice and took a break from running.
Strike that, I do remember the last race I ran. I (mostly) ran one of the two-mile races they hold in City Park over the summer. But that turned out to be an anomaly. Legs or knees or something started bothering me shortly thereafter.
This time around, I followed a physical therapist’s advice and got back into running s-l-o-w-l-y. Like build the miles slowly. Like try running for five minutes, then add a minute a week at a time.
Okay, didn’t mean to go so far into my wonky physiology. What I really wanted to say was how good it feels to be running again, and how much I missed it. And how much fun it was to run a race I’d never run before, in a park I had not yet been to.
Many thanks to my friend Samantha for the entry to the race. She’s on the Board of Directors for Youth Run NOLA, the organizers of the 504k. Youth Run NOLA partners with schools and the community to “help youth develop healthy habits for life through distance running.” All photo credits in this post go to Samantha, too.
Interestingly enough, it’s been about two years since I’ve written about running in this space (I think swimming has made more entries.) Take a look, if you’re interested, it still rings true for me: Writing and Running
The 2018 Mardi Gras season just concluded yesterday. Today is Ash Wednesday, but I’ve written about that before. I marched in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus on Saturday, February 3. It’s a sci-fi themed Mardi Gras parade, and it’s a good fit for me. As it was my fourth year participating, I’ve written about that experience before, too.
I realized I’ve never written about Endymion, though. The Krewe of Endymion is one of the self-proclaimed “Super-Krewes,”—gargantuan, extravagant parades that punctuate the days leading up to Mardi Gras. I don’t know the exact parameters of a Super Krewe, or who determines that designation. Growing up, Endymion was always the big parade that rolled the Saturday before Mardi Gras, and Bacchus on that Sunday.
Those two parades still own the Mardi Gras weekend. But in the decade and a half that’s passed since I returned to New Orleans, three other parades have become a pretty big deal. Orpheus, which rolls the night before Mardi Gras (Lundi Gras); Nyx, on Wednesday a week before Mardi Gras, and Muses the next night, Thursday. The Krewe of Muses was the inspiration for local writer Bill Loehfelm’s latest novel, The Devil’s Muse.
It’s one of those things about living in New Orleans, and being from New Orleans, that must seem pretty alien to those not from around these parts. This innate knowledge of all the different krewes, and the components that make up a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. There is a fountain on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the Mardi Gras fountain, that I used to love as a kid. Our dad would drive us out there some evenings; and when the fountain was turned on, and the lights were a-blazing, it was a pretty impressive sight.
I took a walk out there this past summer, and perused all the placards that line the fountain. One for each krewe that has paraded during Mardi Gras, going back about a century. Many of those krewes are not around any more. I had a thought of making a blog post about each of those krewes—I’d have more than a year’s worth of material.
But, obviously, I didn’t give it much more than a thought. I knew I’d get bored with the subject matter pretty quickly.
So, anyway, Endymion. This parade runs a different route from all the other big parades in New Orleans. (Chewbacchus also runs a different route, but it’s not a “big” parade.) Whereas the big parades roll Uptown, and along historic St. Charles Avenue, Endymion rolls through Mid City. And for the decade and a half that I’ve been back in New Orleans, I’ve lived right at the start of the Endymion parade.
The parade’s floats line up alongside City Park. This past Saturday, I took a walk with sister-in-law Christie, and mother-in-law Aprill, and captured a few photos of the dormant creations, before they were loaded with riders.
Rain threatened all day, but we managed to stay dry for most of our walk. We only had to employ the umbrella in the last few minutes before we made it back home.
Mere minutes after I posted last week’s story about the International Space Station, I went outside to watch it pass overhead again. 48 hours had passed from the sighting I featured in that post. And what a difference 48 hours made.
Really, it took less time than that for the city of New Orleans to plunge into a deep freeze. Overnight, we had been visited by the winter storm that blew over most of the U.S. last week. It was definitely cold by New Orleans standards, though certainly not as cold as it was further north. But here’s the thing about New Orleans: the city is surrounded by water. Every road into the city passes over some body of water.
And when the temperature goes—and stays—below the point at which water freezes…well, let’s just say things don’t go well for the citizens of this normally fair (and mild climate) city. Last week’s freeze brought us some absolute tragedies: a baby died and his young mother remains hospitalized after their car slid off an icy road into a drainage canal. She was trying to get him to his babysitter so that she could go to work.
For most of us, the consequences weren’t so tragic. Inconvenient, to be sure, and potentially costly, but not tragic. All the Interstate highways into the city were closed—as I mentioned above, every road passes over water—and we learned the truth to those highway signs: “Bridge Ices Before Road.” So, New Orleans was effectively shut off from the outside world, at least via ground transport, for a few days.
And pipes froze all over the city. Ours was a typical story: a pipe underneath our house froze, and when things started to thaw out, same said pipe developed a leak. Unfortunate, but it certainly could have been worse. The pipe only affected the plumbing on the north side of the house—the kitchen sink, dishwasher and laundry (and hot water heater). The bathrooms are on the other side of the house.
With leaks busting out all over the city, it put a drain on our municipal water system. Water pressure dropped, and the city issued a “boil water alert” to ensure the water that managed to come out of the tap was safe to drink.
I worked from home on Wednesday, the first day of the freeze, to keep an eye on the frozen pipe. I drove into work on Thursday morning, only to discover that my employer’s parish (I work in Jefferson Parish / I live in Orleans Parish) had lost water pressure. They didn’t have functioning toilets (among other issues), and Jefferson Parish had issued their own “boil water alert.” So I completed the phone meeting I had driven in for, took my laptop, and worked from home the rest of Thursday. To discover our leaky pipe by the end of that day.
So what does any of this have to do with the Space Station? I wrote the following last week, regarding why I continue to heed the text alerts I receive from NASA, telling me when the International Space Station will be visible in my sky:
“…whatever’s going on in my world, whatever’s causing me anxiety or drama, those alerts are a reminder to look up.”
At that particular moment last week, I already knew we had frozen pipes. I had not yet awoken Husband Tim and informed him of this fact. I already knew the Interstate nearest my house— and the eponymous Overpass from my first novel, The Incident Under the Overpass,—was closed.
If you take a closer look at the picture above, you’ll see the ice on my neighbor’s car, and the ice on the sidewalk. The bright point above and to the left of the Space Station is Jupiter, I believe. But what you can’t see is the cold stillness of those five minutes I spent outside. Or the supreme quiet. I will not likely experience such quiet again this year, as the closed highways meant I couldn’t hear cars in the distance, like I usually do.
The consequences of the freeze were waiting for me that day. But for five minutes in the early morning, I bundled up, watched my space friends track against the sky, and enjoyed the silence. And thought, “I’m sure it’s a lot colder up there.”
So, on Monday I saw the International Space Station for the first time this year. I qualify this year—2018—because I’ve been looking for (and usually finding) the ISS in the sky for a couple of years, now. And I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, too, but something else always seems to bump it back in line.
I began this exercise two years ago, when a friend from work told me you could sign up for alerts, to let you know when the Space Station is visible in your corner of the sky. The alerts are super convenient, because they take all these factors into account:
It has to be dawn or dusk, because the ISS reflects the light of the rising or setting sun. It’s not visible in the middle of the day or night.
The ISS must be 40 degrees or more above the horizon.
It also travels at roughly 17,500 miles (28,000 km) per hour, circling the Earth every 90 minutes. So it’s visible in a pretty tight window, usually anywhere from two to six minutes.
NASA does a good job of tabulating all these things, and sending a text about twelve hours before your next viewing opportunity. Here’s the website where you can sign up, if you’re interested: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/
For any given opportunity, the only things that keep me from spotting the Station are timing and weather. If it passes overhead while I’m still asleep, or when I’m in the car on my way somewhere, then I’ll miss it. And weather is about the only thing NASA doesn’t include in the alerts—you can’t see the ISS if there’s too much cloud cover.
It was supposed to be visible a bunch of times in late December, at the end of 2017, but I came up empty several days running because it was too cloudy. I took it as a good omen for 2018 that everything was perfect for Monday morning’s sighting—the sky was crystal clear, the air was cold but not too windy, and it wasn’t so terribly early as to be obnoxious. The city of New Orleans needed a good omen, as our beloved Saints just suffered a devastating loss the day before, taking us out of the playoffs.
And here’s the thing (or things), the reasons I keep going outside and looking at the sky to spot our friends in the Space Station. One, it’s a great perspective check: whatever’s going on in my world, whatever’s causing me anxiety or drama (like the collective misery of a city with dashed Super Bowl hopes), those alerts are a reminder to look up. Up in the sky, I know there are six people who are an orbit away from their homes and loved ones, who’ve given up their time and Earth’s gravity for science, for progress, for adventure—I’m sure their reasons are plentiful. It reminds me of the reasons I wake up early to pursue my writing.
Two, it’s an opportunity for a quick meditation. About whatever—perspective, gratitude, ambition. And faith. Faith that even if the sky is cloudy, and I can’t see them, the Space Station and its occupants are still up there. Faith that the next time the weather will be clear and I’ll get to track that little point of light as it zooms across the sky. And if not the next time, then maybe the time after that.
And finally, I’m not only a sci-fi geek, I’m a science geek. Astronomy, geography, geology. The very first thing I ever wanted to be was a cartographer (I’d say “map maker” when I was little). I imagine the occupants of the Space Station, looking down on me as I look up at them, a tiny speck way down in the boot of Louisiana. Each of us thinking how valuable, how fragile, and how momentous our endeavors are. As troubled as things may be, all over the map of the Earth, if we ever stop reaching for the stars, then hope is truly lost.
Wherefore no man grows wise without he have his share of winters—from The Wanderer, an Old English poem
As my first post of 2018, I was going to write something about how I resent New Year’s resolutions, yet feel compelled to make them anyway. And work in something about how I began this year as I began the last, with a walk in New Orleans’ City Park. But how the big difference was the weather.
So, I’ll start there. It’s cold! From the morning of January 1:
Okay, okay, I know this is downright balmy compared to some spots in the Midwest and along the east coast. But it’s all relative, right? The average January temperature in New Orleans is a low somewhere in the ’40s, and a high in the ’60s. (Fahrenheit, of course.) See, my app said it felt like 14 degrees! And apps don’t lie. (Do they?) And how about all those hard freeze warnings!
Anyway, I bundled up and took my walk. It wasn’t so bad, except when the wind started to blow. That’s when it must have felt like 14 degrees. I got some nice wintry pics of City Park, so it felt worthwhile.
On to resolutions. They’re awfully “should-y.” As in, “I should exercise more, I should eat more healthily.” It always makes me think of Yoda’s admonition to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back: “No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” It’s like the difference between intention and resolution. I had intended (not resolved) to swim some laps (in an indoor heated pool) before work yesterday morning. But it was really cold, and it was tough to get out of bed, and my throat was a little sore (maybe from that cold walk). So I did not swim laps. Thanks to Yoda, and the line of demarcation between intention and resolution, I don’t feel like a failure. If I had resolved to swim laps, and hadn’t, then I might be feeling like a failure.
It’s also why I’m hesitant to apply resolutions to my writing. In 2018, I’ll see the conclusion of my eighth year of this fiction-writing journey. Early on, I made writing resolutions—both New Year’s and Lenten—to write something every day, or to finish a short story. Things along those lines. But as I’ve come to view writing as a vocation, resolving to do these things feels like resolving to show up to work when I’m scheduled. It’s an unnecessary resolution. Showing up at my job is something I just have to do, or do not. And be ready to face the consequences if I do not.
So that’s where I find myself this winter, this extra-cold start to 2018. I’m deep into the re-writes for my second novel. I need to make the time to finish these re-writes, in short order. I intend for my time spent “doing” to far outweigh my time spent “do not-ing.”
I’ll go back to the beginning to conclude this post. That quote about wisdom growing through your share of winters is something I remember from high school. I must have encountered it in English Lit, and it’s something that has stayed with me ever since. I hadn’t remembered that it pre-dates the Norman conquest of England—thanks for that, Google. While I’m not that old, I’ve seen at least thirty winters since I first read that line. I can only hope that I’m wiser now for having seen those winters through.
“Read It If: you like your supernatural romances set in New Orleans. A delight.” –CravenWild.com
“McClane’s debut novel, set in sultry New Orleans, combines mystery, romance, and a touch of the paranormal…Lacey is an engaging heroine…” -Kirkus Reviews
“Lacey has a wry, self-deprecating narrative voice, enlivened by frequent pop-culture references.” -Kirkus Reviews
“It’s a unique story with great characters and it stands out from many other books in this genre.” –By Hook or By Book
“The backdrop feels familiar enough, but as the pages turn Anne McClane peels away the layers to reveal a tale of intrigue laced with old Louisiana spirit ways.” -Ian McNulty, author of A Season of Night and Louisiana Rambles
And here’s a quick synopsis: When Lacey Becnel awakens under an overpass near her home in New Orleans, she does not yet realize that she’s undergone a profound metamorphosis. Nathan, the dangerously attractive man she discovers at her side, provokes as many questions as answers. As Lacey learns of her emergent abilities, she also finds that nothing will protect her from her growing attraction to Nathan, or his perilous fate.
So here’s the thing about self-promotion–I’ve written in earlier posts (one referenced at the top of this page) how it does not come easily to me. It’s one of the reasons I made sure the review excerpts above are all from people I don’t know personally. Their opinion of the book is not muddied by their opinion of me.
It’s also one of the reasons it’s been so delightful to let After Glows handle the publishing. While I still have a responsibility for promoting my work, it’s no longer all on me.
I’ll conclude with this plug: if The Incident Under the Overpass sounds like a story you might enjoy, I hope you’ll check it out. And if you do, I sure hope the “might enjoy” turns into a “definitely enjoyed.”
*Next week, I’ll return to my regularly-scheduled Wednesday programming. 🙂