The Station in Winter

6:06 AM, January 17, 2018

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.”

Here, Winter Is

City Park, New Orleans, January 1, 2018

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.