Category Archives: Places

Looking Up

neil_armstrongMercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab – words as familiar to my generation as Chevy or Ford.  Words that appeared on my vocabulary list in my open-concept school room, words that were part of the nightly news, the Friday filmstrips, a welcome respite from Saigon, POW and Watergate. Growing up in Houston, space defined our city and imaginations.  A short ride down I-45 and we could press our faces against the glass and see where the astronauts trained, we could touch a rocket and wonder at the gray rocks collected from the moon.  We absolutely believed that by 2015 we would have overtaken the skies in our flying cars and that robots would cook our meals just like on the Jetsons.  Some things did come true, FaceTime looks an awfully lot like the Jetsons’ video phone and although it’s no Rosie, I do have a robot named Roomba vacuuming my floors. Space was a destiny, not a project or experiment for us, we wanted to see Neil Armstrong’s footprints in the moon dust for ourselves. We were the generation born looking up.

To be a child in the 60’s and 70’s was to live in two worlds.  One world was limitless, exciting and forward thinking with new ideas and discoveries and the other stark, vivid and real, it was the world where fathers and older brothers didn’t come home from the fields and jungles of Vietnam.  Kids then th-2were not sheltered in the way they are today.  Families watched the evening news together, we saw the scenes of war, famine and inequality and even at an early age understood that the world was not a fair place.  We were expected to accept that fact and change it where we could and to be deserving of the sacrifices being made by others.  Society was slowly changing, but it was still a culture that largely believed woman to be unsuitable for science and space and too many of us believed it was out of our reach.  I am thankful today for the early female scientists and astronauts that worked hard, pushed back and broke the barriers. I am thankful that my granddaughter gets to grow up seeing women command space expeditions, design rockets, and pave the way to other planets.

For so many years, PBS, National Geographic and other periodicals were my knowledge maps.  They provided news about current missions and upcoming explorations, but now I follow NASA and many other space agencies on Twitter, short small bursts of pure science.  One account I follow is Astronaut Commander Scott Kelly and the pictures he takes of the earth from space are mesmerizing and beautiful.  Scott Kelly is one year younger than my husband and me, he’s one of us, a part of our generation’s time and place in history.  I can’t help but believe this gives him a unique perspective and gratitude for what he is doing.  He is living in space for a year, he is living the dream of a generation and I am grateful for his willingness to share it.

International Space Station Wallpaper by free wallpapers (2)Thank you Commander Kelly for representing us, the kids of the 60’s and 70’s, the ones who looked at the moon and said “I want to go there one day.” The next time you pass over Houston, give us wave. We are still looking up.

©2015 itsa5doglife/All Rights Reserved

Note: All photos and graphics are the property of itsa5doglife or borrowed from the public domain.

As the Crow Flies

3755d12ecffa4cebb06dc6ea52ab2340It’s raining again today and the wind blows loud raindrops against my window, distracting me from my work.   I look through the rivulets of rain to the South and I know that past the fence, the fields and the far tree line, across another small town, and an inlet bay, lies the Gulf, her ever churning undertow stirring up sand and silt.  As the crow flies, it’s not that far and we know her by the sound of gulls that fly inland, the sea shells we find in our fields that say she once breached our borders, and by the clouds and storms she tosses across the coastal grassy plains of our home.

IMG_1243For a time, my husband and I owned a small plane and on the flights home I would always watch for her, looking for the faint line of darkness that signaled a vastness beyond, the reflection of light over moving waters as we drew closer and made the deep turn that would lead us back to earth. Often we flew along the coast, heading east over towns with names like High Island,  Boliver, Oak Island, Gilchrist, over beaches, wildlife preserves and empty places where homes used to be, claimed by the waters of the great storms.  Just along the edge of the sand, where the water washes up and recedes again, you can make out the shadow of an old highway that once ran the length of her shore, now dormant and broken slowly giving itself up to the sea.  Sometimes, as we rose from the runway, we would point the nose southwestward, climbing up over Burnett Bay, rising across Kemah with Galveston a sliver of sand in the distance, slowly coming into focus and then we’d bank to the right over Surfside heading due west as we leveled the wings. We would head towards Matagorda, sailing on air over the sands and jetties, the inlets and canals punctuated with fishing boats. Out the left window, oil rigs and the dark silhouettes of ships far out to sea and to the north, clusters of small fishing communities surrounded by fertile green inland fields, back-dropped by the shadows of cities and the broad expanse of Texas beyond.

I feel her presence just past the horizon and I’ve seen her fury first-hand. First was Alicia, as a young wife, bracing against the storm in a small rented house with my husband, a hand-held radio and flashlight between us in the darkness.   The sound of rain and wind barreled outside our walls, snapping telephone poles and trees, then a brief time-out, the strange stale stillness of the eye passing over, until the wind begins again.  It was a different world then, no cell phones or social media, no online reports of damages or loss of life, you just waited until the world came back on again, until the lines were connected once more.   It would be seventeen days before we had water or lights.

Hurricane Ike was different.  Then in our forties, we had lived on this land outside Houston for almost ten years and our 2846177266_a2e691a16fchildren were now adults.   The suffering and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the panicked evacuation of Rita had page-marked our fears and we paid more attention. If you live on or near the Gulf Coast, you understand how it plays out as the winds of Africa push unstable air out into the ocean, as it bubbles up into tropical waves and you watch to see where it goes, how it grows and if the Gulf will pull it in and slam it against the land.  You watch the storm track, those wildly erratic colored lines creeping in every direction until the lines begin to come together and you see if it’s your time to worry.

We live far enough inland that the storm surges can’t reach us, but the devil is in the wind and tornadoes that the storms toss out, the wind that uproots trees and crashes them into roofs and windows, the wind that flattens metal buildings and wood houses, consuming lives within.   Our land is flat and much of it treeless with no natural barriers to the wind and debris, but we built with the storms in mind and our home should withstand what nature reasonably throws at it so we stay put, off the roads and out of the way.

It’s the silence of the hours before that I remember, the unknowing hours of wondering what life would look like tomorrow on the o38895_mediumther side of our boarded up windows.  We watch the skies, recognizing the dark outer bands of clouds as the storm moves closer, but there is no wind or sound, not yet.  We worry about our son still on duty out on the streets, his only shelter that night will be a patrol car.  Until the lights go out, we watch the news and amid the updates and warnings, reporters in raincoats stand in the already rising water and wind gusts of Galveston.  They talk with those fleeing to the safety of shelters and others choosing to ride out the coming storm in their stilt houses on the beach.  Twelve hours later, most of the houses are gone.

IMG_0648I’ve spent sunburned days in her waves and held the hands of my boys and now my grandchildren at the edge of her brown-tinted waters.  When I’m there I feel the history of that city that sits on her shores, the beginnings and endings and the starting over, time and again.  Beneath my feet, far below, lies the original elevation of the island as it was before the Great Storm, before the city was raised and the sea wall built. The stately houses and century-old buildings have not bowed, though great losses are evidenced by the high water marks recorded on small brass plaques far above my head.  I know from stories passed down that some of those houses hide scars under the fancy rugs and carpets, patched holes in the water-stained wood where axes vainly made paths for the rising water in the hope it would anchor the house while those within waited out the storm on floors above. The house would stand, but its occupants would be washed away through attic windows when the angry Gulf waters reached the roof.  A city reduced to matchsticks and dmemorialeath one September night in 1900.

The cries of those lost in those terrible years, 1900, 1983, 2008, still carry on the wind there, rising in a mist off the waves, winding through the streets and alleyways of the Strand, popping the sails of boats and beach umbrellas, and then back to the water, always back to the water.  She is a constant, that vast unknowable body, both wonderful and terrible in turn, but always there, past the fence, over the tree line, across the bay, as the crow flies.

©2015 itsa5doglife/All Rights Reserved

Note:  All photos and graphics are the property of itsa5doglife or borrowed from the public domain. 


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