You might have read that it's been quite windy down here lately, quite stormy. You might have read that the river is getting high. It's closed to traffic in St. Louis; the levees are busting in the outer reaches of the valley. The flood crests are racing south, and New Orleans just hit flood stage.
And we are pulling out.
Last night, amid the thunderstorms, a tree came down and smashed a tent. It's the second time it's happened this trip. The first time, the tent was empty. This time not so: Lena was unhurt, but trapped, but a few different inches in position and the story might have been different. Add to that two close calls, where falling limbs missed tents by inches: four times is enough. The river will be there, whenever the time to finish comes.
We camped last night on a bit of lawn at the edge of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, an emergency stop as the storms came in. It's a place of life and death: the first and most important line of defense in the fight to keep New Orleans from flooding, a protector of thousands of lives. (It will likely be open again, to divert the high water, in just a few weeks.) But death hangs in other ways, too; there was a cross planted beneath a tree, just behind our camp, to honor one of the many suicides committed here. There were haints creeping around our camp, John said. I'm not sure if they were protecting us, or doing something worse.
If this journal has been documenting our time between the levees, I have begun thinking about life beyond the levees, too. As we've made our way down Louisiana -- as the batture gets thinner -- the life beyond the levees gets harder to ignore. From the water, you can see the power lines and steeples of the old small towns that still survive amid the clustered industry. At night, from camp, you can hear the radios and revving engines and shouted comments of people back on the banks.
My time on the river, over for now, has shown me all the richness that exists between the levees. But it has taught me to appreciate this life beyond the levees, too. There are the luxuries: lattes with almond milk, and beer on tap, and free-flowing electricity -- these days I'll include that a luxury, too. And then there are the essentials, too, the presence of loved ones, and the nightly security of a strong roof over your head. All this is worth ending this trip early. I wouldn't want to lose this all, and I like to think there are people beyond the levee who wouldn't want to lose me.
Down the river, you learn the cost of such a fine life. To get what we have, we've drained the swamps; we've built vast power plants and refineries, farms and neighborhoods; we've clear-cut forests and killed off species. There must be better ways, and I hope to help find them. But until I'm willing to risk it all, and live with the howling winds between the levees, I'll have to recognize that I owe something, too. Here's to finding the way to pay that debt.