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The Magic Gate

So here’s the way it went: I’d decided to handle this year’s 100-year-plus flood event the way I handled last year’s 100-year-plus flood event. My wife and kids went to stay with her sister and brother-in-law about 15 miles away in what historically has been a dry area during major floods. I would hang out in the house with the dogs while the world went all Noah’s Ark, until the deluge ended. I would use my generator to maintain power and thus the food in our freezer and fridge, and work to keep outside damage at a minimum.

Then, the National Weather Service decided the river was going to crest at 59 feet. Last year, the river crested at 54.8 feet. At 54.8 feet, the house was high and dry, and so was our carport in back. At 59 feet, pretty much all bets were off. And in case I still hadn’t made up my mind, the city ordered a mandatory evacuation.

So on Sunday, in a driving rain, my wife, son and brother-in-law helped me move valuable stuff to the second story of our house. Then we took a minimum amount of clothing, and a bunch of racks of ribs and other good things from the fridge and freezer, and two confused dogs, and took off for rural Fort Bend County.

My brother-in-law lives in a great, secluded subdivision, engineered with very wide grass ditches along all of the houses, the benefit of which was obvious after about 25 inches of rain fell and yet the yards kept draining. However, a body of water called Jones Creek soon raged up and covered a bridge and a separate roadway on one side of our subdivision, while a man-made lake at what some would call an upscale development flooded its banks and was cascading over the roadway in the opposite direction.

For the first two days, local residents with jacked-up pickup trucks could get in and out, and thus did we all build up our food and water supplies. The power went out for a few hours, but came back on, so we never needed the generator I’d brought from home.

Then the water rose. Soon, we were locked in place. My wife’s parents, who also were staying with us, were anxious to get to their property east of Houston, and my wife and I wanted to see what we could of our neighborhood, but we were trapped. It was a benign trap, all things considered, but still a trap.

Until the magic gate.

On Wednesday, my wife and I rode bicycles to the high-water points of our new world. When we stopped at the now-underwater Jones Creek bridge, we met two young couples in a four-wheeler vehicle. We talked awhile, then they said they had to get back. “Do you live around here?” I asked. They said they lived on the flooded road we were looking at, on the other side of the high water. Huh?

So how were they going to get back home? They told us about the magic gate. You drove back to the “upscale development,” see, turned in, then followed the road until you saw a drainage ditch on your right. At that point, you turned left and continued until you found a second drainage ditch on your right. And again, you turned left. Then you drove to the end of that road, into a cul-de-sac. Then you looked for a driveway that had a gate at its rear. An open gate.

My brother-in-law, son and I followed the instructions, found the house, drove up the driveway, saw the open back gate, and drove onto a county road on the other side of the high water. Free at last.

In a relative way. Now we had access to bigger county roads and highways we hadn’t been able to get to, however, we still couldn’t get to my house in Richmond, due to a web of other flooded and closed roads. But we could get to Interstate 10, which meant I could get to our farm, 100 miles to the west. Even that far away, it had been inundated by 15 to 20 inches of Hurricane Harvey rain, and the “dry” creek between my farm road and my farmhouse had for three days pretty much raged across the land.

But my farm neighbor said the coast was clear. So we went back to the subdivision and told the news of the magic gate. I took the dogs and checked out storm damage at the farm, which is where I am now. The next day, my wife, her sister and their father used the magic gate to make their way east of Houston to check on my in-laws’ house damage. Unfortunately, it is severe, as the house took on about 4 feet of water. They will have to live in an apartment until the extensive repairs are made.

In Richmond, meanwhile, the Brazos River has crested, at 55.2 inches, a few inches higher than last year. A kayak-toting neighbor sent pictures showing that our Damned Old House has survived its second hurricane and third flood without taking in any water.

But the rest of the neighborhood (and much of the rest of Southeast Texas) is going to need lots and lots of help. Some of my neighbors had just finished rebuilding after their homes took in up to 7 feet of water from the 2016 flood. Cruel fate has just forced them to start over again or leave for good. Their stories are being repeated across Houston, to Galveston and all the way down the Texas coast.

Also posted in Be Afraid, Brazos River, Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be

Last Of The Red-Hot Mamas

Last Scotch Bonnets Before The Freeze
It’s been several years since the mercury has dropped down to 20 degrees around here. After predicting for days that we’d have some cold weather but nothing nearly so severe, the weather service boys suddenly said wait a minute, you’re all going to freeze your asses off for the next two nights.

That sort of talk keeps the tropical gardener busy, in an irate sort of way.

First, I had to crawl under the house to set some shop lights up near washing machine and kitchen sink pipes most likely to freeze otherwise. I used to have some old Christmas lights under there, set up just for such a task, but it’s been so long since we had this hard a freeze that the old lights are tattered, frayed and useless. So, temporary shop lights. Check. (A few strategically placed light bulbs, you see, will generate enough heat that you don’t think much about permanently insulating the yards and yards of pipes weaving around under the house as if it belonged to Rube Goldberg.)

The shed out back is packed tight with plumeria already, so all I had to do was make sure extension cords were strung to a heater I keep out there. Check. That just left the job of hauling the more-sensitive hibiscus plants inside, where the Christmas tree was. Oh, wait, the Christmas tree still was there, so first I took that down, then hauled the plants in. Check.

All done. But wait, there were still some red and orange balls of hotness growing on the ends of the scotch bonnet chili plants in the garden. Can you ever have too many hot peppers? Not really. So I picked those bad boys and took a picture of them sitting on the cutting board, then fussed with it on the computer box to make it look artsy. Check.

But wait, we never harvested the last of the Meyer lemons out front. By the time I remembered the lemons, the north wind had moved in, temperatures had dropped from 60 to the mid-30s and a nice, cold drizzle had begun. There were more lemons than I remembered. After picking and dragging two large bagfuls into the house, my hands were freezing, so I left a couple dozen on the tree. Check. Then, yesterday, I grated the peel from 15 or so very large lemons, giving me about a year’s worth for various future cooking projects, and froze several pint jars of lemon juice for future lemonade. I still had more than 100 lemons, plus a couple dozen from an earlier harvesting. Lemons up the wazoo. Check.

So last night, to make sure the pipes didn’t freeze, I ran a hot load of towels through the washing machine just before I went to bed. Check. I woke up with my spider sense tingling around 4:30 a.m., noted that it was nearing 20 outside, tried to run the same load through the washer a second time just for fun and – nothing. No hot water came through the pipes, meaning they were starting to freeze. I have spent time under the house during a similarly cold pre-dawn morning, with an extension cord and a hair dryer, thawing pipes. It sucked, as you may imagine, and I was not keen for a replay. Luckily this time, I prayed to the appropriate Deity, turned the washing machine temperature to “warm,” waited a minute, then turned it to “hot” again. Hot water began flowing. Check.

Even if in a relatively cold way, life is good.

Majority Rule

I didn’t like Hillary Clinton as a candidate for president. Among other things, I felt that she and the national leaders in control of the Democratic Party considered her as practically entitled to be their nominee because it was her royal turn.

I voted for her anyway, though, because I didn’t think Donald Trump was at all qualified to be president, for a thousand reasons. Not the least of which involves the fact that my youngest son is Hispanic and Trump practically painted a target on the backs of Hispanic Americans almost from the day he announced his candidacy.

But now it’s President Trump, and he won decisively. It would be easy to give myself over to despair and blame and even anger, as I see some among the press punditry already are doing. But that’s not the American way, and I hope the Democrats and other independents will resist the temptation.

For the first time that I can remember, the national Republican elite lost control of the party to their rank-and-file, and in the process they won control of the presidency, the Senate and the Supreme Court, and retained control of the House. The national Democratic elite fought off a game attempt by their rank-and-file to take control of that party, and in maintaining elite control, the Democrats managed to lose every branch of government. Could it be there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere?

So now the Republicans will have to end their strategy of working to defeat every idea the Democrats have. Now the Republicans are actually going to have the ability to come up with ideas of their own and pass them into law. And it will be up to President Trump and the rank-and-file who elected him to watch closely and make sure congressional Republicans’ ideas involve more than exempting wealthy donors from taxes.

For at least a time, I am setting aside my doubts and cynicism in order to allow Donald Trump the chance to prove me wrong and operate to the best of his ability for all Americans. After listening to his acceptance speech, I believe this is possible. To the extent that the United States has succeeded as a nation, this success is due in large part to the acceptance of the concept of majority rule, and the peaceful transition of power.

In the spirit of working to heal partisan wounds and give the guy a chance, I took the small step of removing my previous blog post, in which I expressed disdain for Mr. Trump. It’s not much, but it’s a sincere gesture. Regardless of the fact that congressional Republicans did just the opposite to our current president for the past eight years, I am wishing the coming President Trump achieves great things in office, on behalf of all of us.

Lord knows it won’t be easy.

It Rains

Torrential rain came down yesterday pretty much as advertised, leaving many of Houston’s major traffic arteries – and parked cars – covered in water. Here in the outback, runoff from the north-central part of the state poured into the Brazos River so that at our place it rose from 15 to 42 feet within about 24 hours and now flows past my tomato garden.

The fire marshal came by yesterday evening to make sure we were properly on-edge about the high water, as the river is supposed to rise another 6 or 7 feet, but the truth is that we can handle it without worry. The wild card involves whether the weather pattern sets up again to create slow-moving thunderstorms out of the moist clouds floating north from the Gulf of Mexico.

One would prefer this latter does not happen, if one were me.

Otherwise, it’s been a mere minor inconvenience for us. The fruit and milk trucks didn’t make it to the local grocery yesterday, so I bought no bananas but did manage to snag the last gallon of 2% milk, and the dogs made a mess of the kitchen floor every time they returned inside from a jaunt in the soggy yard. So it goes.

Also posted in Brazos River, Nature