Monday, September 26, 2005

Into the Grand Stream, too much crypto, and holding a hummingbird in my hand....

Ok, so when I left my last post, it was Tuesday night of the 20th, Rita was gaining momentum in the Gulf of Mexico, and I was posting updates...let me pick up where I left off (after the fact).

Rita Watch--Day 3

(Wed. the 21st) Lavie is off work and Alvis is out of school. They are going to do some prep-work. I go into work in Houston. Firefox has a new version out 1.0.7 send a quick email to Dwight Silverman, Techblog at Houston Chronicle and [H]ard|OCP gang about this development. Continue Rita watch at work. By 9:00 am local government is calling for some evacuations. Advise boss (who is out buying plywood) and get permission to take off home. Get home and help Lavie and Alvis with packing essential items. Take last look around home (is this going to be the last time I see it and much of our life?). Lock door. It is about 11:50am. Spend next 1 1/2 hours in slow crawl to Lavie's parents house outside Cleveland, Texas were we think we will be safe. Unload vehicles. Lavie's parents are at golf retreat vacation in South Fork, Colorado. Sweep floor of dead "love-bugs" the bane of Gulf-Coast motorists. Put Win98 critical update patches on father-in-law's pc, update virus DATs, finally fix pesky DSL connectivity problem he has had. Once booted, DSL is active, but cannot seem to reach websites, he has to unload firewall (ZoneAlarm), hit the internet, then enable firewall to get both working. I had reinstalled ZA several times to no avail. Finally uninstalled it and put on Sygate's free version. No more problems. Suspect that ZA was preventing local pc from connecting to SBC's DSL DNA server(s). Anyway, feel good that is fixed once and for all. See that the [H]ard|OCP crew posted a news note credit to me and another reader by name for the Firefox 1.0.7 heads-up--that's cool! I'm happy I can contribue--even if indirectly--to a website I get a lot of useful information from. By 7pm Lavie's co-worker's family arrives from the Clear Lake area. Took them almost 6 hours--traffic is horrible--all over Houston with people flooding out of the evacuation areas. This is going to be bad. Horrible. I'm getting nervous. I can't find my carkeys. Full serch of house is fruitless. Go outside in back-yard where Lavie's car is parked. It's pitch-dark but maybe I left them in the seat. Find them on ground right by driver's side door (good sign #1?). Lavie's parents call by cellphone from Colorado. Just found out Rita is going to be a problem. They are freaked out, but nothing they can do. Promise to help them take care of the house. By 10:00 we are all in bed. Day over.

Rita Watch--Day 4

(Thurs. the 22nd) After a light sleep (find out that the a/c is out), woken by arrival of Lavie's brother and sister-in-law from Pasadena, Texas. Took them over 8 hours to make the trip. Traffic is now at a halt across Houston in evacuation gridlock. Rita is now rated a Cat-5 and track has moved from Matagorda Bay track to Galveston Bay track. Yikes. Choice of Liberty County as evacuation area now in doubt. At 9am Lavie decides to fill in some of the food supply with a trip into the city. This is a difficult choice. The 5-mile trip might take over two hours due to the parking lot on the main state highway we are just off-of. Lavie calls the store to confirm they are open. Ok. we are going to do it. Lavie lives up to her navigator status and leads me shooting down back country roads so we can avoid the main gridlocked highway. We make it in 20 min. Just as we are checking out they decide to close the store. We walk out with a full cart of groceries. Thank you for staying open! (good sign #2). Check of news still shows track on Galveston Bay. This will be total destruction. Thousands of people are trapped in traffic on the highways. Traffic moving nowhere. By 11am we have taken all the pictures and things off the walls, picked up the porches and yard, done an idiot's survey of the structual integrity of the house and identified parts most likely to fail (add-on garage, fancy double porch). Check trees and decide to park cars (5) in front of house as safest location. Take last showers for a while. Cook additional food items from freezer and fridge since we still have power for the moment. Discover Lavie's friend is an awesome "scratch-together" cook. Watch too much news and analysis for our own mental health. Track now looking like it is going right over Liberty County were we are at. Traffic to bad now to move again. Alvis and the friend's toddler are watching Nemo. Since a/c off, open all windows to summer air. Trying to think of it as pre-power failure physical conditioning. Not helping. News is now freaking me out. Switch to Emeril Live and Emeril helps me to feel a little better. Early to bed...

Rita Watch--Day 5

(Fri. the 23rd) Ok. Wake up and see two deer grazing in the front yard (good sign #3?). It is clear to me now that Rita is coming ashore somewhere between Galveston Bay and Beaumont. This is not good. It has downgraded to a Category 4. This is still not good. We fill the tubs, fill some 5-gallon pails. Lavie and I decide to sleep our family downstairs near the center of the house between the "parlor and sitting" rooms. Lavie's grandmother comes up from her place to weather the night with us. Lavie's friends from work take over the room we had been sleeping in (her parent's) and her brother and his wife remain in the top front bedroom. Grandma gets a mattress on the parlor room floor. I can see the dark clouds sweeping overhead. We try to laugh about Lavie's friends deaf-cat falling into the whirlpool tub water in the night and coming out howling and soaked. Winds slowly pick up around 3pm and by supper are pretty strong. I want to post to the Grand Stream Dreams blog but can't. Yes I have DSL web access for a few more hours, but my password is some kind of 40+ totally random generated password string. There is no way for me to remember it and it is locked in a password file on my pc's hard-drive, which has been carefully wrapped/sealed in plastic and now sitting on the floor beside me, disconnected. (I'm going to have to rethink that strategy--maybe use a password/pronouncing combination...) Sometimes being involved in security sucks. Forecasters believe Rita may come ashore near Port Arthur, maybe as a Cat-3. Still not good. Some dry air is visible breaking into the core. (good sign #4?) We sit on the back porch in the dark and enjoy the momentary relief of the rising breeze and light drizzle. Lavie's father's labrador is locked in the garage, her mom's outside-cat is inside tonight and not happy about that. Grandma took a nerve pill. Lavie's parent's try to help us from their golf-retreat by calling the local a/c guy and arrange for repairs to the a/c unit. He calls us and says will come out and fix it once things settle down. Isn't that neat. I bet his weekend rate is pretty high, but his hurricane rate must be astronomical! Appreciate Lavie's parent's trying to look out for us. Going to be a long night. Did I mention I haven't heard a bird the whole time we have been here? It's unnerving.

Rita Watch--Day 6

(Sat. the 24th) Rita rolls in with a fury. Winds are howling and smashing into the trees. It's pitch black outside so only the imagination works as cracks, bangs and loud smashes fill the air. The house doesn't make any noise itself. It's in a Southern-plantation style, but is fairly new and has never faced a hurricane before. Don't know how it will hold. Hoping for the best. At 1am the power goes out for good. Since the home is on well-water supply, I have to dash out into the rain and howling winds, shut off the water supply valve on the house, then flip open the breaker on the water pump so we can get it started again. It is crazy being out in that. I have no idea what could come flying down/into me. Make it back ok. The winds must be at least 90+ mph. Try to sleep and comfort Alvis and Lavie. I imagine Belldandy (Goddess, First Class) in her full- Angel form standing guard over the house shielding it from the winds. Grandma sleeping like a rock. Great. By 7am we are all up and the winds haven't let up. We stuggle to find a ballance between opening the right windows for relief on the house and keep rain off the wood floors. The cars are all safe. Almost no tree-litter around them at all. The back is another story. Mutiple large limbs have come off the humongous oaks in the back yard. Two have crashed down on-top of the water-well house. By 3pm the winds have died down to a light toss. Remarkably little rain has fallen. The pond rose maybe a foot. We go out to survey the damage. One small sapling down across the driveway. Pulled out of the way easily. Two trees in the back taken out by lighting, split in two and fallen charred. Yikes. And those branches from the oaks. Luckily, the damage to the well-house seems light. A broken drip-board and a cracked rafter-beam or two. No shingles gone, no siding loose. It is a miracle. Grandma is bummed. No electricty means no drip-coffee and the family watching her house while she stayed with us drank up the reserve-store in the thermos. By the late afternoon we are cleaning up the front yard and starting to lighten up and relax. We made it. Thank God. Lavie's parents are on their way home (driving), promise to be home by Sunday. Tell them to pick up some ice and instant coffee for Grandma.

Rita Watch--Day 7

(Sun. the 25th) Power is out for good. Now try to decide when to head back. Monday is general consensus. It is hot. Temps in the high 90's (F). All the wind we had yesterday has abondoned us. It is hot, humid and still. I feel like a sailor caught in the doldrums. Too tired to care about anything. Do some light chores. Listen to news on the radio. We really had good luck. Other parts of Texas and Louisiana fared very badly. Spend most of the day reading an old Time-Life Western series on Trailblazers. Figure reading about historic figures such as Lewis and Clark might help me feel less spoiled about missing a/c and running water. The labrador end's up getting bit by a yellow-jacket. Reports from the field seem to indicate our homes have made it through ok. While feeding the dog in the garage, a bird shoots out from under the stairs. Ends up being a green-backed humming-bird. I check later and it is still buzzing up in the rafters, exhausted. It can't seem to find it's way down and out. Eventually I find it caught in the remnants of a thick spider's web. I find a 12ft board and manage to snag the cob-web, and bird on the end. Gently I am able to extact the hummingbird. It is hardly moving. I can see it's eyelid flicker and the chest is moving slightly. I cradle the delicate miracle in my hands and everyone looks in wonder at it. I've never held a hummingbird in my hands. It is so tiny and beautiful. Lavie runs to fetch some sugarwater for it. We go out into the back among the fallen oak-braches and dip it's beak into the water. The third time it comes back to life and zips out of my hand and into the woods. I feel better. Maybe its our small way of giving back to the wind for sparing us. Lavie's parents make it in around 10:30pm. We have rearrange sleeping stations again so they have their room back. Much visiting and Lavie takes her dad on a tour of the grounds by lantern. We go to sleep again, exhausted. No breeze. No air. Just sweat.

Rita Watch--Day 8

(Mon. the 26th) Lavie's friends leave by 6am for home. We visit some more afterwards then pack up and head home ourselves by 9:30am. Were planning on leaving around lunch but the oppressive heat so early has driven us home. We fear traffic jams but it is very light. We get home quickly and find all is well. A section of fence in the back yard is the only casualty. No gas-stations seem to have gas restocked yet. Alvis is out of school until Wed. Lavie is off as well. At first I am off, but the boss calls later and asks we report in Tues. if possible (I can). We put up all the things and clean up house. Lavie's parents drop down to grocery shop for ice and some essentials (enjoy our a/c, take showers, do some laundry) before returning home to the oven we had been sheltering in (gratefully!). Lavie runs out for some limited groceries as well (since we emptied our fridge out in advance fearing power loss here). At the end of the day, 80% is put back in order, we watch some Azumanga Dioah on DVD then crash. Tomorrow is another day--thank goodness!

Things to do tomorrow--go to work and catch up on all my favorite websites. I haven't read MegaTokyo for a while and must be at least 3 of Piro's panel's behind!

Finally out of our Grand Steam adventure!

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