Saturday, November 22, 2008

At a loss for words

For a little more than a month now, I've tried to find the words to close-out my Ike reportage. They won't come. I've even tried to arrange my thoughts in verse; the rhyme and meter didn't work out either (everyone breathe a sigh of relief).

Today, more than two months after the storm, the Laura Recovery Center still lists the names of 53 people believed to be missing as a result of Hurricane Ike. The Houston Chronicle's list runs to 144 names.

With the exception, no doubt, of the people who lost their loved ones or their homes, the rest of the world has moved-on. Me too, sort of.

Beginning Sept. 11, I drove east three times and spent 16 days in Chambers and Galveston Counties. One of the game wardens there told me, the day after the storm, that an event like that restored his faith in humanity.

"If you're any kind of cop long enough," said 22-year-veteran Bobby Jobes, "you get pretty cynical. Something like this brings out the best and the worst in people, but mostly the best."

True, that. But it also takes a toll on everyone.

For me, part of the process of moving on has been making-up with my old friend, the Texas Gulf Coast -- that magical meeting of sea and sand and sky that has, for almost four decades, been my playground and workplace and chapel.

A week after my last trip to Chambers County, I took a few days off and went fishing at the other end of the Texas coast. In Port Isabel and in South Padre Island, blue tarps still covered the roofs of businesses and homes. Sunken fishing boats and yachts lined canals and bulkheads.

Workers, locals told me, disappeared after Ike hit -- heading north for more lucrative and long-lasting work. Dolly and Ike were the bookends of the 2008 huricane season in Texas. Between the two are volumes of hope and heartbreak, resilience and self-reliance and despair and destruction.

That trip to Port Isabel restored something for me; hanging out with friends old and new, catching fish and just making peace with the raw edge of Texas. It was good.

More on that in a bit, but -- for a while at least, maybe a long while -- I think I'm done talking about hurricanes. My hastily-created Ike photo site got something like 75,000 page views. Many readers wrote comments or sent me e-mails in response to my blog posts. Thanks for that.

Stick around, and maybe we can have a conversation about the happier side of this water wilderness.

[Fly fishing photo by Erich Schlegel.]