My Notepad window is presently only half-maximized. Behind this familiar and stolid contrast of black-on-white, there swirls a turmoil of vivid yellows, reds, and purples: an animated satellite view of hurricane Katrina, as it bears down on my ancestral southeast Louisiana and the city of New Orleans itself. Barring any unforeseen weakening, when Katrina slams into the southern parishes of Louisiana it will rank among the four most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the United States. Being below sea level, New Orleans practically floods whenever a carouser on Bourbon Street spills his last bit of drink into the gutter, and the city is only ever drained of rainwater through the action of electric pumping stations. Those stations will lose power very soon into the storm, and they will no doubt become inundated along with the rest of the city once the drains overflow. Even the most sober analysts expect the storm surge to crest the levees, Lake Pontchartrain to overstep its bounds, and New Orleans to become a brackish sea thoroughly polluted by industrial and biological waste.
And that's to say nothing of the wind.
Having but recently moved from LaPlace, Louisiana to Brunswick, Maine, I am physically far removed from the devastation that will soon ensue. Emotionally, however, I am scattered all over the map, in more senses than one. The city with which I've lived most of my life will very shortly endure a tremendous blow that may incapacitate it for months on end. The homes and livelihoods of dozens of my friends and family members will soon come under dire threat. The house in which I grew up, and which is still inhabited by my father and sister, will cease to be if the Lake shifts so much as a mile. My father's business as an inspector of real estate is predicated upon the existence of real estate to inspect. My cats can't swim for long.
All my life I've heard talk of The Big One -- the one that's destined to level New Orleans and drastically reshape the coastlines, population density, and cultural vitality of Louisiana. Well, on a long enough timeline, just about any prophecy is likely to be confirmed, and New Orleans' time is now up.
The effect that all this has on the psyche of a New Orleanian is not to provoke surprise or panic, but rather to confirm in our minds that we were right after all: we really are going to be flattened by Nature. It is perversely satisfying to observe in real-time as the mathematical probability of utter destruction approaches unity. Some small part of me cannot help but gloat at the fact that we doomsayers were right all along. Is this how Cassandra felt, when all of her terrible visions came to pass even against her utmost wishes otherwise? Was she, too, so rudely torn between laughing and weeping?
I've just minimized Notepad and refreshed the satellite imagery. The outer bands of Katrina are now lashing the state. I cannot tolerate staring at this bright abstraction of destruction for very long; the visions that it provokes in my head are undoubtedly worse than any damage a mere terrestrial storm might inflict. But I can't bring myself to close the browser, either; instead I merely shift Notepad over a bit, and obscure the map.
There is a sense in which the things that we humans construct are possessive of life; or if not life, then at least a pulse, which any sentiency may detect with ease. We imbue each of our artifacts with a quality that persists well beyond the life of the artisan; our ruins and remnants speak for us even when our own collective memory has faded, and it is for this reason that we value the permanent products of a culture nearly as much as the living culture itself. If New Orleans is laid waste, a great many cultural products will die along with dozens or (dare I say?) hundreds of people. I shall feel this loss keenly indeed.
(And to think that only two days ago, I had planned to lament the death of MMORPGs in a similar fashion!)