Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Libby's Kennel

I spent part of the day working on Libby's kennel yesterday. Since this is now the view out my window, I wanted to be able to look at something a little more aesthetic than the back of a fence. One of my favorite pass times before was to watch the birds feeding outside of the window as I worked on the computer. I still have some work to do to complete the space, but for now, at least when I glance out the window, there is something to see that is a bit more compelling than an expanse of wood.

From the outside, it is a rather unattractive box as well, so I am attempting to bring a little definition to it as well. This is a start at least.

Libby is readily using the kennel finally, and this morning, enjoyed the sunshine from her little porch. While I will never be able to let her and Kate be together again, I am counter-conditioning her when she hears Kate, hopefully in order to prevent another disaster should there be another management failure somewhere down the road.

When she hears Kate come down the hall, she would start to snarl and bark and jump at the door (which is always closed, and with a protective baby-gate on the other side of it). I rub her belly, pet her profusely, and provide treats. She is learning to associate hearing Kate makes good things happen. Yesterday, when she heard Kate, Libby looked at me, jumped on the bed and rolled over as if to say, "where's my belly rub?" I was so excited--Kate made a little noise outside the door wrestling with Roadie, and Libby sat up, looked at the door, then looked back at me as if to say, "I get some more now, don't I?" It is a lot of work, but I am now a firm believer in counter-conditioning. If only I had known about it before things deteriorated so badly between Kate and Libby. However, since Libby and Kate both prefer their humans all to themselves, Libby has certainly been much happier since living in one room with her own private yard.

Kate and Roadie have begun to play together finally, now that Maggie is gone. They seem to have adjusted to her absence finally, and it is getting easier for me as well. Rex has transferred his attentions to Roadie, now that he does not have Maggie to boss around. Roadie mainly tries to avoid him, where as Maggie would give tit for tat.

Rex has been out in the front yard with me a lot of late, and always looks for the cat in all her usual places. He cannot seem to figure out where she is, but diligently makes the rounds searching for her. Things have actually quieted down considerably around here, which is of course, the nature of systems.

I am gearing up to go back to work tomorrow, not having accomplished even 3 of the things on my long list of things to do while on my break. Now, I get to try to cram them all into the last week before classes begin! Typical of me--but what a fine and relaxing break it was. :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Remembering Maggie

This is Samuel L. Jackson Allen, named after Sam, our Husky we lost to a tick borne illness in Abilene--where no one had heard of tick borne illnesses. Jack was rescued by our friends in Arlington, who called us to come take a look at him. Jack was undeniably the best dog we have ever had--sweet natured, loving, obedient, never ran off, loved to travel. His only fault was due to falling in our swimming pool when he was just a baby, he never learned to love the water. He would get in as long as his feet could touch ground and the water was not up to his belly.
When we got Maggie as a puppy, we still had Jack. It was uncanny how much she looked like Jack. After we lost Jack to a Mississippi tick borne illness--they were never really sure what--we could not look at Maggie without seeing Jack. She was her own unique personality, though, and very loyal to the family. She and Maggie became best friends after we rescued Kate right before Hurricane Katrina. We did not have intention of other than fostering her at first, and she and the other two pups were kenneled on the screened porch. The night of Hurricane Rita, I was sleeping on the porch and the wind and rain got so high that it scared the pups. I put Kate in the bed with me, but the two boy pups wanted under the bed together. That pretty much sealed the deal as far as keeping Kate.
This is the last picture I took of Maggie, late this spring. I have had dogs before, and loved them and lost them for various reasons. They all keep a place in my heart, and I can get teary eyed to this day over Katrina, Sam, and Jack. Last night, I suspect my melt down was a bit due to all of them and Maggie. As we know, each new loss rekindles grief from old losses. So, some of the tears were for Jack last night, as well as Maggie.

I am struggling so--not with making sense of Maggie's death, as there are just accidents. Randy is very emotional still over the loss of Maggie, and because he blames Roadie, has seemed to cut off any feelings for Roadie. Yes, Maggie never tried to get out of the yard before, and quite possibly Roadie is the one who dug the hole and convinced Maggie to escape with him. True, if I had never rescued Roadie last summer, we would most likely still have Maggie. But all those are what ifs and after the fact. The fact is that I did rescue Roadie and he has a place in our home and family--or at least did have. Randy wants nothing to do with Roadie and would prefer it if he were no longer here. I am trying to be patient, and understand that grief manifests itself in many ways, and hope that it may lessen in time. I am in pain, too, but I cannot imagine that the pain will be any less just because Roadie no longer lived here. Roadie is sweet, smart, generally obedient, though still trying at times due to being only a year old. It is not only that I am attached to him, but that he is attached to us.

In a world that has become pretty much a throw away society, I cannot bear to throw Roadie away like his first owners did. I have done my share of not keeping my commitments, and sometimes there are good reasons for not keeping a commitment. This is not one of those times as far as I can tell.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Little Red School House


For over 6 years now, I cannot count the times I have driven I-55 between Jackson and Taylor and seen the exit for "Little Red Schoolhouse." I always thought one of these days I would stop. Today as I headed home from New Orleans, I decided today was the day. It was only about noon, I was making great time having left NO so early, and what else did I have to do when I got home except take a nap?

It is about 3 miles off the Interstate and I expected it to be just an early school house that had been preserved. I was somewhat surprised to see a red brick building that looked pretty impressive--not at all what I was picturing all these years.

It is well kept and there was a sign near the locked gate that tours could be arranged between 9-3 M-F by going across the road to the red brick house. While I will add a tour to my "someday to do" list, I did not want to add that today. It was enough to drive the 3 miles and see what it was. And what was it?

In this building, the school master began the Order of the Eastern Star. I have heard of this organization, but never really knew anything about it other than there is an Eastern Star retirement home on the edge of Arlington that I used to pass on my way home from grad school.

I came home and looked it up, and it is the largest fraternal organization to which men and women both may belong. It is spiritual, but not religious, and open to any faith except "no faith."

Note on the bottom it also housed soldiers of the Confederacy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

French Quarter and more

I had planned to head east on 90 and drive along the Gulf Coast to check out the reconstruction. I missed the turn near downtown NO, so decided to change plans for the day. It seems interesting that the Ritz Hotel is partially in an old five and dime store--the old Kress variety store.

The Roosevelt Hotel was a significant landmark mid-century, and Pete Fountain played in the Blue Fountain room. He was here for the re-opening recently.


At the end of Canal Street, I had to either board the ferry or turn into a parking lot. I opted for the parking lot, though I had not intended to do so. I walked up to the River and spotted these tugs...and a steamboat boarding. The first time Randy and I visited NO, we took a ride up the river on this steamboat.
The Holocaust Memorial caught my attention...
at first, I was just thinking it a rainbow hued piece of art, reminding me of the old glass sculpture that was in Nelson Park, Abilene, Texas for a while.
On walking up the ramp and investigating...I found quite a different story. With each angle, the perception changes.






I had planned to walk up toward the French Market, but a half block in 100+ degrees and I changed my mind. I decided my $6 parking fee was money well spent for the 20 minutes I was there.
Jackson Square, where if I recall correctly, President Bush stood against a backdrop in 2005 and vowed to rebuild New Orleans. It still has a long way to go.
Art work on Jackson Square

Historic Treme district--reminds me of district six in Cape Town--which was a multicultural community of artists, musicians, doctors, etc, from all ethnic groups. It was bulldozed as the apartheid government needed to erase all evidence that people of different backgrounds could live together in harmony and enjoyment.
One of the many bridges in the area spanning the Mississippi River.
New Orleans skyline from Upper 9th Ward riverbank.
The famous "steamboat houses" on the river bank of Holy Cross, near 9th ward.
Even in the midst of work, one needs to just do a little cultural tourism. Then I came home and took a nap with Rosie, the poodle. She was glad to see me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Maggie's Story

We found Maggie at the Humane Society when she was just 3 months old. She had been rescued from a culvert, where someone had found her stuck. We fell in love with her and even though she was scheduled to be sent to Boston through another rescue organization, we were able to adopt her. Maggie was the sweetest puppy and a joy to everyone. For some unknown reason, she adopted a stranger anxiety at the visit of our long-time Texas friends and she never got over it.

She loved a belly rub, and was content to just lie at your feet most of the time. If you touched her too much, she would move away. Maggie looked so much like Jack, it was impossible to look at her and not be reminded of Jack and how much we still missed him.

Last week, Roadie (our baby and latest rescue) dug a hole under the fence and he and Maggie ran off. I looked everywhere, and was headed out again mid-afternoon to search the woods behind the house. I called, and heard her; she came running for the treats I had in my hand. An hour later, I had them de-ticked and cleaned up. Maggie was limping, and as the day progressed seemed to be in more pain. We took her for doggie ER the next day and the doc diagnosed a muscle sprain, gave her antibiotic and anti-inflammatory.

Maggie was one of our two dogs who would not run off if out in the front yard off leash with us, so we were surprised that she went on her little escapade.

Monday, they found a new place under the fence and again escaped. Within an hour, Roadie was back without Maggie. Randy was worried, as Roadie is Maggie's shadow and he felt something had happened to her for him to return without her. It had. Maggie was hit by a car at the end of our driveway, most likely minutes after getting out of the yard. We nicknamed her "Sheriff Maggie" as when called, if the other dogs did not come in, Maggie would run back out the door and round them up and chase them in.

I wonder if Roadie (he got his name because the first time I saw him as an abandoned pup, he was in the middle of the road and almost hit by a car) perhaps had gone into the road and Sheriff Maggie went after him. Randy found Maggie last night, and although we had known in our heart that something had happened since she had not come home, it was still hard to accept. It seems ironic that she came into our lives due to being in a culvert, and she left our lives in a culvert.

We have always been so careful about our dogs--I am firmly opposed to letting dogs run loose, for their sake as well as the humans out there. Ours were always in the fenced yard, the house, on leash, or on rare occasions with Maggie and Rex, in the front yard with us briefly, and always responded to recall. I routinely checked the yard for weak spots near the fence; this one was near a bush, with kudzu behind it, and it seemed to be safe enough to me. That error in my judgment resulted in Maggie's loss of life. It seems even harder to think she was hit by a car--that has not happened to my dog since my little SugarBabe back when I was a child.

Randy and Justin buried Maggie next to Killer. I had just buried Killer, our cat, last week. Somehow, Killer being 16 years old and just deciding to stop eating, but being in no pain nor suffering, was much easier to accept. It was actually harder to bury Killer than to let her die. My friend and I made a tomb for her of concrete and marked her spot under the tree where she used to love to lie in wait for the birds. Last night, Randy and Justin made a tomb for Maggie and placed her next to Killer. It was much harder and especially for Randy who was there to attend to her while I am in New Orleans.

It has been a difficult month dealing with pets at the Allen house. This was the most recent in a long spate of difficulties. Back home in Taylor, I have felt stressed and depressed to the max. Here in New Orleans, in the quiet and solitude, I have regrouped, refreshed, and relaxed. Rosie (the poodle) and Jamie (the cat) are easy to attend to, mostly quietly sleeping next to me as I read, write, or nap myself. Being by myself has always been the best way for me to take care of myself, and I have eaten healthy, and taken care of my emotional health this week. In a way, it makes it a little easy to accept the loss of Maggie, but not much. I feel a little like I am cheating that I am here and Randy is still there. Every day, I would go out and see Killer's little spot and feel a sense of sadness, but also a sense of peace in the cycle of things. I only see Maggie's spot in my mind's eye right now, and do not feel the sense of peace at all. I suppose it will come with time. And like all losses, it reminds me of the mortality of all of us, most prominent on my mind, that of my aged parents.

But for now, goodbye to Maggie, my little white magnolia blossom.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Toxic Tourism in Cancer Alley

River Road runs along both sides of the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. It is the old plantation route that followed the Mississippi. Due to the location, many freed slaves settled in the area and set up small towns along the river.

Cancer Alley is the name given to the petrochemical corridor that runs along the Mississippi from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Cancer Alley's formal name is River Road, and it runs on both sides of the river, with a variety of bridges allowing crossing between the sides. The petrochemical corridor is home to a variety of refineries due to its proximity to the river and the port of New Orleans; both provide transport out of the area.

I first became aware of Cancer Alley a few years ago when I ran across an article about grassroots organizing groups in New Orleans who were partnering to address the concerns about the toxic environment. Residents claim--backed by a number of studies--that the cancer rate, including rare cancers, miscarriage rate, babies born with deformities, and incidence of respiratory and other ailments is higher than the national average, due to the spewing of toxic fumes and other chemicals into the air, water, and ground along the corridor. The area is home to mostly minority groups, predominantly, African Americans who are poor.

I decided to take a tour down the corridor and see for myself. After crossing the Mississippi on the Huey P. Long bridge, I exited at Bridge City, a small community that appeared to consist of a bar, a grocery store, some houses, and what looked like a boatyard--the kind where they work on huge commercial ships, not your neighborhood marina boatyard.

The highway is a narrow 2 lane, with no places to stop and speed limit is 35 up to a max of 45 in some stretches. Pipelines run across the road at regular junctions, connecting to storage on the river bank.

Due to the inability of stopping--and a certain amount of post 9/11 concern about photographing a petrochemical plant, all of the pictures were shot from my moving vehicle with a "best guess" aim. The refineries read like a Wall Street dossier: Dow, Monsanto, OxyChem, IPCAgrira, the Three Rivers Nuclear plant operated by Entery, etc.



One after another, they occupy the area where people live, and animals live, children go to school, and cars pass by. I noted at passing OxyChem that my eyes began to burn and sting, there was a foul smell in the air even with my recirculation on the air conditioner rather than on fresh air.

A little further down, and I noted a site for the nuclear plant. I was taken aback at the site of it located right next to the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf, and in the midst of a community of homes.
I confess to a cold chill involuntarily running through my body, and a sudden increase in heartbeat and feeling of anxiety. Evacuation routes and emergency information "in the event of the siren blaring" advise where to go to information.
One of the many Mississippi River crossings along the way loomed overhead, filled with trucks.

Dotted in between the petrochemical refineries were small towns and historic sites. All of these are located on the road, right next to the river levee.






Miles and miles of sugar cane grow along the road, some immediately next door to a chemical refinery. I could not help but wonder if people are affected by the toxins released into the air, how much affect it had on the cane fields that produce sugar and syrup that humans then consume.

Evergreen plantation, an historical plantation open only for tours. There are still many working plantations along the route.
After a little over an hour of driving, I was still noting the same experience: refinery and chemical plant after another, interspersed among the tiny communities. Although I saw an occasional white person, the majority of the people I noted were African American. Proponents of the refineries argue they bring jobs and economic resources to the communities. The organized opposition--members of the communities--say they have benefited little from employment as they lack the education and skills to acquire the jobs. Many in the area have less than a high school education.

As with all controversy over big business and community interest, there are differing opinions. Some studies (some are financed by the chemical companies) indicate no risk of toxins. It has been noted from other sources here, however, that individuals getting their drinking water from the Mississippi have a much higher incidence of stomach cancer than those who do not consume it. Experts indicate that many of the studies on health risk are flawed and do not consider the data in a manner that allows them to detect the significant increase in cancer and other illnesses that are claimed. Local governments have also claimed that is is "outsiders" who are stirring up fears. (Apparently, throughout history, governments and big business have believed that a community never gets fed up all by itself, and that there is a cadre of trouble making outsiders roaming around looking to invent a problem where one does not exist.)

The community of Convent, Louisiana was able to create enough opposition to the location of the Shintech refinery proposed to be located there, that Shintech finally gave up the plan and moved to nearby Plaqueville. Residents were able to save their community, but the misery alleged to follow the chemical company merely relocated to a different area according to some reports. The support for location of Shintech in Convent was the lure of jobs. The community refuted that, citing statistics at how few benefits go to locals in the history of Cancer Alley, and noting that most of their community lack even a high school education. Local government blamed the agitation on "outsiders" again.
After over an hour, I was exhausted, feeling overwhelmed at the experience, imagining raising my children in such a toxic atmosphere which stank of fumes in many places. I wondered at the people who felt anxiety in the event of a chemical leak. In addition to the pipelines and river traffic, trains pass next to the road, loaded with cars filled with chemicals. Given that so many poor people in our country have no access to health care, I imagined their concerns about the health outcomes in their communities due to these increased risks.

As I headed back to New Orleans and waited in line to cross the Huey P. Long, a huge towering structure, I watched a train slowly labor up the bridge, the track running between the lanes of inbound and outbound traffic. The train bridge is higher than the traffic lanes, so a train accident would yield significant danger to the vehicles below. The train was leaving one of the petrochemical refineries, filled with who knows what chemicals. It began a pouring rain just as I entered the ramp to the bridge, and it was almost impossible to see even with the wipers on high. I missed my exit due to inability to see the sign.

As I sat on the deck later that night, my mind replaying all the events of the day, I found myself asking unanswerable questions, at least none we have answered so far. I wonder why we are so willing to poison our environment: our water, our air, our food, our land, in the name of money. There is sufficient evidence to indicate that rather than improving our lives, they have only made it worse. Common sense would tell us that putting cancer-causing chemicals in our food and water and air has to have negative outcomes at some point. Why are we so unwilling to invest in other alternatives if not for the fact that someone somewhere is making a hell of a lot of money using all these chemicals?

At least in the communities along Cancer Alley, there are some residents who are fighting back, with the support of those "damned outside agitators." Those outside agitators (we in community organizing prefer to call it solidarity and support for human rights) are necessary due to the hardship of ordinary people--usually poor and working class--to fight big business and big government.

For more information, you can simply google 'cancer alley New Orleans' and locate resources. In particular, www.seeingblack.com is interesting.

On a final note, as I sit in front of the window writing this, a black sedan pulled up in front of the house, and men in suits wearing sunglasses parked at the curb and watched me for a few minutes. Now if that doesn't raise your paranoia level, I don't know what would. Probably just birthday greetings from my government. LOL