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Monday, November 14, 2005

Visiting Orange a Month After Rita

We had to drop everything last week and head off to Orange, TX for a funeral. My wife's aunt passed away peacefully after many years of suffering and that brought us back to her hometown on the Texas-Louisiana border. This was my first post-Rita trip to Orange.

It's been a little over a month, and the place still looks like a war zone: trees uprooted or still standing but snapped in two, twisted piles of metal torn from who knows where, buildings ripped apart, FEMA tarps on nearly every roof, crooked signs and street lights, many businesses still closed. And all this after a month and a half. Everyday, there were trucks lumbering along the roads randomly picking up the sawed remains of the forests and trees people once had in their yards that are now piled high in front of their houses.

One of the most striking things about the hurricane's aftermath was how bright everything appeared. Rachel had noticed this a week prior when she'd come to visit her aunt in the hospital, and it was, I think, both the most startling and most subtle aspect of the damage. The dense, dark forests of the Piney Woods were so thinnned throughout the town that there seemed an over-abundance of sunlight. Orange is supposed to be dark and a little mysterious, but it seemed so bright, the forests so thin, that some of its swampy bayou mystery was lost.

Driving around town was odd as we were constantly rubber-necking to view the damage while Rachel pointed out buildings and homes that despite growing up there, she'd never seen because of the thick trees that had always hidden them from the road.

The sound of chainsaws is constant, and there's plenty of work to do, but people seem to be taking it in stride. At the visitation, I watched one old guy walk over to a friend, shake hands and say with a straight face, "Need some fire wood?" It was obviously a well-worn joke down there, but they both laughed anyway.

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