Wednesday, August 29, 2012

HURRICANES AGAIN

Illustration by Paul Schexnayder for
The Kajun Kween
Hurricane Isaac is casting his wet shadow on my home state of Louisiana where I live part of the year when I’m not residing on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. Like many Louisiana residents, I remember Katrina and her destructive effects on people and property in the bayou country. For six weeks following that killer storm, I directed a clothing operation at Solomon House, an outreach mission of the Episcopal Church of Epiphany in New Iberia, and ministered to those who escaped the deluge in New Orleans, seeking higher ground in Acadiana.
Although New Iberia has not felt Isaac so far, I cringe when I think of the violent whirlwinds that have disturbed Acadiana in the past. New Iberians live near the Gulf of Mexico, a relatively shallow body of water with no chilling ocean currents running through it, and this shallow depth allows water to heat up to 85 degrees in the summer, so that the warm water can spawn a hurricane at approximately 80 degrees. As the heat from condensation causes the air in a hurricane to rise rapidly, the hurricane becomes a big wheel containing turbulent winds. And devastation occurs.
As far back as 1722, a hurricane demolished the new settlement of New Orleans, and one of the most memorable hurricanes was the storm on August 10, 1856 that struck Isle Dernier or Last Island. This hurricane caused high storm tides, killing hundreds of people reveling at a dance in a hotel called “The Trade Winds” and destroying every building on the island, as well as most of its vegetation. The devastation inspired the famous novel, Chita, by Lafcadio Hearn. Today, Last Island is an uninhabited beach containing little vegetation.
Hurricanes appear in three of my Young Adult fiction books and provide active settings that derive from my experiences of major hurricanes that struck New Iberia–Hilda, Betsy, and the worst, Andrew, when I sat huddled in my home while the wind vibrated the walls of my house like a giant accordion.
One of the lighter treatments of a hurricane occurs in my YA book, The Kajun Kween, in which the heroine, Petite Marie Melancon, ties herself to a tree to experience the Big Wind so that she can provide a story for a comic strip publisher. (However, this narrative is not intended as a jest to minimize the severity of hurricanes –in fact, it emphasizes the foolishness of Petite Marie.) Before Petite goes outside to experience this childish adventure (unbeknownst to her parents), a discussion of hurricanes takes place at the supper table, and Petite shows off her knowledge of hurricanes to her Papa: “Wizards in Finland used to sell wind to seamen. The wind was inside of three knots,” she says. “If someone untied the first knot, a small wind came up. If he untied the second knot, half a gale blew, and if he untied the third knot, a hurricane blew in. I read that seamen in the Shetland Islands still buy knotted handkerchiefs from old women to control the storms…”
Papa Melancon bests Petite’s story with one of his own. He claims that at one time when hurricanes blew in, Sumatrans ran from their houses armed with swords and lances to cut up the winds. Petite’s papa explains that the word “huracan,” which means “God of All Evil,” is derived from Indian tribes in the Caribbean, the Tainos, who thought that on many occasions Huracan got angry with them and tried to blow them away. You’ll have to read what happens to Petite Marie Melancon during her hurricane adventure in The Kajun Kween, but I don’t advise anyone to test the intensity of the Big Wind, as Petite attempted to do.
Meanwhile, we assume the position of “hunkering down” in sympathy with our Louisiana friends and family and pray that Isaac will take his winds to some other body of water or deserted island, settling his terrible rotary disturbances there.
The illustration at the beginning of this blog is a clip from a drawing by Paul Schexnayder, New Iberia artist, and appears in The KajunKween.

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