- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — High weeds sway in the hot, moist breeze.

Sweat drips down my back and runs down along my legs.

Walking along the path from the road up to the levee wall, the ground crunches underfoot from the countless seashells scattered in the wet dirt.

I’m lost in a sun-baked haze of wonder. Until the tickle of a bite from the nemesis of summer reminds me that I forgot that bottle of bug spray at the Winn-Dixie.

Ahead, covered with pockmarks that look like bulletholes, the levee wall stands solid like a sentinel.

Staring head-on, I see a blank, uncertain horizon.

Behind, in the destroyed homes and broken streets is another horizon, one of destruction, sadness and a new future yet to take shape.

In Lower Ninth, the progress is as slow and sappy as the afternoon heat, like the lazy conversations while sitting on creaky wooden porches drinking glasses of ice tea.

Those were the days of the Big Easy, when life here was full and real and the sweet Louisiana drawl filled the air and those thick words floated by like storm clouds waiting to be grasped by old callused hands.

In the tall grass, empty doorsteps and slabs dance with the weeds, and a house up the crumbled, dusty road still sits atop a truck in the shade of a tree. The telephone poles lean and the birds share a melancholy song.

It’s been more than a year since the water covered this land.

Along Nashville Avenue in the Broadmoor neighborhood, there are fewer trailers and the grass is cut. The paint is fresh and the recovery is slow, but moving still, in a different universe from the Lower Nine.

The FEMA trailer in the driveway of the Tebo family is gone. There’s a driveway there now, complete with picnic table and basketball hoop. Strange. I’ve spent several nights in that Jag model trailer with a slide-out.

The sound of the generator next door is gone, too.

But some things haven’t changed much, like the challenge of having your garbage picked up, or navigating past sticks of wood with nails and broken glass in the pothole-marked road.

Each neighborhood, from the Lower Nine to Broadmoor, to Lakeview, to New Orleans East and beyond is different, but in each spot the watermarks and spray-painted rescue codes are slowly fading.

Recovery runs on a day’s sweat and handful of promises blowing in the wind.

Despite all the challenges, it’s a wonder to be here, to be a part of something special, something meaningful and soulful, something graceful and alive.

It is, as I’ve said before, like watching a wonderful, magical dance of a people and a place found only in a dream.

Rodney Lamkey Jr., photographer, The Washington Times

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