Saturday, January 27, 2007

Day Nineteen

The Fab Five faced this rainy day with the video camera in hand. Click below to see their take.

Aaaaarrrrgggghhh! More rain. We CANNOT handle any more rain! When we got up, it was just cloudy; without any thought of rain, we started trying to figure out how to distribute ourselves across the jobs we need to finish. Then drops began to fall. Suddenly, Sarah’s paint job was off the list. So were Rosie’s security bars and walker-accessible steps.

No matter what, we had already decided to start the day by stopping at Natasha’s Habitat for Humanity house. Our first order of business there was to deliver Alicia’s beloved speed square back to her, as we accidentally brought it home with us the last time we worked for her. (The level of frantic searching it took to find this one little item almost threw off our whole day; Matt rescued us by finding it in the trailer.) Our second (and most important) goal was to deliver the gazing globe that we bought for Natasha’s back yard. Natasha works all week, so she is seldom at the site on weekdays. She comes almost every Saturday, though, so we hoped we would run into her today.

When we arrived, Natasha was nowhere to be found, but Alicia was happy to see us, hoping we were working for her today. We told her that we couldn’t stay, but that we wanted to deliver what we owed her. She was quite surprised that we drove that far out of our way to give back an item that is relatively inexpensive but that holds great sentimental value to her. We also brought out the gazing globe and asked her to deliver it to Natasha for us. She agreed.

We then headed out to our job for the day: working on a permaculture garden at a funky former industrial site that is now an arts collective called ArtEgg. We worked with Professor Charles Reith of Tulane University, who is developing the exterior of this former egg-processing plant as a model of sustainable agriculture that will help to reduce the effects of urban pollution. The general principle is to channel water off of nearby paved areas and filter it through “bioswales” (contoured drainage channels with vegetation that helps to draw the pollutants out of the runoff). The bioswale cuts a curving channel through the property and raised boxes line the channel to grow trees, vegetables, and other plants. The entire lot serves as its own miniature ecosystem so that it not only sustains itself with little maintenance, but it also provides the “pollution-scrubbing” services of the bioswale.

All of this is very laudable and fascinating, of course, but pounding rain made the whole place a bit less hospitable for us than it might have been. As we were arriving, a steady rain began to fall. We had heard that we were working on a “green roof” at ArtEgg, but we assumed that the pouring rain meant that we would have to find some other job. Though people were, in fact, working on the roof when we arrived, our job was in and around the bioswale at ground level. Even though we weren’t on the roof, we were still quite vulnerable to the rain. We got SOAKED. Through. All the way.

Some of us were dredging the bioswale, some of us were turning and moving the compost pile, some of us laid a new brick path, some of us planted trees, some of us collected scattered litter, some of us transplanted cattails and all of us got really wet. Most of us didn’t have great raingear, meaning that we were wearing jeans that got super-soaked and very heavy. Something about bending over meant that the seats of our pants also get really wet, and suddenly it looked like we were all wearing diapers. And it felt like we were wearing diapers, too. Diapers full of ice.

Even the people who had legitimate raingear tested it all the way to the limit. Most of our rainjackets soaked through, but for some reason we all just kept working away. Admittedly, we made lots of wise cracks about what we were doing and why we were doing it, but in the end, we actually at least partially believed in the whole undertaking.
Charles, too, clearly believes, and he hopes to convince the city of New Orleans to develop large swaths of land using similar sustainable practices. He will likely succeed, which makes us happy to have made a small contribution to this experiment.

We broke for lunch at noon and went onto a loading dock to get out of the downpour. Once we escaped the rain for even one minute, we knew that we couldn’t go back. We declared ourselves noble and virtuous for lasting a full three hours in that much precipitation and we set ourselves free. The People of the Ice Diapers were liberated.

We were slow to claim our freedom, though, as we were too wet to get onto the bus. We had to set up a metering system to send people out in pairs. Shawny, Jed, and Leo were on the other end, having cut a strip of turf to cover the floor of the bus. Jed ran shoes and top layers into the luggage bins while Shawny and Leo cut long strips of plastic off a roll. Each person wrapped in plastic, then sat on the floor to keep the bus as clean and dry as possible.

We got home to a flooded field, where the water was clearly coming up from beneath the saturated ground. Even our covered dining area had standing water throughout. We rationed hot water to get showers for every chilly one of us and then promptly ran out of propane again. Grrr.

We recognized that we could not produce our own meal under these conditions, so we decided to go down the street to the Dry Dock CafĂ© right outside the ferry stop. We intended to cook up lots of our lingering pantry staples (we still have LOTS of tofu for some odd reason!) to use up some of our leftover food. Instead, Courtney’s cousins joined us and brought us incredible fresh peel-and-eat shrimp, and then we went to the restaurant and had great catfish, burgers, red beans and rice, and even some ice cream. To top off the night, one of the patrons in the place picked up the tab! He at first wanted to remain anonymous, but then decided that he wanted to thank us personally for coming to New Orleans at all. Like Charles Reith this morning, this benefactor told us that New Orleans feels like every level of government has let them down. He said that only because of people like us is New Orleans on its feet again. He wanted to show his gratitude. We were reluctant, but we accepted his offer to buy our dinner. The whole place broke into a huge celebration over us and over the future of New Orleans. After our cold and rainy morning, this evening was an appropriate reward. Thanks to our Dry Dock neighbors, thanks to Courtney’s cousins for their visit, and thanks again to all of you for following along. We feel you by our sides. . . .

One of our jobs at the Art of the Egg was to transplant trees from one end of the garden to the other. Shane and Janeva work on digging a hole for “Phil” the first tree they moved.

Emily, Linzy, Tim, and a gardener turn over the compost pile creating a stench that permeated the entire vicinity. Luckily the rain helped wash away the unpleasant smell.

Hope, one of the gardeners, had us get creative with the space by placing stepping stones along the bio swale in order to highlight it but not impede its sustainability.

The NOLA group stands on the deck as we receive instructions for the day’s work.

Megan used clippers to cut dead cattails and iris plants from the bioswail in the permaculture.

Kellie shows the rest of our group how to garden under rainy conditions.

Some of our group members found time to hang out in the back portion of the garden.

Some say that the future of energy is in alternative fuel resources. This bus that is “powered by vegetable oil” is an example of one of those vehicles.

Elijah displays his brutish strength by carrying barrels to take them to their proper place.

Recycle reduce reuse! Art of the Egg demonstrates the importance of recycling by building borders out of bottles.

Jokingly, we lit a book of matches to keep warm . . . surprisingly, it gave us a moment of refreshing and much needed heat.

Okay now it is wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too cold out there! Shawny rallies up team after a hard work in the rain. Can you tell we are cold?

Duck, duck . . . Goose. We drove back from Art of the Egg soak up and dirty but we suffered together and remained happy.

Upon our return home we found the kitchen tent completely flooded by the continual rain. This didn’t deter Courtney and others from making doughnuts to cheer up the group by placing a piece of plywood over the swampy grass.

Because of the rain, we had to cut our workday short. We returned to camp to work on our projects in the dry haven of the warehouse.

No comments: