This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
You can find it here>>
A high wind smacked the water, kicking up waves that glinted grey as the overcast sky. Barrie eyed the river warily as he slurped his coffee. He set the mug down and tied a second bowline to the copse of trees in the eddying inlet. The first smatter of raindrops hit the half-bare branches and withered leaves of the trees. Barrie flipped on the radio. He fiddled with the knob, adjusting the signal. A crackled report came through. Amidst the garble, Barrie picked out the words: gulf, hurricane, superstorm.
“Won’t be moving today,” he murmured. The Gulf storms had ratcheted up in intensity year after year as climate denialism flourished under the corporate-controlled government. Every year of delay and inaction destabilized the climate further. The high tides crashed further into coastal cities, surging up through storm drains, flooding whole neighborhoods. The centers of continents crisped with 110° degree heat bombs. The droughts were trouble enough, but it was the weirding of the weather in extreme oscillations that spelled doom for humanity. Over the Great Lakes, polar vortex blizzards crashed miles of power lines down. Snow in the Midwest in late June killed thousands of acres of crops. Tornadoes tripled in size and ferocity, hurling towns across the prairie like gods in a temper tantrum.
But it was the hurricane season superstorms that terrified Barrie. This far inland, they’d be plastered with monsoon-worthy rain, but the brunt of the one hundred and twenty miles per hour winds would be slowed. The winds would trip over New Orleans, drag their feet into Louisiana’s swamps, and stagger through Mississippi. By the time they got here, they’d be strong enough to strip the branches bare, but not to flip the Twain over. As the rivers flooded, the currents would surge, unpredictable and treacherous.
“We’ll be hunkering down here for a few days,” he informed Charlie and Zadie.
They nodded, eyes wide and worried over the weather report. From its coffee can prison, his cellphone jangled. He opened it and scowled as he stabbed at the touchscreen trying to turn it on. Managing it at last, he answered.
“Hello? Yeah, was just about to call you. Hmm. No, sorry to say she’s running high and wide. Newbury’s looking like Venice. The wetlands are full up? Ah. I see. Well, I’ll come down right after the storm passes and lend a hand. Sounds like you’ll need boats.”
He hung up and closed his eyes for a long moment.
“What’s happening?” Zadie asked, a clench of worry seizing her.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph in New Orleans called to check on the Miss. These floodwaters are hurtling downstream and will collide with the storm surge. The Maribeau Wetlands are already brimming. The city’ll flood.”
“What are the Mirabeau Wetlands?” Charlie asked.
They were a miracle borne from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. The twenty-five acre grounds had once housed a Catholic convent. The buildings had been completely flattened by the storm. The Sisters, praying for guidance, spent years contemplating how best to rebuild and serve their ministry . . . and the planet. For theirs was a double mission: shepherding the people and stewarding the Earth. Twenty-five acres in the heart of New Orleans had reckless developers salivating over the potential, but God interceded and sent the nuns a vision: make the area into the nation’s largest urban wetlands. Using a natural design, the area mitigated the heavy rains and frequent floods that hit the region. The wetlands could offer recreation space in dry times and water catchment in wet weather. With the rebuilt levee system of the Army Corps of Engineers already sinking beneath tidal surges, the Mirabeau Wetlands offered to serve an entire city of four hundred thousand people and nature.
But even that beautiful garden couldn’t stop the mighty collision of river water and hurricane. Hurricane Eve would hit land with all the vengeance of a woman scorned. She was coming. There was no stopping her.
Charlie, Zadie, and Barrie waited out the storm north of Jackson, Mississippi. Even this far inland, the trees whipped and the rain lashed and the Twain rocked and sloshed on its moorings. Barrie offered to take them to a hotel, but they declined. Hundreds of thousands of families had evacuated the mouth of the Mississippi. Charlie and Zadie stayed on the Twain and organized disaster relief among the Dandelions. They crowd-funded to make entire regional hotel chains available for poor families. They connected local insurrectionists with evacuees to provide shelter. They pressured inland town officials to open their gymnasiums and community centers to those fleeing the brunt of the hurricane.
It is time, Charlie wrote, to once again live up to our motto: be kind, be connected, be unafraid.
Be kind . . . let your compassion lead you into action.
Be connected . . . be the indivisible nation that we aspire to be.
Be unafraid . . . and show up to take care of each other.
From the makeshift office of his Twain shack, Barrie helped them mobilize shelter for Hurricane Eve asylum seekers. He lined the tin roof with blankets to muffle the din of the downpour. He charged the battery packs for their phones, first off the solar charger, then with the diesel converter rigged up to the outboard motor. He brewed coffee at midnight and brought an extra blanket for Zadie when her teeth started chattering. Perhaps, he grudgingly conceded as they worked, there was a time and place for technology. He had planned to sail into New Orleans as the storm receded and rescue those who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave, but even as he sat here waiting, Charlie and Zadie and the Dandelions had assisted millions.
Charlie’s grandfather called, both of them hollering over the deluge of rain. Valier rattled on in French for several minutes before Charlie understood the gist of the old man’s message.
“Wait – you raised how much?” he blurted, shocked.
“Deux millions!” Valier answered proudly. “Two million, Charlie!”
He had called every single French Acadian family in the St. John Valley, invoking their cultural connection to the Cajuns to gather relief funds for the city. During Le Grand Dérangement in 1755-1764, the British had expelled most of the Acadians from Northern Maine and New Brunswick, sending many of them south to Louisiana. Thousands died along the way. Years later, some returned to the northern lands, reclaiming homes and farms, but the Acadians who remained in the south became the Cajuns.
“They are our brothers and sisters, my grandson Charlie’s distant relatives!” Valier had declared, pestering his neighbors nonstop until they turned out their pockets to contribute to the relief effort.
“That’s amazing, grand-père,” Charlie shouted, plugging his other ear so he could hear above the howl of the storm. “I didn’t think our valley had two dimes to rub together.”
“Bah, voyons,” Valier exclaimed. “They don’t. We only raised a thousand, but I got the churches involved and les Canadiens. They started calling the French on the continent, and voila! Deux millions.“
The old man was fit to burst with pride. Charlie hung up, deeply moved, and relayed the news to Barrie and Zadie.
“Disasters like this will be the making or breaking of America,” Barrie remarked. “Hearing this gives me hope that the best of us will show up to redefine patriotism from love of one’s country to love of one another. We can build our identity not on corporate brands or short-sighted nationalism, but on how well we rally to take care of each other.”
Charlie glanced up from the screen. The bluish light reflected in his eyes.
“May I quote you on that?” he paused as he choked up. “That was . . . beautiful.”
“Just get my name right: H. L. Barrie, i and e, no reason y.”
As the hurricane slammed the coast and dropped continent-sized armloads of water inland, the Mississippi spilled her banks. She hit historic high-water marks, hundred year flood lines, all-time records . . . and then she kept on flooding. She swallowed farm towns and cut off cities. She turned roads into canals and fields into lakes. Still, the clouds kept raining, the river continued rising, and there was nowhere for the water to go except into the thousand mile-long river valley basin.
Whole cargo containers were dragged off train side rails. The waters tore out dikes and shoved up into industrial areas. Box stores and warehouses turned into island archipelagos. The water table rose beneath the ground, bubbling up in old basements far above the river. Foul water seethed out from drains carrying the stench of sewage. Old diseases from medieval times resurfaced as sanitation systems broke down. Bloated corpses from hog farms washed downstream in nightmarish scenes. Green algae-filled sewage and sludge ponds overflowed and poured their toxic soup into the brown and angry floodwaters. The factories along Cancer Alley oozed with leaking containment ponds. The military was recalled from overseas bases to help with the rescue operations. Dramatic footage of helicopters and ocean vessels collecting people from rooftops of homes, hospitals, even clinging to a church steeple, deluged the media.
As soon as the brunt of the storm passed, Barrie’s boat sped southward. New Orleans drew closer on the horizon. On either bank, the damage and destruction increased by the mile. They closed in on the city. The devastation around New Orleans shocked them. There was no river edge, only a sea of flooded streets. As they approached, a second boat motored into sight. The captain lifted her hand to Barrie. A third boat came up behind them, then another and another, until a veritable fleet sailed down the Mississippi to help with disaster relief. Some bore supplies; others brought volunteers. One carried a deck full of white-robed doctors and nurses in green scrubs.
The flooded neighborhoods teemed with activity, much of it odd and startling, tinged with a sense of surrealism. In the streets-turned-canals, a group of men, waist deep and shirtless, hauled a floating house against the pooling currents. A bantam rooster perched on a roof next to a supremely aloof tabby cat. On a church ridgepole, a row of people sat in resignation, waiting for deliverance in the form of a boat. The debris of a bouncy ball hut bobbed colorfully against the grey walls of the cemetery crypts. On the next street, a pack of kids poled an inflatable mattress down the streets, salvaging and scavenging.
The strangeness grew as they got closer to the coast. One hundred and twenty miles per hour winds had ripped roofs off houses and left walls splayed like half-opened boxes. The entire contents of a superstore had washed out the broken sliding doors into the submerged parking lot; plastic toys knocked against the windshields of abandoned cars. There was a line of people pushing seniors in wheelchairs up a turnpike bridge, rescuing the residents of a nearby retirement village. Houses had been blown off foundations, crushing cars underneath them like metallic wicked witches of Oz. Much of the devastation was marked by loss, the absence of the ordinary. It was an invisible wreckage that only the locals could see: the lake with a neighborhood hidden beneath, the place where a store should have stood; the absence of landmarks, the water-surged relocation of an anguished Virgin Mary statue who opened her arms on the front step of a demolished school.
They motored in near silence until they reached a Spanish-style convent. The pink plastered walls darkened at the waterline. A bustle of activity teemed near the covered porch that encircled the building. Boats congregated around as black-robed nuns coordinated supply, delivery, and rescue operations. They cheered at Barrie’s hollered greetings and without a moment’s fanfare, he and his guests were drafted into helping. The Sisters were repackaging donated food goods into smaller boxes to deliver all over the city. Charlie teamed up with Barrie, grabbing crates and lending his young back to loading and unloading. Zadie joined the nuns – specifically, a tiny bird of a sister who worked indefatigably and spoke with boisterous French and Spanish-accented enthusiasm. Her habit was scandalously tucked up into her belt, revealing no-nonsense jeans underneath. She refused to wear a wimple, and the rising heat made her dark brown hair curl in a furious wrestling match with the humid air. They spoke in snatches between hauling boxes.
“Sister Theodesia is my name, just call me Theo,” she insisted.
The nun’s compact strength belied the weathering of five decades. She bent at the knees and hefted a cardboard box that clinked with jars of peanut butter. Zadie stacked packages of crackers into her arms and followed her into the other room. The day passed in a blur. Zadie remembered only a whirl of faces. At dusk, her back ached with the recollection of innumerable box loads moved from hall to kitchen to porch to boat. She saw Charlie only twice amidst the fleet of small dories and larger skiffs that moored against the old convent to load and then departed to deliver sustenance to water-trapped families. The next day was the same. And the next. They slept on the Twain. Barrie docked each night alongside the convent’s porch rails. In between hauling boxes and handing out relief packages, Zadie and Charlie made sure the nation poured their hearts into helping out their fellow citizens.
They called millions of Dandelions into the relief effort in an historic appeal:
“We are a continent of a country, larger than our fears, bigger than our petty greed. We must rise to care for one another, to help our fellow citizens in the wake of disaster. Let us open our schools and churches, auditoriums and gymnasiums to take in those displaced from their homes. Let us give from our pantries and gardens. Let us volunteer to deliver supplies. Let us staff emergency shelters. Let us help clean up the debris and offer our help when the time to rebuild arrives.”
In the crisis, the best and the worst of the nation were revealed.
“If we cannot find common cause in caring for ourselves as one country, indivisible, regardless of background or political beliefs, then we have no right to think of ourselves as a nation. If we will not care for each other in times of need, if we will not bend our collective strength to this task, calling upon our citizens, businesses, institutions, government, and whole society to take care of each and every one of us . . . then who are we truly? Are we the people we aspire to be? Or are we merely three hundred and twenty million miserable crooks and criminals robbing each other for our own comforts and pleasures?”
To say it was a watershed moment was an understatement. As the floodwaters began to recede and the worst of the damage was revealed, Charlie and Zadie called upon Congress to pass a Relief Bill and a New Deal-style work program to provide jobs for the people as they helped their nation in its hour of need. Charlie rang up Brad Andersen and corralled him into helping.
“You’ll owe me for this,” the DC fixer told him.
“Maybe you owe me for putting your heart in the right place,” Charlie countered, “and for saving your soul from its usual state of perdition.”
He hung up with a disgusted sigh and turned his attention to other things.
Zadie, always outspoken about greed and inequality, called upon Dandelion Insurrectionists to disrupt all the luxury affairs of the rich, demanding that they put the suffering of their fellow citizens ahead of their social pleasures. Starling and Sparrow mobilized murmurations in ten major cities. Fifteen thousand people participated. Tens of millions of private dollars poured into citizen-led relief funds and mutual aid networks.
We cannot accept the highway robbery of business-as-usual in times like this, Charlie wrote. We cannot be a country that continues to selfishly profit from the wreckage and upheaval that greed has wrought.
“And why stop there?” Zadie asked as she worked with Charlie on their latest appeal. They were huddled in the head nun’s office, using the spotty wifi running off the generator. “Shouldn’t the richest country in the world also be the most generous? Not just in philanthropy and in donations, but in mutual aid networks and fair wages, affordable housing, healthcare, and free college education?”
“But Zadie,” Charlie argued, fingers poised over the keypad, “if we did all those things, those fair and ethical things, we wouldn’t be the richest country in the world anymore.”
She tossed him a contemptuous lip curl.
“Of course we would,” she countered, “but we wouldn’t measure wealth by adding up rich people’s hoards and private stockpiles. We’d measure it in collective wellbeing, health, quality of existence, access to opportunity, and happiness indexes.”
She had a point. Charlie wrote it down.
We can forge a new spirit for our country based on how deeply we care for one another. In our hour of need, we can judge patriotism not by our willingness to wage endless war, but by endlessly expanding our capacity to care.
A sense of national pride could be found, not in narrow lines of race or class, but in the deep upswell of care shown by ordinary people to their fellow citizens. The generosity pouring into relief funds and mutual aid networks, volunteering and sheltering evacuees, revealed that the citizens had cast their vote for compassion. Patriotism had to include taking care of one’s fellow citizens, indeed, all of humanity. Charlie made sure the memo reached the desks of politicians, demanding that they open the public coffers as generously to the people as they had for the corporations. He insisted that the government raise the taxes on the wealthy and put those funds to work for the wellbeing of country. A poor person who donated their last dollar was as generous as a millionaire who gave away their entire fortune, he reminded them. The rich should aspire to be as radically generous as the working class and the poor.
The message was loud and clear: we, the People, love our people. And if you do not . . . then what exactly do you mean when you claim to love this country?
This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
You can find it here>>