ALCHEMY IN NEW ORLEANS
Updated: Apr 24, 2021
I sit here by our second-floor condo windows, closed snugly because the City of New Orleans is taking FOR-EVER to resurface our old street. We are just a block from the famous Plum Street Sno-Balls stand, which also has its share of debris with which to deal. It seems the City is reconstructing thoroughfares all over the city as I have observed on my bike outings. I am an admitted open-window addict. Just ask Steve. You may laugh at this, but…I am a different person with the heavens breezing into our man-made abode. More peaceful. Happier.
Still, when I open these windows at this time, my slight asthma morphs into a monster. The dirt or sand below floats in and coats my throat as well as everything in the apartment: books, floors, furniture, dishes. I sleep with the windows open anyway and awaken to sand in the bottom of my water glass. A mini beach, if you will.
My feelings are ajumble, however, so I throw down the thick Bob Dylan biography that I am reading to try and untangle them. I am overwhelmed or underwhelmed, I’m not sure. You see, after great kicking and screaming, I arrived in New Orleans two nights ago to find that my emotions were blank. Numb. Missing. Zippo. Nada. Where did I put them? Inevitably when I arrive in the Big Easy, I swim in delight. Not this time.
After over a year in a COVID-imposed hiatus from my hometown, I arrive to a case of the blahs. And so, here I sit watching the street below swirl in dirt as I try to figure this out. Only this time—lucky you!—I blog about it.
You know how the Rona has separated us from friends and relatives? To the point of being okay with it, even at peace with it? Well, Nola is much like a much older, if ancient, sister to me. Granted, sometimes she is the dysfunctional, wild sister, who drinks too much, dances too much, gets too dirty. At other times, she is beautiful, dances too much, drinks too much.
I wonder if I have become used to life without Miss Nola as I have with some acquaintances during the pandemic. Less co-dependent. Less nostalgic. Not that I like it; it just may be what it is.
During the pandemic and its accompanying different lifestyle, I took up hiking in Connecticut, our current home and residence for the past twenty-four years. I planned this—even with the forthcoming and inevitable snowy and dark New England winter. Which is surprising even to me. Winter in Connecticut in the past has thwacked me over the head with Seasonal Affective Disorder (cleverly referred to as S.A.D.) and a hopelessness even I can’t describe. Nonetheless, I knew that travel was impossible, and so I invested in hiking boots, micro-spikes, a backpack complete with a Camelbak water thingy.
Thanks to Hiking Queen Lori Davison, a long-time friend and neighbor, I travel to the farthest corners of Connecticut. I explore land trusts galore and thank God that they exist. That some people are kind enough to donate their land simply for preservation and enjoyment blows me away. I learn what ravines, switchbacks, rock tripe, elf cup and other natural wonders are. And, I learn that I love being outside. That I adore being with other creations besides homo sapiens. Mostly, I learn that Connecticut is gorgeous and features topography that New Orleanians long for and travel to when they can: hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, rocks. Even snow.
Winter came, and with it, indescribable beauty. Snow covered hills. Rocks topped with the white stuff in rivers, looking like marshmallows. Natural ice sculptures. Even blueish-green icefalls.
Strangely and gratefully, I don’t freeze on these hikes. Instead, I warm up so quickly that I have to shed layers. Just in case, though, I pack Hot Hands hand warmers and pop them into my gloves if need be.
Another welcomed surprise: comradery. I bond with women (and men) who are like-minded. Those, who get excited about fungi and mountaintop views and swirling brooks and waterfalls. Each five-to-ten-mile hike is packed with laughter and joking. In fact, I’m sure they’re out there; but I have yet to come across a hiker, who I dislike or with whom I do not bond.
Mind you, these hikes take anywhere between 1 ½ to 4 hours. They are often thirty to sixty miles away, though the closest trails are only five miles from our house. So, how do you manage to get anything done, you ask? Guess what? I pour my favorite beverage—coffee—and chill on the drive and listen to my sixties-seventies playlist. My favorite song is San Francisco by Scott Mackenzie. By the time I arrive at the trailhead, I am mellow as Jell-O. This headspace is perfect in which to begin the hike, which sometimes involves steep climbs. On the way home, I remove my boots, throw on my Crocs, and sometimes pick up another coffee from Dunkin for the ride home. The whole excursion is one that screams health—both mental and physical.
And, because hiking has become so apparently important to me, I prioritize it. It becomes Numero Uno. Everything else happens around it. Just more efficiently. I write faster. Research faster. Even cook faster. I only hike about three times a week but look forward to it. A lot.
On these jaunts of several miles, the obsession with work (my immigration and criminal pro bono cases and even writing) fades away with each booted step. I’m forced to focus on the ground to navigate around rocks of which there are a bazillion. I have even fallen on slick rocks and ice a few times but am not discouraged. I haven’t broken anything yet. Fingers crossed!
But back to New Orleans.
My identity has been so wrapped up in her—She’s a NOLA Girl. She’s from New Orleans. She’s from the Big Easy.—that I wonder if I frequent her less, I will lose a huge part of myself. Still, maybe I won’t lose it; maybe I’ll replace it with the next version of me. The next persona. Perhaps I’ll become Nature Nettie? Or Bohemian Nettie? Or Nettie the Yeti, which is my actual trail name.
Will it be okay not to be so co-dependent on her? I think so. New Orleans has given me a zest for life. A hometown about which to brag. A love of traditional jazz. Soul sistas. And mistas. Still the Northeast has given me many blessings too. A buzz for working. Never-ending brain stimulation. Woodstock, NY, where I can fly my NOLA freak flag. A Hippies-Were-Right political viewpoint where war seems cruel and inefficient. And stupid. A beautiful landscape to enjoy and explore. Old history like New Orleans, just the British kind. Different Colonialists.
Steve and I will return in the Fall for French Quarter and Jazz Fests. Will I see the old excitement and nostalgia return? Stay tuned. Whatever transpires in me, I am ready. Laissez les bon temps rouler, Cher—wherever that may be.