After Hurricane Katrina, Dead Stumps Lined The Highway
Artists Saw Something Else; A Medium
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi. My parents’ home was just above Interstate 10 and thankfully, did not suffer much damage. The next time I visited however, it was devastating to me to see that many of our memorable destinations were gone. The aquarium where the kids and I had played with dolphins just a month before was gone. The dolphins were out in the ocean somewhere, not capable of hunting for their own fish. Fishermen soon reported finding them out in the wild asking to be fed. They would have to be brought back into captivity, unable to hunt for themselves. The drug store where we had gone for beverages and sunscreen on a beach day was only sand now. You could still make out a parking lot and some bricks if you looked carefully. The bridge leading to Biloxi looked like it had been built from Legos and then stomped on. It was a zig zag of concrete shapes jutting out of the water. The children’s museum, one our our favorite destinations, was heavily damaged and would be rebuilding and renovating for months. Gulfport was in ruins.
I drove the divided highway along the coast. It used to be lined with huge live oak trees offering comforting shade over the summers I had spent there, but the shade was gone now. All that remained of after Katrina, were tall stumps. They were essentially dead. Several months later, I drove the same divided highway. A team of artists (a chainsaw artist from Mississippi, and wood sculptors from Florida and Indiana) had been inspired to transform the dead stumps from painful reminders of devastation into beautiful works of art. The trunks of the trees were still upright, and the roots were deep. The artists saw a medium. The theme of the sculptures was marine life. Some people saw dead stumps and others saw an opportunity for a beautiful transformation.
I was mesmerized by the metamorphosis I witnessed over time as I drove back every month or so to visit my parents. The sculptures struck me on a spiritual level. I felt dead inside. No hope. No life. I was not living. I was still upright and had deep roots, but I was completely detached I felt devastated, like those trees. I parked the car and walked out to the sculptures, touching each one. The kids were with my parents and I had time alone. Three dolphins jumping out of the water. A pelican perched on a stump. A whale’s tail. These sculptures gave me hope. Just because something is devastated, it is not useless. Something was still there. That something, even if it is much smaller than what it had started out as, a huge live oak tree, that little something can be brought to life. It may be a completely different life than it had known before. It could have a special purpose.
Death was not final, but I wasn’t thinking about an afterlife. I was trying to make sense of this life. The path I had been on had led to my spiritual death. It had killed my spirit. This “God” was not big enough to rescue me from that. It had been almost twelve years now since I married that man and shortly after became a music minister’s wife. I didn’t bother praying anymore. The answer always seemed to be “I don’t care.”
I was beginning a journey of self-exploration of spiritualism. I sat through church services feeling numb. I did my duty. I practiced “church face” and played my role. But something inside felt liberated because of those sculptures. I could make something out of this dead stump inside of me.