Friday, May 26, 2006

The Bolthole

It was some time last December that I started worrying about what we would do when the 2006 hurricane season rolled around. When Katrina hit we had my daughter Sam’s apartment in Baton Rouge, but I knew that wouldn't be an option this year. Without Sam’s apartment, we’d have been a part of that desperate stream of a million plus that poured out of the New Orleans area looking for hotel rooms, driving in hideous traffic for 24 hours and more to Houston and Atlanta, Tennessee and Arkansas. This year it will be even worse. This year, not evacuating simply isn’t an option. Despite all the promises of restoring the levee system to its pre-Katrina strength (like that’s supposed to be reassuring?), it hasn’t happened. New Orleans is going into this hurricane system already broken and vulnerable. Everyone keeps saying people need a plan; they need to know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. So where do five people—one of them an 88-year-old woman—and six cats go? Every time I thought about it, I’d get sick to my stomach.

And then I got an idea.

It was one of those ideas that seems far-fetched at first, yet just won’t go away. I mulled it over for a week or so, and decided to suggest it to my family. I was convinced they’d laugh at me: Oh, there goes Mama worrying about hurricanes again. I finally summoned up my courage one night right before Christmas when we were all sitting around admiring the tree. I cleared my throat and said, “I’ve been thinking… How about if we buy a little house someplace up north of here in the country, just something simple so we’ll have a place to evacuate to when there’s a hurricane? You know, like a bolthole.”

I waited for the laughter. It didn’t come. My mother’s face lit up and she said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea!” Steve and Sam and Danielle chimed in. It turned out everyone had been quietly worrying about the 2006 hurricane season, only we’d all been keeping it to ourselves.

So we set a budget, labeled a file The Bolt Hole, and started looking. Of course, with hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians rendered homeless by Katrina, houses in Louisiana are in short supply. We had a hard time even getting real estate agents to return our calls. After months of looking, we finally found a tiny house on a lake about 115 miles northwest of here. It was smaller than we wanted and still twice our budget, but the vision of that lake started us thinking: what if instead of just a bolthole, we found something we could use as a weekend getaway, too?

We drove up to see the lake house. The house was small and rather nondescript, but the lake… Ah, the lake was divine. Nothing like the majestic mountain lakes I’d grown up with in Oregon and Idaho, but small and pretty and oh, so peaceful. Fresh air, no sounds but the wind in the trees and the singing of birds. We were in love…and then our real estate agent arrived to tell us the owners had decided to take the house off the market.

Crushed, we headed back around the lake and spied another house with a FOR SALE sign. A bigger house. A more expensive house (triple our original budget). We looked. We wrangled. We bought. The act of sale went through on Monday. We’ve spent the last couple of days moving furniture from storerooms and Sam’s apartment and my mother’s garage. We still need to get a few things, but we’re ready. Hurricane season starts again on Thursday, June 1; we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

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