[I’m still thinking about hurricanes, naturally. Have you seen the photos of Galveston? Oh, what a disaster.] The spring after Hurricane Katrina went by New Orleans, I visited the city with some folks from my congregation. The People’s Institute had invited us and they graciously hosted us. We were taken on tours of the devastated city from their point of view.
We drove through the wards with Dr. Richards. At one point, she suddenly broke off midsentence, saying, Stop a minute! She sprang out of the car and over to where she had seen a large, hearty-looking pokeweed plant growing in front of an empty house. She snapped off a stalk and came back with it, full of enthusiastic energy. As we drove on, Dr. Richards told us the traditional way of preparing pokeweed by boiling it till the toxins were cooked out, and then it was safe to eat. Ruefully she shook the stalk. I don’t think this one would ever be safe to eat, growing out of that toxic soil, she said.
All the time we drove through the wards she held the pokeweed. Watching the leaves wilt over the vivid red stem seemed like an analogy to the city that I couldn’t quite articulate. When we said our goodbyes, the pokeweed was left on the seat of the car, a strange souvenir of New Orleans.