Four years after the storm


In Bay St. Louis, Miss. – 20 minutes west of Biloxi and an hour northeast of New Orleans – a woman living with her dog in an RV is not that out of the ordinary.

This is where the eye of Hurricane Katrina touched down in August 2005, causing more devastation than any recorded before her in the country.

Miles of sandy beaches and nary a tourist greet me in early November. Posts from decimated houses sit like forgotten bones.

For every grocery store, restaurant, bait stand and gas station, two or three are closed indefinitely.

The quiet is a vacation after Florida's coast line, Boston, Manhattan.

It's a sad quiet, though, like a ghost town.

Locals still talk about the aftermath.

Bodies, vehicles, and people's belongings were strewn like litter.

People slept wherever they could. The street lights were out and you could see the stars.

The insects were terrible. It was hot and humid.

Pet dogs roamed the city in packs.

Men reverted to instinct, too.

In New Orleans, where the levees broke, there was violence and looting. But here crime was kept mostly in check by the National Guard.

Store employees gave away food and toiletries.

A.J. Sconza, 59, and his wife Patricia, 68, were working the closing shift at Wal-Mart the afternoon before the hurricane.

Aj A.J. waited for Patricia to check out the final customers, so they could drive to a relative's home further inland. By the time she finished, they realized there wasn't time.

They drove to their small one-story home in Bay St. Louis to ride out the storm.

"The wind was so loud, we had to yell to each other to talk. And then the water came in," says A.J., tears forming in his eyes.

In less than an hour, it went from a tiny pool he tried to sweep away to 4 1/2 feet above the living room floor.

"And my wife can't swim. She's tiny. I hugged her and I kissed her and I said, 'Good bye. We ain't gonna make it. I love you and I'll see you in Heaven.'"

But the water stopped.

It wasn't their time.

Days later A.J. dedicated his life to God and more than four years later is an

active member of Calvary Chapel, where he helps whoever and whenever he can.

"I dont have no regrets, I'm just full of joy. I've been in and out of jobs, but

I'm not worried about it because the Lord gonna take care of me," he says.

"I've heard of so much death since we've been here,” says Andrea Langham, Andrea who moved to the area with her husband Kris from Huntington Beach, Calif. a couple years ago. Kris is the church's pastor.

“And it's not just older people. It's drugs and suicide,” she continues. “So, there's still a lot of hurt here."

The Langhams were among those who came in teams organized by a group of Calvary Chapel pastors. They fed people three meals a day under a circus tent set up in a Bay St. Louis ball field.

The meals and sermons went on for about a year after the storm. Then restaurants began to reopen and the city asked the church to stop.

Church member Stephanie Luxich, 52, a lifelong resident of Bay St. Louis, population 6,000, remembers those days.Stephanie

She lost her apartment in the hurricane and has lived in transitional settings, doing a variety of temporary work.

She also recalls how a decade before the storm, the now quiet city had started to boom. People bought property sight unseen. With its small-town charm and uncluttered beaches, Bay St. Louis was the new place to be. Real estate prices skyrocked.

Since then, about a third of the population has left.

"I always thought I was going to die here,” says Luxich. “But then Katrina changed everything. Nothing is forever.”

Luxich has learned to appreciate blessings amid the chaos – such as the year she spent in a 450-square-foot FEMA-issue cottage with sea green interior and crown molding.

She had it placed at the edge of her niece's property, near the water.

“I'd always wanted to live on the beach,” she says. “I couldn't afford it.”

"When you've been through a lot of stuff, it's just too much effort to stress about things," she adds. "He (God) has provided me with exactly what I need."

A Floridian pit bull owner

I met Jim Martens, 75, at a gas station
near Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. 

He saw my dog IMG_4977 and my license plates and
we realized we had some stuff in common.

Martens, a former U.S. Marine, Army and
police officer used to live in Spokane, Wash.

He recently adopted a pit bull puppy.

Originally from Indiana, he's lived in
several places, but is happy to retire near the panhandle coast of the sunshine

He says the occupations he's had have
made him see America differently.

His services were paid for by
taxpayers, but often benefited those on the sidelines.

“In a way, I wish in my day, I'd have
seen a lot more of the country,” says Martens.
Then adds: “I've
got a good life, a good wife and good kids.”

And, I hope, a good new addition to the
All the best with your puppy, Jim!


Martens pointed me in the direction of
this beach, which was a definite find, because parking was scarce
everywhere else I looked….

Cool old architecture where you wouldn’t expect it

Waycross, Georgia, population 15,000 is at the northeastern tip of the massive Okefenokee swamp — reason enough to love it.

But it is also home to lots of funky architecture, including buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.





There were several vacancy signs and not much activity on a weekday, in this little city.


I didn't even inquire about work at the third-generation family owned paper.

Charleston, South Carolina — I could happily lose myself here


Amid live oak trees covered in Spanish moss, Where the gravestones speak with the drama of Edgar Allan Poe, who residents say was inspired by a local legend to write "Annabelle Lee."


One of the first English settlements in North America, Charleston had pirates and battles and a boycott of tea.

Laws preserving buildings more than 75 years old, makes it an interesting place for architecture.

Residents were taxed on their homes' frontage, back in the day.


A plantation house sits in ruins, testifying to Gen. Sherman's "northern aggression" at the end of the Civil War.


On the grounds, a simple but beautiful slave chapel has been recreated.


And there was wildlife, there, too (though I didn't see any alligators).


Nearby, in Hollywood, I saw some cool antiques.


And a beautiful sky.


And now North Charleston has got something from the Seattle area, too.

My cousin Vicki Doyle shows the headline.


A trip to the Billy Graham Library


While in Charleston, North Carolina, Helen Fergusun, 76, visited the Billy Graham Library, a multimedia gallery that explains the mission of the famed preacher.

Fergusun, from Nocona, Texas, attended a crusade rally in Ft. Worth, during the 80s.

"It was wonderful, so many people there and such a high response," she says. "You go away trembling of what weak person you are and what life would be without him (Jesus)."


Graham, 90, grew up on a dairy farm in the Charleston area, and has been a noted international evangelist for about six decades. He was one of the first to bring his message to people through television and had to convince church leaders to embrace that technology.

During countless crusades, nationally and internationally, Graham reiterated the same gospel message.

He welcomed interaction with talk show hosts and political leaders, but refrained from himself becoming a polarized figure.

A noted exception occurred in 1952, when Graham took a stand against segregation by physically removed the ropes separating black and white audience members at one of his crusades.

It smells different in Appalachia


I met former Appalachian Mountains resident Pam Harris, 52, near her home in the Boston area, of all places.

Though she left Wise, Virginia 27 years ago, she carries her accent with her and a way of looking at the world.

"The first thing you'll notice is that it smells different there," she told me of the area straddling the mountain ridge between Virginia and West Virginia.

And of the roads: "Some of those turns will knock you on your face!"

Due to rain, exhaustian and conflicting travel plans, I avoided the crazy swtichbacks and only ventured as far as Oakdale, West Virginia, on the northeast edge of classic Appalachia.

I did notice the air smelled fresh and kind of sweet – almost like someone in the distance was baking bread.

I found it incredible that there were five churches in a three mile area on Old 460, and wished it was Sunday morning.

In Oakdale, there were trailers and houses in various states abutting the banks of a beautiful river, a pickup truck piled with tied trash bags, a vacant looking fire station and some kind of community center or school.

One man who looked to be in his thirties was working near the road and gave me a routine salute as I drove past in my RV. Otherwise, I saw very few people.

The Applachian towns sprang up around coal mines and many have dwindled in population with the industry's decline.

After leaving Wise, Harris says she was hurt to hear people stereotype Appalachian residents as stupid or unsophisticated.

"The two insults people (from the Appalachian Mountain towns) can't tolerate about them is they're liars or lazy. You esteem to tell the truth and you esteem to not be lazy, because those things are important to how the mountains work."

With her accent and value system, Harris knows she could go back and be accepted instantly. In the Boston area, it took a while to make friends.

To this day, her way of speaking confounds some New Englanders.

"Some people speak slowly to me," she says. "I speak slowly back to them!"

(The photo above is of a river in Narrows, Virginia, near the northeastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains.)

Roanoke (crazy) style


Slo Roseboro, 54, has been decorating the streets of Roanoke, Virginia, which he deems a "very spooky place," for about a decade.

He embellished the jacket he's wearing by cutting out the stars and having them sewn on by a dry cleaner in town.

"He's just slacking today," a friend tells me. "He wears some seriously colorful stuff."

A decision life made for me

After enough years wondering where I belong, life made the decision for me.

That's not to say I won't someday change my mind. But for now, it's fair to label me a west coast girl.

I like to wear belly dancing tops with cowboy boots to the grocery store and not attract stares.

I prefer dryness to humidity; rattle snakes to deer ticks; would rather work on cars and take camping trips than go to the theater or talk politics. And I crave wide open spaces.

A "city" to me can consist 8,000 residents in the middle of "nowhere."

Finally stepped foot in THE city


…With 8 million people… Where you can walk for 10 miles, yet barely dent it.

New York is part of all our consciousness through references in novels, songs, news and history.

I'll bet you know the names of its neighborhoods and streets. I'll bet you've picked up its slang.

It is the most American of all cities, considering its role as an entry point for early immigrants and origin of political and cultural change.

Smoggy and humid, the city is a symphony of sirens, honking, construction tools and words in a hundred languages. Sewage, salt water and every kind of imaginable food smell permeates the air.

New Yorkers — for all their diversity — behave like a giant community as they weave around construction and monuments, watching each other with a cellular device, cigarette or slice of pizza in their hands. 

They cross streets in a continuous, choreographed rhythm.

They are honest, fashionable, practical adapters.


The reality of life in this concrete habitat, shared by birds and dogs and horses and bugs, is a far cry from life along the back roads.

Then again, the second I stepped off my train in Grand Central Terminal, I knew I could hack it.  So I guess I've got some New York in me. Maybe just enough.


These first three images were taken near Central Park in Manhattan. In the above image, artist Franz West's suclpture "The Ego and the Id" wraps itself metaphorically around a skyscraper.


Times Square puts on a never ending capitalism and media show.


An antique is on display and lockdown off Broadway.


George Washington peers out over Wall Street at the site of the nation's first capitol.


Underpinnings of a funky bridge near Chinatown.


And the buildings may as well be trees…

(I saw lots more, including awesome graffiti and inspiring Halloween shopping along the Bowery, but alas, my camera's battery died.)