After Florence had passed my dog Floyd and I commenced our daily walk the twenty blocks to downtown Wilmington and the Cape Fear River. At first it was empty except for the FEMA trucks and cable news tripods, but after a while the river crested and the smell of all that floated in the water left the air and life went on. But along the walk an undeniable new presence emerged: piles.
At first it was mostly tree debris, swept off the road or just left where it fell. Eventually the piles included large amounts of rotted wood, broken windows, useless insulation, and full households worth of belongings. At first I didn't take pictures, but then I realized all of the communal physical and aesthetic work that was going into these piles. Rather than avoiding them, as we understood what they really were and represented, Floyd and I began to linger. Floyd was respectful of others' pain and he comforted them with his calmness and familiarity. The piles, like Floyd and I, reflected and absorbed massive stress.
We didn't leave town for some time so the first time we did was a memorable occasion. On the way to Greensboro at dawn in the pouring rain we weaved through the Uwharrie Mountains with little bearings. The rain slowed down right as we curved to the peak of an incline. I saw a trailhead in the fog on the side of the road and stopped without thinking. Floyd felt the magic of the water in the air and bound through the 100 years growth with glee. The Uwharrie Rain came and went with varying intensity, as did the sunlight through a haze.
The first long trip we went on together after the storm was from Natchez to Nashville. The night before we left, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it was 70 degrees down by the Mississippi. By Monday morning it was in the teens. The special senate election with the woman who spoke of public hanging as a social event was that week. The president was in Tupelo as we passed through.
But we rose away from the Mississippi among the Indian mounds through the swamps along the trace and into the hill country. Then up into the mountains across the Alabama we saw our brightly lit breath join frozen waterfalls.
I didn't realize it would be the last trip with Floyd.
A car hit him back in Wilmington and he didn't make it. I knew I'd lost a lot. I knew I'd lost a dog who had transformed from a growling pup underneath a dumpster behind a seafood restaurant to a calm and loving family man who was known all over town for his goodness and his tricks. I knew how lucky I was to spend my life with him. But it took a lot of reflection before I realized I'd lost a creative partner.
Here are some of our storm ravaged late fruits.