Hopes for 2006: Mary Anderson Pickard The daughter of artist Walter Inglis Anderson lost her home as Katrina ravaged the family's compound. But the return of birds to the Gulf prompts this: "Emily Dickinson said hope is a thing with feathers... I think the birds are like that for me."
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Hopes for 2006: Mary Anderson Pickard

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Hopes for 2006: Mary Anderson Pickard

Hopes for 2006: Mary Anderson Pickard

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This hour, we've been hearing the voices of people we met throughout the year. We end our program with two survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Ms. MARY ANDERSON PICKARD: Since I was a tiny child, I know we always met at the front house(ph). Remember the house that was built in 1833 that I told you was next door to my house?

ELLIOTT: That's Mary Anderson Pickard. In September, we visited her in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina had devoured her home, leaving only the foundation to mark the spot. Last week, we spoke again.

Ms. PICKARD: We always met there for New Year's Eve and had eggnog and my uncle fired a shotgun at 12 to frighten the old year away and welcome the new, but we won't be doing that this year.

ELLIOTT: Everything changed this year when Katrina tore through Shearwater, the Arts and Crafts compound where Pickard's family has lived and created since the 1920s. Her father, the late Walter Inglis Anderson, painted vibrant watercolors of the Gulf Coast landscape, watercolors that glowed as if freshly painted when they were soaked by Katrina's floodwaters. Some of his artwork was lost to the hurricane. Some was salvaged. Fifteen buildings at Shearwater were swept away. I asked Mary Anderson Pickard about something she had said just after the storm, that it might be liberating to escape what she called the burden of the past. I wondered if now there were pieces of that past that she longed for.

Ms. PICKARD: I miss my journals because it's literally as though I have lost all the proof that I lived for all those years. They covered perhaps 40 years of my life. I sometimes dream that I find them. I've dreamed it twice. Once I dreamed that I opened the book when I found it and there was nothing left in. You know, it had all washed away. And other times I dreamed that it's blurry and then I go deeper into the book and I can see the words.

ELLIOTT: Have you been digging through the debris looking for them?

Ms. PICKARD: I have done lots of digging for them. I'm not doing it at the moment. I'm a little tired of it. I feel as though I'm mucking around in something that's over.

ELLIOTT: How do you feel about the general state of things at Shearwater?

Ms. PICKARD: Shearwater still is a shock every time I go there. It's very sad and, of course, the trees are very sad, but last week, I did the Audubon Christmas Bird Count with friends.


Ms. PICKARD: I'd like to report that we found at least 53 species of birds, which we didn't expect at all. And the black gum trees themselves sprouted new leaves after the storm in these clumps, and all the leaves are just flaming as though it were fall rather than winter. But here were all these birds, and many of them don't belong on the coast at this time of year. We were seeing warblers. We were seeing vireos that are usually in South America, but it was heartening to see that many birds, even though, of course, that meant that the cycles still are upset, heartening to see that many birds for the Christmas Bird Count.

ELLIOTT: When we were with you in September, one of the things that you had noticed was the lack of birds.

Ms. PICKARD: Oh, there were so few birds after the storm, yes, but I don't know. Emily Dickinson wrote about, `Hope is a thing with feathers,' and I think the birds are like that for me. They make me--if not hope, well, they make me know that it's going to get better. They're just a sign, a positive sign.

ELLIOTT: What are your hopes for the coming new year?

Ms. PICKARD: I hope that the natural patterns will be re-established, and that when it's time for the spring migration, the birds will come back. And for the coast, in general, I hope that we've learned something. I mean, never have we seen a better sign that something's wrong in our relationship with the natural world. And I hope that we will be able to learn from it and perhaps change some of the things we've done in the past.

ELLIOTT: In the coming year, Mary Anderson Pickard says she's going to take a break from the hurricane cleanup, drive to Arkansas and see what happens next.

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