The big, orange moon hanging over the waters of Biloxi Bay, like some kind of a gaudy, casino advertisement, looks either forlorn or hopeful, depending on your perspective.
I'm guessing the people here, from Biloxi west to Bay St. Louis, would be in the hopeful camp.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast was ravaged as few areas have been in history on August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina gathered steam in the Gulf of Mexico, then reared up like some mythical shape-shifter and washed over the entire area like a doomsday movie.
You like to think you're safe inshore, but the water came roaring over Interstate-10 28 feet strong in some areas. Some Biloxi area golf courses had boats stranded on greens and fairways and every sort of debris you can imagine - refrigerators, washing machines, jet-skis still on trailers, mud, slime and - even Mother Nature has a sense of irony - bags of change that had torn loose from casino slot machines.
It wasn't just houses and buildings that were swept away - entire cities were virtually blown off the map. Drive down near the gulf at Bay St. Louis today, and you'll still see the kind of emptiness that gives you one of those funny feelings in the pit of your stomach.
All along U.S. Highway 90, one of the more scenic drives in the country, signs of the destruction remain. Vacant lots with nothing but concrete slabs. Vacant lots with nothing, not even the slabs. Piles of rubble, broken and twisted trees, buildings that somehow survived with gaping holes in walls and roofs.
I've endured a half-dozen hurricanes and seen the aftermaths of some of the worst, and there are few things that are more unsettling than witnessing the kind of eerie effect they have on the way humans have built their lives. After Andrew in South Florida, I saw mobile homes in trees.
A lot of people have moved from here, not wanting to go through such a catastrophe again, mainly the elderly, but most have stayed.
Everywhere you go, people tell their stories.
It isn't griping or grumbling. They tell visitors their horror stories with good-natured awe, almost as if they can't believe they made it through. The three days at the interstate rest stop, with no electricity, no gas, nowhere to go. The toilets backed up, nothing to eat after the vending machines gave out. Out of nowhere, a man finally shows up with a gas grill and hamburgers.
The man who literally swam down a fairway to safety. The old grandmother who refused to leave her home, watching the water rise in her house. The wait in lines for 15 hours and more for a glass of water and some grapes from the relief agencies.
Men with shotguns slung over their shoulders walking down the street. Looters stripping cars and stealing generators; one man stole a generator at night and left a running lawn mower, so the owners wouldn't notice. And of course, everywhere you look - FEMA trailers, some occupied, others sitting empty on vacant lots.
It goes on and on, and I'm leaving out some of the more grisly.
At first, the possibility existed that the Golf Coast of Mississippi would be the Ghost Coast. But, first one course re-opened, then two, then three. And now, all these months later, every course that was here before Katrina is still here. With two more new ones.
They may be on a shoe-string budget, waiting for the tourists to come back, but they are there.
Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association, said he knew golf would make a comeback here when he saw people playing golf before the courses were even open.
"I never realized how important golf was," Drum said.
And here's some more irony from Mother Nature. Most of the area's courses are in better shape than ever. I thought this was PR hokum when I first heard it, but I heard the same thing from everyday golfers, mainly locals, and saw it for myself.
They lost hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of trees. What does that mean? More sun and better air flow for greens and fairways.
Also, and here's some irony of the bitter sort, since the tourists have stayed away, it means less traffic and better turf conditions. Every course I've played, 10 in seven days, is either in as good a shape or better than when I played them two years ago.
Not to mention green fees at many of the 18 courses are lower.
Now, you drive around most of Bay St. Louis, probably the hardest hit area on the coast, and you see kids going to school. Shops and restaurants and open. People are doing the same things they did before Katrina, up and down the coast.
There are still reminders, like the scars on an old fighter, but basically Biloxi is back open for business.
February 12, 2007