Louisiana, the area south of I-10 and west of New Orleans
is a whole ‘nudder t’ing. Over the years we’ve
made periodic pilgrimages and would be hard-pressed
to come up with a part of this great country that we are more fond
of. Through hardship and isolation, a society singular to this region
developed with its own food, music and unique language. We love
spending time in amongst it all.
main factor in the formation of this distinictive culture
came from the Acadians — French colonists who were run out
of Canada during the The Seven Years’ War in Europe. As the
hostilities spilled over into North America, the
British subjects of Nova Scotia decided that the French settlers
were no longer welcome.
In what became known as The
Great Upheaval or Le Grand Dérangement,
these French people were sent off under horrific conditions. Through
the 1750s they were crowded into boats and shipped off to the American
colonies, back to Europe, down to Haiti or as far away as the Falkland
Islands. Each arrival meant more disappointment as they were either
rejected or allowed to remain as indentured servants or slaves.
By the 1760s many Acadians found refuge in the Louisiana Territory
— but not until about half of them had died in the Upheaval.
The tough, wayward
swamps, rivers, bayous
and sea are intertwined into daily life in Acadiana. The name Acadian
was soon commonly pronounced “Cajun” and a unique culture
our previous visits we hadn’t had the chance to wade out into
these waters but this time we were going in. Not literally
of course, since we didn’t want to be an alligator appetizer,
we figured we’d use a boat. The Atchafalaya Swamp, largest in the
USA, runs right through the heart of Cajun country between Lafayette
Baton Rouge. Twenty miles wide and one hundred fifty miles long,
this was the place to start our wetland romp.
the western end of the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge on Interstate
10, an eighteen mile causeway above the cyprus trees and gators,
we met Ernest Couret with his little sixteen foot swamp boat.
After the How
y’all are? greetings we climbed aboard and headed out into
the dense, wet wilderness.
we were deep enough into the swamp to be completely secluded from
any signs of modern life. Winding through the tunnels of heavily
hanging Spanish moss, Ernest pointed out the flora and fauna along
the way: eagles, osprey, egrets, beaver, gators, turtles, ducks,
blue heron, comerant, cyprus, mangroves, willows and on this spring
day, all sorts of wild flowers.
we’d never seen before was sighted frequently along the bayous.
Giant rodents called nutria were hanging out side by each
with the beavers on the logs and dry patches. We’d always figured
that the R.O.U.S. (Rodents Of Unusual Size) featured in the movie
“The Princess Bride” were make believe, but they are
real and they are thick back in them there marshes.
Atchafalaya Swamp is a combination of wetlands and river delta
where the Atchafalaya River meets the Gulf of Mexico. A thousand
years ago the Mississippi River flowed through
the Atchafalaya as its channel naturally moved about the delta.
Periodic flooding was lifeblood to this ecosystem, bringing much
needed silt and sediment for the plant life in addition to replenishing
the water. After the great flood of 1927, Old Muddy’s course was
permanently set behind man-made levees and the Atchafalaya began
the oil industry arrived in the 1930s, the economy got a needed
boost but scars were left in the process. Canals for transporting
equipment and products were dug throughout the basin, causing
massive erosion and further weakening
the wetlands. Once finished with their business, the remnants were
simply left behind as the drilling moved offshore into deeper and
As harsh and hostile as swamps may look, they are easily harmed
and slow to recover. Recently some progress toward saving the marshes
has been made through controlled flooding and conservation efforts
but all of this may be lost in one fell swoop.
Suddenly the most grave threat the region has ever faced is floating
in a giant black slick out in the gulf.
southern shores of this spendid sanctuary are already suffering
but the interior is likely doomed should a hurricane come
its way. The wetlands could be inundated with oil for many
miles inland if wind and storm surge carry the greasy goop
deep into the swamp. The devastation
will be unimaginable.
As we mentioned
and numerous other fish that live and breed in these wetlands.
Nesting and feeding grounds for numerous waterfowl will also be
lost — possibly wiping out entire species.
In an area
with a long, harsh history, this chapter could be the worst.
David & Veronica,
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