This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Old Tools

I don’t know why people feel comfortable, or interested, in the presence of these things. Some folks collect old hand tools like saws and planes, others collect old kitchen ranges (I stayed with one such last week), and others, others. As for me, it just seems to make me feel good to be around tools that people used to use and don’t anymore. I’m thinking now that I am often asked about the raft that is tied to my floating dock. The raft falls into the “old tools” category, I think, actually it is a replica. The likeness attached shows the raft. It is 30+ feet long, about 12 feet wide, and is supported by cottonwood logs (usually three). Only cottonwood is mentioned in the old stories – it comes in big logs, floats high, and floats virtually forever. I have the raft because it reminds me of a time when people were born, lived their lives, and died in the Basin. It was an essential part of houseboat living – in essence it was the back yard when the water was high. Bear in mind that the water in the Basin didn’t always have the great fluctuation it has now, so that in the early half of the last century a yearly rise and fall of only four feet was usual, but that was enough to cover the natural banks from time to time. It was possible to keep chickens and pigs “on the bank” along the bayous in the old swamp, during low water, and these fed the families and no doubt served as pets for the kids. But when the water came up in the spring, there was no place for the animals to go, so the raft (actually called a “crib”) would board the livestock until the water receded. It also served as the place you kept your fish box. A place was provided between the logs to fit this 3 foot by 4 foot (size varied) “fish car” – made of cypress slats nailed onto a frame. The fish car kept the fish alive until a fish boat (buyer) came to visit and took the fish. There was no ice so the fish had to be kept alive. The over-stuffing of these fish boxes during warm weather, and the subsequent losses, caused the only regulation setting out a closed season on catfish that this state has ever had. More on that later.

So, even though I do maintain the raft/crib in the river for nostalgic reasons , in fact it is still useful even in our time. I work on it when I need an open space, I hang shrimp traps from it, and it’s a good place to sit and fish in the winter when you want to be in the sun. Even now it reminds me of a back yard, and although it’s a pain to keep up with it as the water rises and falls, and it’s ugly, I’m probably more fond of it than I am of the floating dock it’s attached to.

It was cold the other morning and Napoleon didn’t seem to like the frostiness.

The river is at 10.0 feet at the Butte La Rose gauge. It will stop rising there and come to a stand for a few days. You can tell it’s not rising anymore by the fact that there is almost no debris (drift) in it (good, I can stop cleaning the trotline). Watch as you cross Whiskey Bay, not much floating downstream. The Mississippi will rise very slowly for a couple more days, but the Ohio is FALLING, like 4 feet a day, and that will pull the plug for this early rise.

Rise and shine, Jim


Blogger Bud Forester said...

Thanks for the nostalgia! I've heard others speak fondly of their fathers' fish box. I didn't know cottonwood was the float of choice for a raft; I learn something every day if I'm not careful.

February 03, 2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger Bud Forester said...

You mentioned your shrimp traps, Jim. Tell us about river shrimp. I have helped run shrimp boxes (hate those slimy eels, but they are good cut- bait) I never knew whether those shrimp traps were strictly legal.

February 03, 2006 6:57 PM  

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