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.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bateau Building I

The levee at sunrise this morning on the way to Myette Pt. It doesn’t look like the door built to hold back high water pulsing from the North – it looks too serene. A little further down, I saw two eagles on Lake Fausse Point, one immature and one adult, not together but both up close. They are at least as common as ospreys down there now, it seems.

How many of us are able to produce a tool suitable to make the difference between survival and not? In that question, I think there may be something more important than is immediately apparent. People who can provide for themselves and their families the things that can be converted into food and shelter may have a way to build a self respect that many of us don’t have. They may develop a confidence that carries strength when difficulties appear. Because they know they have the ability to intervene, in times of trouble they may be able to see the difference between defeat and just a setback. That is one reason for admiring the people who live and lived intimately with the Atchafalaya Basin. There were no specialists to call when something needed to be done. If a neighbor couldn’t do it, or the person in need couldn’t, it either went undone or someone learned how to do it in case it happened again. Each time this happened, a confidence grew.

If we lived fifty years ago in the Atchafalaya Basin that skill might be building a boat. That was a tool that your family could rely on. It was transportation to a doctor, and it would convert to food, and it got you to a preacher to get married, and you even used it to build your house on. The ability to build that tool was a transforming skill. And today, the people who can still do this have a sense of self confidence that you can see in their presence and carriage - at least in the people who once practiced it as a part of their livelihood. I am privileged to know a few people like that.

In two earlier postings (see “Edward” and "Cypress Resurrection"), I mentioned how we were in the process of getting cypress wood to build a traditional outboard-powered bateau. The project will teach the skills to build a boat through an apprenticeship program funded by a grant from the state. In this case the apprentice is Edward’s son, Kevin. Well, today we began the process. Edward has the pattern for this boat, including all the angles and lengths and techniques in his head, not on paper. The picture above is Edward Couvillier and his three sons, Kevin (dark shirt), Justin (glasses in pocket) and Larry (far left) - all three of whom are now learning how to build a boat the way their father does. Each picture below is pretty much in sequence with the steps we went through today. Ain't that wood pretty?! We cut out the gunnels (sides); set in the two bulkheads - this sets the angles for the sides and determines the width of the boat; put jigs on the bow end of the gunnels for bringing in the boat to the desired bow width; set in the timbers across the bottom and then the ribs that go up the sides; and the final picture shows how far we got today. Most of the work was on the back of the boat, we start to shape the front next week. Wow. We got home-quality video of the whole thing, too bad we couldn't get a pro to document it.

The river is at 6.6 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, staying steady for at least the next five days. The Mississippi and Ohio are both rising slightly, but nothing to get excited about.

Rise and Shine, Jim


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