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 15, 2006

Cypress Resurrection

I got a chance to walk around in the old cypress forests today. Or almost. I did get to look at some of what’s left of them anyway. Believe me I’m not complaining, since it’s as close as anyone will ever get to the real thing. The opportunity came about because we are working on the apprenticeship boatbuilding grant, and the next step in the project was to get the wood for the boat. We already got a piece of marine plywood for the bottom, but this was to buy cypress for the rest. Edward (on right) knows the Anslum brothers in Morgan City, who are descendents of Basin dwellers from the Bayou Boutte and Fisher Bayou area. Previous generations of that family acquired large numbers of cypress logs and “bedded” them down in the Basin. These logs are retrieved as needed by the brothers and dried and sawn into some of the most beautiful lumber you will ever see. Some time ago we placed an order with them for the wood to build the boat, and today it was time to go and pick it up. I had never been to their place before, but once there, I almost didn’t leave. On that property you are surrounded by the history of the old wood, there are old logs in various piles, and singly, and sawn and whole. And old machinery for making lumber and newer machines too. It is not tidy, how could it be? It is gutsy, and wonderful, and sad, and resurrecting.

The pictures show a little of how we got the lumber we needed. The big old log is about 50 inches in diameter and is solid. They take these logs and saw them into lumber of various sizes. We needed one inch and two inch pieces, the latter for the headblock and the stern board and the “timbers” (ribs). They feed the rough-cut boards through an ancient 30 inch planer, and it is awesomely effective! The rough wood is one inch thick and Edward wants it to be 5/8s for the boat. The mountains of shavings from this reduction make you want to take them away too, so as not to waste the wood. The planed wood is about as pretty as cypress gets, I think. I have mentioned chain dogs before, but I had never seen one until today. It was explained to me that this device was usually used to attach a log to the cross piece that spanned across the boom of logs, attaching each log in this way in fact joined each one to the whole raft/boom. Both Edward and I came away with a chain dog as a gift from the Anslums. Some of the logs on the property still have the chain dogs attached (by one end). I wonder when they were hammered into the wood. And by whom?

What a day! It turns out that the Anslum brothers were actually raised in a houseboat in the Basin. And there are pictures! It’s wonderful that they will share these memories with the rest of us, and the pictures too, for scanning. Being that they are only in their 50s and have the stories they have, they are a rare find for an oral history seeker like me.

Yes, and the river is at 5.0 on the Butte La Rose gauge, going to 5.7 by Wednesday, but the raft is free! Some joy riders in pretty big boats passed several times today and their large wakes rocked the big log free of whatever it was stuck on. Blessings sometimes come in unexpected packages. And it’s a good thing too; the Ohio and Mississippi are falling hard again after giving us a very modest rise.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Ross said...

What do they do with all of those shavings? I could use some mulch.

April 15, 2006 10:17 PM  
Blogger jim said...

I don't know what they do with the shavings. They sure smell good. And, while I don't want to do anything to encourage cypress mulch, it seems a shame to waste the material from this kind of processing. I will ask.


April 16, 2006 10:51 AM  

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