Some time ago I was speaking with Edward and Lena Mae Couvillier about crabbing in the Basin. This was at the annual Bayou Chene reunion in Morgan City. The conversation was mostly about the different types of traps that had been used in fresh water. They described the standard “box” trap that is used in the bays, and also the modified crawfish trap that Edward used most of his life to catch crabs in the Grand Lake area. The modification was in the different type of plastic coated wire they used (1x2 inch) and the application of a nylon mesh throat instead of wire. Edward claims that the webbing keeps the crabs from finding their way out of the trap once they are inside. Apparently they don’t crawl around on the webbing as well as they do on wire. I guess this is just one of the things you discover if you do this kind of thing enough and pay attention. It probably helps you pay attention if you are trying to make a living at it. And these folks are good at that. Edward and Lena Mae no longer fish commercially; they have used most of the energy that it takes to maintain that kind of life. But they remember, and that is what I mean by folk wisdom.
We have been catching crabs in the Atchafalaya River just behind our house. Rusty Kimball, the buffalo-net fisherman, says this is the first time in 10 or 12 years that crabs have come up the river this far in enough numbers to make it worthwhile to fish for them. Net fishermen generally are aware of the crab population because the crabs will cut holes in the nylon mesh to escape the nets. So they don’t want them in their nets. We have eaten boiled crabs from the river three times in the last week or so, and just as we always say, there is no comparison with saltwater crabs even though they are the same thing. The fresh water seems to do something to the meat of the crabs that makes it sweeter, more crab-tasting somehow. And of course they are cleaner; at least they appear to be cleaner. And very importantly, they are bigger than the average salt water crab. Without question, the biggest blue crabs have always come out of fresh water. These are the ones the restaurants can charge $30/dozen for and get away with it.
But back to the folk wisdom. Our daughter Claire treats us to dinner more often than we reciprocate, and she likes crabs, so I thought I would catch some crabs last night and boil them for her to eat tonight. We have been catching six to ten every day in a single trap. Well, just to be extra sure we would have enough, I put an extra trap in the water last night and baited both of them with fresh fish heads –very good bait. This morning I went down to the water and raised the traps – not one crab, not one. ??? During those recent conversations with Edward and Lena Mae, they told me that the end of the crab season in fresh water is signaled by the first cold front that comes across the Basin. Could this front that passed through last night qualify as a cold front? It was about 59 degrees here this morning, and I’m sure the hummingbirds took notice and headed for the Gulf, but how would the crabs notice that rather small change in temperature – under ten feet of water? But that’s what the experienced folk told me would happen, so maybe a cool, rather than really cold, front is all it takes. I will keep the traps in the water for a few more days just to see if the season is really over. Interesting.
The blue flower is chicory, of some kind. It’s probably just the common chicory but the flowers seem to be more full than the usual pictures show it to be. The flavoring is used in coffee sometimes, especially in the New Orleans area. And the leaves are sometimes used in salads, and it is the ground root that is used in coffee – sometimes even as a substitute for coffee. A close relative the same genus is endive, a more common salad leaf in some areas. It was a surprise to find chicory in our yard. Sometimes serendipity sneaks up and says hi. And sometimes it's a welcome thing, as in the ants in the picture of the chicory flower. I didn't see them until I had the pictures on the computer.
A lot of people are noticing the seemingly larger than usual number of crab spiders this year. The books say these really aren’t crab spiders, but Crablike Spiny Orb Weavers. Almost everyone I know who sees these spiders for the first time says the same thing: crab spiders. So, for our purposes crab spiders they are.
The old man looks out over our back yard, and the river. He might be seen as representing some presence that goes by any number of names. For me, he is just The Old Man. In very old times, he would probably have had deer antlers on his head – showing his affiliation with all things natural.
The river is at 2.6 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising to 3.0 by Friday. BUT, the Ohio is showing some water of real significance, daily rises of 5.0 to 6.0 feet per day. This may not last very long up there, but it will give us our first fall rise, the extent of which is not predictable right now.
Rise and Shine, Jim