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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Limited View

That’s what fog gives us, sometimes. And because we can’t see so far in the fog, we get a chance to look around at what is close at hand, really look. And we get to be alone and look. On a clear day, it seems that you have to share the world with everyone else, but on a foggy day the world seems to belong to you and just you. I find it is useful time, the time to spend alone in the fog and look closely at the world that is around me every day but not seen. And it is easy to reflect on a foggy day.

The two small pictures are kind of a technical-interest thing. One is the moon on a morning in the fog, and the other is the same scene but with the flash active on the camera. The light is reflected on the millions of water droplets that are themselves what fog is made of. The effect is interesting, I think.

The other pictures are some I took yesterday on a trip down the levee to Myette Pt. I stopped at Grand Avoille Cove, just south of Lake Fausse Pointe State Park. The fog was still hanging over the swamp at mid-morning and the feeling of soft beauty just kind of reached out and pulled the camera from my pocket and called the pictures forth. The presence of white pelicans resting out in the middle of the cove didn’t hurt the ambiance at all.

A couple days ago, the fog was still thick over the river at 11:30 in the morning. Looking out at that scene made me remember times when the fog had a direct effect on life in Louisiana, more so than now. When I first started my college career (and sometimes it seems to have been a career) in 1959 it was easy enough to get through the freshman year, maybe, I guess, because it was a new thing and interesting. But as time passed, the call of the swamp pulled me away from Lafayette and I spent more time with the cypress trees than I did with Comparative Anatomy. As I lowered my grade point average, USL chose to invite me to spend a semester or two in reflection, and they suggested I might try again later. There is fog in this story, I promise.

Recognizing that some form of gainful employment was expected by my parents, I hired out to a pipeline crew working in shallow offshore waters – actually it was Eugene Island, for those who recognize the name. We would leave New Iberia at 5:00 am every day and drive in a crew truck to Morgan City where we would get onto a crewboat for the long ride down the Atchafalaya out into the forest of Christmas trees in Atchafalaya Bay. Once there, we would work all day on a barge connecting pipe to recently drilled wells and running the pipe to a collection facility, like a tank platform or something like that. The trick to all this, and where the fog comes in, was getting the boat from Morgan City to Atchafalaya Bay. Some days it was OK, but some days it was like it has been around here the last few days, but much worse. We would get onto the crewboat and start down the river, and without warning there would suddenly be fog everywhere. Not the kind of fog that is considered bad when you can only see a few hundred feet, but the kind that makes you wonder where the world went. You can see your hand, but not someone else’s ten feet away. I don’t know if I’ve seen fog that thick lately. Fog like that used to make us happy if we were driving on a road that had a stripe on the RIGHT side so that we could tell where the shoulder, and the rest of the road, was. Anyway, here we are on a crewboat with a driver suddenly gone blind. Why not turn on his radar, you say? There was no radar on most boats in those days, certainly not on thirty-foot crewboats delivering a bunch of welders and such to a low-paying job in the bay. So, what to do. If we were lucky we would find a bouy in the channel and tie up to it to wait out the fog. Sometimes it would dissipate after a couple hours, but sometimes it would not, and we played boure for long periods of time.

One other thing that has stayed with me about that time is sleeping so soundly on the boat when it was moving to the job or back from it. It was the sound of the engines. When two diesel engines (gasoline too, I guess) are running close to the same RPMs, they make a steady THRUMMMMMMMM sound. But, when the engines are slightly out of phase with each other, they go THRUMMTHRUMMTHRUMM, and because the engines on that boat were always out of phase, nothing can put me to sleep faster than that sound, even now.

The job we did was hard work. It was hot and cold, and rainy and dry. It was seldom comfortable. The work was physically hard since there was no way to move the 3” pipe sections around except by hand. Men who could move the pipe easily were much respected. I was not in that league. We were all afraid of the portable X-ray machine that was used to test each weld before that piece of pipe was lowered into the water. We believed that the rays would sterilize anyone close enough to be affected and you could only get so far away from the machine on a barge. When the machine came out, the far end of the barge got very popular.

Yes, hard work, and a hard life for those who had to do it. It took me about a semester to decide that maybe there was room in my life for both the Atchafalaya Basin and a college degree. And so I went back to USL and managed to get through a Biology curriculum. I did learn many years later that the owner of the pipeline company, who knew my family pretty well, had told the other guys on the crew to make sure that I would be going back to college. No wonder I always seemed to be in the right place just in time to get the worst jobs. And I’ll bet that X-ray machine really wasn’t that dangerous. And I’ll bet anyone would have lost all that money at boure. I was just really unlucky at cards – or maybe not.

The river is at 5.8 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling to 5.5 over the next few days. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling all the way up. No water for us there.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Doug said...

Comparative Anatomy, LOL. I took it at USL in 68, busted the first big test and wound up with a D. Repeated it in the summer and got an A. It was taught by Dr. Don Kiser then; tough but good teacher.

January 15, 2007 7:33 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Doug, I'll bet it was Ed Keiser. 1968 is a long time ago. Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.


January 15, 2007 10:27 PM  

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