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.

Friday, March 09, 2007

20 Minutes, Debris, Colette

Sunrise a few weeks ago.

I’m sitting here, on the dock, watching the debris float by and trying to figure out how to tell the story of the bateau we built last spring. I think I could tell the story, but I have to try to do it in only 20 minutes tomorrow at the Louisiana Folklife Society meeting. That’s a problem. If only pictures tell the story and I show 80 slides, even that won’t do it justice. If I talk for the whole 20 minutes and show only a few pictures, people will feel that they should have seen more pictures. Right now I have 41 pictures to show, and explain, taking about 30 seconds each. It would probably be better to cut that in half, but I can’t do it. After tomorrow I will know a better way to do it, but that’s after tomorrow. It all comes back to the adage “Never do anything for the first time”, because you always know how to do it a lot better the second time. Whenever someone hears that they always say “What???? How???”, but it’s always true anyway.

The story is about a boat, a 16-foot bateau (jo-boat, john boat) built mostly out of 1000-year-old cypress (that’s a guess, but an educated one). How best to tell that story? You might tell it from the point of view of the people who built it, and the culture of those swamp-dwelling houseboat people. You might focus instead on the function it had in the old days – that of catching and transporting catfish caught on trotlines – and tell how it did that. Or, maybe the bayous and lakes that saw it come and go, you could use them to tell the story. I have an idea though. Have the boat speak for itself, as if it had a memory of its beginning, and its life, and its ending. Because in reality it is almost a living thing, needing care, having a function or more than one, and doing what it was created to do. That story is for a future posting.

The air is full of winged ants right now. The purple martins must be having an easy time of it with all this food offering itself up free of charge. Some of the ants are getting between the keys on this keyboard and falling down out of sight in the mechanism of the computer. I wonder if that will cause a problem. This is not something most technicians will be familiar with, I think.

A basketball is floating by. It floats high, so it must still be full of air. It might have come from a yard in Missouri a few days ago. How far might it get before it sinks out of sight? Someone on Sanibel Island may find it on the beach, if it lasts that long.

And now floats by a 50 foot tree, complete with roots but mostly smooth of branches. The tree trunk is very light gray and dotted with messages left by many birds. As it passes, a crow lands on it. He strides the trunk from one end to the other looking down at things, hitchhiking for a hundred yards or so. He hops up to the tallest root sticking up in the air, pauses, and takes off downriver. By his voice as he leaves he is a fish crow, not an American crow. He is nasal, not raucous.

Here is more wood passing, this time a large chunk of tree. Some of this stuff, like this piece, has been in the water so long that it is completely rounded on every corner, end, or angle, or previously sharp ridge. There are deep gouges in it from being hit by many propellers over the years. These are deep cuts, made by big boats – those boats that don’t care if they run over something as insignificant as a ten-foot log two feet thick. Those are very proud boats, those big tugs on the river.

Now what is that? It seems to be half of a plastic 55-gallon drum, floating high. It is white and makes announcement from a long way away. It is caught in an eddy in the middle of the river right now, and momentarily slowly spins in place, resuming its trip downriver after a few seconds. The drum could have started this trip in Saudi Arabia, as petroleum exported to the U.S., later converted to plastic. And here it ends as half of a plastic drum, fated to eventually sink and remain as part of the bottom environment somewhere. If it sinks here in this river, or in fresh water somewhere else it will no doubt be a good place for catfish to spawn. Some of my friends would not see that aspect of a drum on the river. They would see only a piece of ugly plastic floating along. But the big blue catfish in the picture (shown here courtesy of Kirk Manual) would welcome the big cavity to nest in.

Late last year I posted something that reflected how I was feeling about a good friend about to undergo a dangerous operation and, almost simultaneously, the news that a new grandchild was in early gestation in Texas. A possible ending and a possible beginning, a new life and one that was possibly in transition. The picture here is Colette, the new life, born in Houston last week. My friend in the hospital said goodbye to us.

The river, as I watch it go by a few feet away, is at 10.0 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising a little to 11.0 feet by next Tuesday. The Ohio and Mississippi are slowed from rising fast right now, but are coming up again in their upper reaches. The Corps of Engineers has put out a press release stating that the river could rise as much as 24 feet (19 to 24 they say) this spring. They have warned interests in the Morganza Floodway that it may be necessary to remove cattle and other things from the floodway this year. It is hard to know whether they really have data to strongly suggest a major high water, or whether the New Orleans experience has made them more cautious (conservative) than they used to be. Either way, is always better to be safe, both for the Corps and the people a flood would affect. But if people go to a lot of trouble and prepare for high water and it doesn’t come, woe to the Corps. Truly, they can’t win.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Bud Forester said...

Congrats on the new addition. A fella once told me his greatest aspiration was to be someone’s Pawpaw. I can see from the picture that it's very special.

March 09, 2007 7:23 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Yes, it is. Hope you achieve it some day too. Thanks for the comment Bud. Jim

March 09, 2007 8:39 PM  
Blogger Jo Ellen said...

~ Your story about the bateau made out of old cypress sounds intersting. Presentations can be stressful, I hope yours went well.
~ Purple martins are fun to watch. We don't get many way up here in Nebraska, but I used to go down to my sister's home near Ft. Worth and sit out in her backyard with her and watch the purple martins gather in the bird condo. It was fun, especially watching my sister, who does not have a violent bone in her body, sit with her BB gun and take shots at anything that threatened her baby birds. Some of the more aggressive birds of another type would try to clear out the nests and take over the condo . . My sister has since moved to Utah and I miss our purple martin days . .
~ Congratulations to you and yours on the new little addition to the family. Yes, being a PawPaw must be very special. Funny thing, once you leave the far south, there are not many grandfathers being called "PawPaw." We referred to my mother's parents, from Ferriday, as MawMaw & PawPaw.
Jo Ellen

March 11, 2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Hi Jo Ellen:

The presentation went pretty well. And i used to do the same thing as your sister - sit with my BB gun and shoo away sparrows when they tried to take over the martin house. Don't people in Nebraska have knicknames for grandparents? Thanks for the nice comment. Jim

March 11, 2007 8:53 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Hi Jim,

Nice website. I was at the lecture Saturday at LSU. I just wanted to stop by and say that you did a fine job. Later, I was talking about your lecture with family from out that way, and it sparked a pretty good discussion.

Thanks again,

March 12, 2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger jim said...


I'm sure glad you thought the lecture went off ok. The glitch in the computer really threw my the timing off, but that's the way it is. Yes, those boats do tend to promote discussion. Glad it did it for you. Thanks for the comment.

March 12, 2007 8:41 PM  
Blogger Dominic said...

Hi Jim,
I was at the meeting too... actually, I was the guy fumbling around with the powerpoint, LOL. In spite of that, you did a good job with the presentation anyway. And I really like your blog; the photos are beautiful and it's a good way to slow down the pace. Finally, I want to say thanks for coming Saturday and sharing the bateau experience with us.


March 12, 2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Well, together we pulled it off, I guess. Thanks for handling the recalcitrant machine for me. If we had had more time we probably could have stopped and fixed the automatic forward thing. But "never the first time" like I said. Glad you like the blog. And you are welcome to anything that I have that helps get the word out on the bygone life of the houseboat dwellers in the Basin. Sure do appreciate your comment Dominic.

March 13, 2007 7:48 PM  

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