20 Minutes, Debris, Colette
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