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.

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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, March 13, 2007

Cajun House I

Bright sun right after sunrise a couple days ago, and then the rains came. The gray treefrogs are convinced spring is here and it’s time to set the next generation on its path.

My friend Edward Couvillier has been wanting to teach me some of his woodworking tricks for a while now. He decided that the project that would do this would be to build one of his beautiful, scale model, cypress Cajun houses. We began that yesterday and continued today and the pictures here show how far we got in two half-days of work.

The wood is ripped from reclaimed 2x4s, with a serious attempt to avoid the old nails. These particular 2x4s were part of the floor of a houseboat belonging to Myon Bailey. It was built in the very early 1900s, and was salvaged for lumber last year. What a wonderful thing if that wood could tell the tales of what went on on the floor of that houseboat. From coffee at the kitchen table to decisions about how to respond to rising water, to wondering if the priest would come this week to give first communion to some child who had reached the right age. What stories!

Edward builds these little model houses on a scale of one inch equals one foot. They pretty accurately depict the small houses that Basin dwellers lived in if they lived on land. At least they depict the houses Edward and his family lived in before moving onto houseboats. He told me today that their houses were not as nice as this. The wood they actually used was “pews” split out of old cypress stumps, not sawn lumber. Even though the cypress would split wonderfully well, and you could even the edges of the boards somewhat with a drawknife, when put side by side they still let a lot of the outdoors in. Edward’s mother would mix flour with water to make a glue, and use that to paper the inside walls with newspaper. This would somewhat seal them from mosquitoes and cold weather.

I am always impressed with what it takes to make one of the little model boats Edward makes. They are so well done that if you could wave a magic wand and say “grow” they would be ready to fish with. The clamps here are used to bend and hold the “stripping” along the top of the gunnel. Since Edward has been invited to display his recently built boat at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year, he is doing some of the models to sell if people show an interest.

This osprey is our resident one. It patrols the river every day and sometimes comes close enough to take a picture like this. There is a sense of freedom and a mood of optimism that I get watching this bird. A few days ago a young red-tailed hawk lit in a tree across the river where t
he osprey rests from time to time. When the osprey saw it, it began harassing the hawk with loud cheeping calls and diving at it with the same posture it uses to catch fish – legs extended straight down with claws wide open. The hawk put up with that for a couple minutes and then just took off back into the forest. The osprey landed and preened and then also left the area. Based on other observations, it looks like the pecking order (in a real sense) is eagles peck ospreys, and ospreys peck red-tailed hawks. I guess red-tailed hawks peck something else.

The river is at 11.3 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, holding steady there for the next several days. The Mississippi and Ohio are not going to sustain this rise. They are both falling, especially the Ohio. If nothing happens to put more water into those watersheds, we will have a severe drop in the Basin in about ten days. Get them crawfish while you can guys!

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Bud Forester said...

I love that woodwork, Jim, and I share your wonder at what those boards might have done in a previous life.

March 19, 2007 8:58 PM  

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