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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ending Winter

Something ends winter. Something that has nothing to do with temperature ends winter. The water in the river is still cold, so cold it makes your ankles ache if you stay in it too long. And there are still nights to be that will burn tomato plants forced to brave the frontiers of a Spring still a little too far away. But no, it isn’t that. What it is, is the trees, and the goldfinches. Together they end winter. Look outside now; there are buds on all the trees but the pecans. Green buds, pink buds and flowers on the redbuds, and azaleas of all hues are ending winter as we write or read these lines. As you look out of the back door, you see brown tones and you can still see the river through the forest. In a little while you will look harder to see the river and green will be everywhere. And the goldfinches have vacated the snack bar we provided in January and February. They have the task of ending winter all the way north as they pass to places suitable for nesting. Weeks ago we counted them in the hundreds, stoking their fires on black oil sunflower seeds. But all of a sudden they are gone, or nearly so. The budding trees are providing fare not available in winter and less monotonous than sunflower seeds for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So the goldfinches have ended winter for us, and the budding trees promise a green border on the river. There is nothing static about the swamp. Winter is over.

Rise and Shine, Jim

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Seventh Line

Beyond ownership;
A place where a great river lives;
Where most of our crawfish used to come from;
Where commercial fishermen make a living;
A place of memories for a lot of people;
A home for ghost stories;
A place of great living complexity;

That is the seventh line of “Atchafalaya Is”. I find it hard to write what I mean by that thought. Oh, it is easy enough to imagine the idea, and to know intuitively what is meant, but putting it into words is kind of like trying to wrap the Atchafalaya River in a one-line description. Any single line could be accurate, but not sufficient. A “simple” list of the things that are alive and combine to make up the complex ecosystem that is the Basin would not do it. There needs to be some way to include not only this list of items, but to also say all of them at one time and have that meaning come through with a feeling of rightness. Not an easy thing, that. Not only does the logic of a list have to find its slot, but a certain spirit concept that binds the items together asks to be included.

If you pick one place in the Basin and stand still in that place for a while, and let your awareness spread out from yourself in a wider and wider circle, you may begin to experience the feeling that I meant when I wrote the seventh line. Standing there, you can name any number of things alive that you see around you, your knowledge bounded only by your perceptiveness. Things move, and you probably notice them first. With a heritage of predation, and sometimes prey, we notice things that change in place – maybe they can feed us, or promote their own survival by making us a part of them. Either way, we note movement and it calls attention. But then there are all the things that do not move, or do so in ways that do not draw attention. Add them to the complexity. We may not notice some things that are too big see, like the forest, or the river going up and down, on out of sight. Add them. A big branch breaks from high in a dead tree and reveals life as it is lived far above. And one that broke and fell last year lies on the ground and, cracked and rotten, lends its own version of paradise to organisms not known to many of us. Add them too. At one time you could have added the people factor to the gumbo of life in the Basin, but not so much any more. We are more like spectators now, rather than participants in the harmony.

Take the air and water and wood and dirt and mix all of that up in one big bundle and call it home to the great living complexity I speak of in the seventh line. Add the spirit that we humans feel from the totality of all of that, and you can know that the place you stand, this swamp, with the awareness of the life all around you, is indeed a very special, and complex, place.

The river is at 14.5 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling a little in the next few days. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling hard but that might not last. It looks like we have reason to expect some high water this spring. Good.

Rise and Shine, Jim