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.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 High Water – Seven

Sunrise this morning on a river in flood isn’t much different from a river in normal flow, at least on this river. If you don’t see the current racing south, it can look peaceful, even. Right now there is no debris in the channel, and I swear I don’t know why. It has been about 14 years since the water has been at the level it is now, about 20 feet. In all that time there should have been a lot of trees, etc., fallen and ready for a ride when the water reached them. Not so.

Why do I call it “high water” instead of flood? Because the old people who lived in this Atchafalaya Basin never saw water as a threat, they saw it as a source of income, of commerce and of communication. At least that is true for those I know. To them a high water was something that came around every ten years or so, and was an inconvenience to be sure, but not a serious threat to life and limb. The people I speak of all lived on houseboats and water was the thing you lived on, as we live on land today. When the water came, you loosened your ropes and rode high for a while, until the water subsided. Oddly enough, it was when the water began to fall that your house was in the greatest danger of sinking. If you didn’t tend the ropes frequently, the house could tilt to such a degree against a bank that water would come in over the side of the barge and fill it up. Of course you wouldn’t lose it, but it was an inconvenience.

The military has arrived in Butte La Rose. The National Guard has a presence now, and seems to be working in conjunction with the sheriff’s personnel. This morning as I drove toward the interstate on my way to Lafayette, there was a checkpoint at what you might call the entrance to Butte La Rose. Two soldiers stood there, weapons across chest, and monitored who could come into the community. If you had proof of residence, you could pass, if not, you were made to turn around. I must admit that the mere presence of those powerful rifles, held at ready, always gives me a feeling of wariness, even though I know they are there to protect me and my property. The men were very polite and respectful, and intent. I am glad they are here, and the weapons are necessary, I know.

Late this afternoon we, Carolyn and I, had to go to the far end of Butte La Rose. To those unfamiliar with the community, it is mostly a 14-mile stretch of asphalt highway with residential structures strung along it, sometimes on one side, sometimes on both. So, in traveling the 14 miles we saw pretty much the whole place. It is amazing how vacant it is. People have evacuated trailers, and lifted houses on blocks, and put plastic sheeting around the houses and anchored the sheets with sandbags. They have done all these things to protect property that means something to them, even though a lot of the structures would not be something you would buy. No doubt some of the efforts to save them exceed their monetary value. But to the owners they represent what living in Butte La Rose can do for you - provide solitude, and closeness to big water, and sunrises and birds singing at dawn. Most of all, I think, it is an awayness from the city, any city. It is understandable that people would want to be here. Children who come to this place know that frogs sing loudly, and fish are good to eat, even with bones in them, and outdoor odors are good to smell. In providing these things the sometimes run-down “camps” are worth the cost of saving them from the high water if possible.

The river is at 20. 8 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, having risen only a little since yesterday. The prediction is still for a great deal of water yet to come, but there are some new and encouraging numbers being published about how high the water might get. Maybe it won’t be as disruptive as we thought. But it’s really too early to tell. So we wait.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger shoreacres said...

I varnish boats for a living, and lived aboard a boat for a while. "High water" and "low water" describe similar realities in a slightly different context - at least for those not tucked up next to a floating dock.

I suppose I gravitate to places like Butte LaRose because my favorite place to be is "a hundred miles from anywhere". But of course places like Butte LaRose are very particular "somewheres". It seems to me that's why folks struggle so to save camps and trailers and falling down shacks that would have most of my neighbors calling for a bulldozer. They're not trying to save an investment so much as a way of life.

I've seen those new projections. We'll continue hoping.

May 17, 2011 8:01 AM  
Blogger jim said...

Well said, Shoreacres. Tnanks for your thoughts.

May 17, 2011 4:32 PM  

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