I am a Louisianan. I am a child of the Atchafalya, our country’s largest river basin. As a young boy I dove for oyster off CoCo Drie and dragged nets for shrimp in the clear aqua waters of the gulf. We must be conscious of the destruction of South Louisiana and of its’ marshes. I use the word conscious on purpose and with intent. I use it to its’ fullest meaning. We can no longer sleep on or ignore this matter of the marshes. We must become conscious. We also have to know that we can change and even repair that which has been done to this slice of Eden. Hurricane Katrina proved in a horrific way that for every 2.7 miles of marsh a tidal surge is decreased by one foot. If the one hundred miles of marsh of my youth were in place Katrina would have had no power. If the oil company would have been content to let the river water flow in its winding manner instead of cutting water ways North and South to let the salt water in, destroying the salt-sensitive grasses or the if the rivers could silt out to the marshes it built over the millennia, we would not be in the mess. Then just as the people of South Louisiana began to regain its’ music, food and culture from Katrina, the blood oil attacks the precious thirty miles of marshes that protect Louisiana from the force of hurricanes and now its food and culture.
I am a painter, writer, and half-ass poet. I became aware of the situation in Louisiana after seeing my basin, having been gone for 37 years. What I saw east of the Atchafalya was desecration–oak trees standing dead in the water, where once was dry land. Gashes of canals cut across once beautiful winding bayous. Hackberry bayou should have been a river by now, but because of the rerouting of the water it is silting up. What a mess we have made! I felt desperate to help. Who knew what a catastrophe a levee could cause. I had to do something. I had to paint this wonderful gift of nature before it becomes beach- front property. After finding out that for my basin there was hope, I knew I could not sit still on this issue.
As I stood at the edge of the Atchafalya, remembering my Mama and Papa, how my grandparents survived – No, they thrived- from the riches of the Atchafalya basin and the Mississippi river delta my mind filled with images of my Papa who fed and housed 14 children and could only sign his name. Then even more images of Mama and how she taught herself to read by reading our school books and True Story magazine; while raising 14 children .My grandma Granier raised 8 children on a 28 foot boat called ‘The Buzz’. The only time they lived on land was when they lived in palmetto shacks, until my Mamas Papa got them a houseboat. My grandpa Granier was Grandma’s third husband because the first two died, leaving her with young babies and pregnant. She saved that houseboat and her children from being washed out to the gulf during the hurricane of 1909, the year my Mama was born; by tying a rope to the first sewing machine she owned, and throwing it overboard and using it as an anchor. I thought, ‘you can live with the river without levees, if you want to, but on its’ terms.
The basin and the river deltas kept on giving, pound after pound of shrimp, fish, crustaceans of all sorts; day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, ton after ton, decade after decade; having fed family after family even into the 21st century. Now its’ bounty, is threatened; perhaps to extinction. I used to read a story to my children called ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know if you are familiar with the story, but the tree gives up everything until there is nothing left but the stump. I fear my Louisiana, my dream state, is that giving tree.
So what could I do? How could I make a difference? I could only paint what was left of Eden. And as I would paint, the voice in the deepest part of me said, “Write.” And the poems as simple as they are came. The stories as simple as they are came. I poured my passion onto the canvas. I did not intend to make an issue. I only knew I had to do something.
For twelve years I have worked to bring this work to fruition and here it is – a drop in the Gulf, but it’s my drop. One drop does not make a river flow the way it should, but one drop by many people possibly could. If enough of us stay conscious, holding together like the roots of the marsh to do what we can, perhaps the Mississippi silt will work for us again. My hope is that some day, my grandchildren can stand with their grand children (toes shoved into the blue-green clay of the river bank) and show them the wonder-filled South-Louisiana that was my back yard.
References: National Geographic magazine October 2004, Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell, and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein