Surviving and Thriving on the Bayou

Before words become language, we experience them as sound and rhythm; only later do those sounds fill with meaning, giving substance to memories that endure throughout the years.

Reading the phrase ‘teddy bear,’ I remember my own stuffed childhood favorite: its limp paws; the worn brown plush on its left arm ; the missing faceted, jet black button-eye. But if those words are spoken with a bit of a lilt, emphasizing the rhythm and rhyme, I hear again the sudden slap of summer jump ropes; the girlish giggles; the hissing intake of breath as I struggle to match my movement to the words.

Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
Touch the ground.
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
Turn around.
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
Show your shoe.
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
That will do.

Childhood rhymes rarely are lost; flowing beneath the surface of consciousness, they occasionally erupt into bits of verse or snippets of song that serve as fodder for the word play so many of us enjoy. Reading about Hurricane Ida’s incursion into Louisiana’s bayous and talking with a friend whose home miraculously survived, I thought again about two natural features of bayou life: alligator scutes and garfish scales. The sound of their names brought to mind a pair of verses as familiar as my jump-rope rhymes:

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails,
that’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

‘Snips and snails’ sounded so much like ‘scutes and scales’ it was impossible not to transform the latter into ‘suits and sales’ for a new  bit of doggerel.

What are city folk made of?
Suits and sales and ‘lectronic tales –
that’s what city folk are made of.
What are Cajun folk made of?
Scutes and scales and crawdaddy tails –
that’s what Cajun folk are made of.

Cajun country — south Louisiana’s intricate web of salt marsh, bayou, and swamp — is populated by a complex mixture of Houma and Chitimacha tribespeople, Cajuns, and Creoles, not to mention the assorted Germans,  Spaniards, and Czechs who showed up, liked what they saw, and stayed. But beyond nationality or ethnicity, anyone who loves or lives in Louisiana has a fair portion of scutes, scales, and crawdaddy tails in their makeup. The fun lies in discovering what that means.

Crawfish may be the most widely-recognized of Louisiana’s critters, as well as being the totem of La Louisiane. Some call them crayfish or crawdaddies. Others know them as mudbugs, but in Louisiana they’re crawfish. A mainstay in gumbos, etouffees, pistolettes and pies, crawfish crawl onto every gimcrack imaginable: tee shirts, mugs, key chains, beads, beer-bottle openers, sun visors, bikinis, playing cards, and plastic bibs. “Ubiquitous” hardly describes it.

For the good people of Breaux Bridge, Thibodaux, or Houma, Tualatin, Oregon can brag all it wants about having the oldest crawfish festival in the country, but in the self-proclaimed Crawfish Capitol of the World, when they throw their annual festival celebrating the iconic little critter, les bon temps tend to rouler with a vegeance. There’s Cajun and Zydeco music for dancing crawfish races, crawfish royalty and enough crawfish piled onto the tables to satisfy even the most voracious appetite.

When someone meets a heap of boiled crawfish for the first time, there’s often a delicate, barely perceptible shudder, and you know what they’re thinking. Yes, crawfish live in the mud. Yes, they look more like a bug than a lobster, and, yes — to fully enjoy that pile of savory goodness you do need to pull off the heads. But if you can get past all that, you’ll pass a good time, as they say on the bayou, and get a fine taste of culture along with your food.

While crawfish burrow deeper into the mud to avoid becoming dinner, a different critter roams the bayous with dinner on his mind: the American alligator.

Everyone knows the strength of alligators — especially the damage their teeth or tails can inflict — but hidden beneath the surface of their skin is a marvel of evolutionary engineering. Embedded bony plates called ‘scutes’ or ‘osteoderms’ not only serve as protective armor, they also help to regulate the reptile’s body temperature. Filled with blood vessels that collect and distribute the sun’s heat, scutes function very much like a collection of solar cells.

An alligator scute

Seen from the outside, the elegance and effectiveness of the scutes’ design is obvious. By raising the skin of the cold-blooded alligator into rows of tiny ‘mountains,’ scutes increase the amount of exposed surface, allowing heat to be collected more efficiently. As is so often true in the swamps, it’s what’s under the surface that counts.

Meanwhile, more shy than its namesake and somewhat reticent, the fish known as the alligator gar lives much of its life half-hidden from view. Because a buoyancy bladder connected directly to its throat gives it the ability to breathe air, it can bask just below the surface of the water; in midsummer heat, it often lazes away the afternoon in the shadows of docks or pilings.

Despite its size — as much as several feet long — the gar’s tendency to hang motionless in the water can make it difficult to spot. A huge splash and roiled water often are the first signs of its presence. When a garfish decides to surface and roll, offering a look of primordial contempt in the process, it seems as though prehistory has come to visit in the form of a fish that already populated rivers during the Cretaceous Period.

Rickey Verrett, known on Bayou Dularge and beyond as Bayou Fabio because his long blond hair reminded people of the actor, is one of the few who capture, clean, and sell gar commercially; over the years, he’s honed the process as sharply as his knives. Many consider the fish’s firm, mild meat to be quite tasty; if you have a gar in your cooler and do a bit of browsing, you can find online recipes for garfish cakes, gar nuggets, deep-fried gar, and gar balls.

Scaling the fish isn’t easy. Interlocking, diamond-shaped scales provide an armored protection that equals that of alligator scutes. Used by Native Americans as arrowheads, they’ve also been incorporated into jewelry, Christmas tree decorations, and various sorts of bayou souvenirs by artists dedicated to fashioning delightful bits of beauty from an arguably ugly fish.

Crawfish, alligators, and alligator gar: each continues to survive — even to thrive — in the midst of a changing and precarious world. Perfectly adapted to their environments, they reside at the world’s edges and interstices, where time flows easily and clocks have no meaning. In the swamp and along the bayous, their time is measured by the rising and falling tides: by the ending of the seasons, and by the seasons’ unending return.

Occasionally some smart and sophisticated city-dweller, newly arrived on the bayou, decides to share an opinion or two: crawfish are disgusting, alligators dangerous, and gar unbearably ugly. What they think of the wetlands in general, or their people in particular, can be equally unflattering. But while the city folk chatter and chirp, the sounds and the rhythms of the swamp-song continue to flow.

Shadowed beneath the surface of the moonlit marsh, the garfish hangs suspended in its pool. Patient, the alligator watches and waits, parting the smooth cordgrass with his snout. And where the water meets the land and the land dissolves away, the life of a people goes on. Scooting around obstacles, scaling walls of prejudice, living out their lives with ingenuity and verve, they tell one another tales of blessings piled higher than the crawfish on their tables. Scoots and scales and crawdaddy tales – that’s what La Louisiane is made of.

Comments always are welcome.
Some of you might enjoy “The Ballad of Bayou Fabio” by the New Orleans group Dash Rip Rock.

117 thoughts on “Surviving and Thriving on the Bayou

  1. As always it takes only a paragraph from you and I am hooked just like a fish on the line. However, I don’t fight and flail as you pull me in. Very interesting post. We used to fish in a lake here in Okla where we caught a lot of garfish. But they did not look like your picture. They were long almost shaped like an eel. In Lake Texhoma I think. Do you know how I am confused? That reminds me of King Nebuchadnezzar telling his magicians they had to tell him his dream and interpret it. Tell me how I’m confused then straighten me out. You can do it.

    1. You’re not confused at all. The garfish you caught and these alligator gar are in the same family, but the alligator gar is the biggest of the bunch. They can grow up to eight feet long; the Texas state record for alligator gar is 302 pounds! You can read a bit more about it here if you’re so inclined. They lurk around in the marinas where I work, and when it’s really hot they’re fun to watch. They’ll line themselves up with the shadow of a piling and just keep moving with the shadow. Smart fish. When they decide to go after their own dinner, the splashing and the noise is just what you’d expect from something that large. They always startle me.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Liz. I hope your friends made it through Ida without too much trouble. Many of the places dearest to me took quite a beating, but the people are fine. My friend from down the bayou rode it out in Baton Rouge; when I called on Monday, she had cell service and electricity. Amazing.

      1. So sad that the area has had such a thrashing but I’ve got a sense of the resolve of the local inhabitants, they have incredibly strong spirit! I’m aware of the heat and and the lack of electricity for many and the resultant lack of a/c. The folks I know are fine, having been on the edge and Ida actually turned a little further away from them; they’re now busy helping with provisions for an influx of people who need support. You must be relieved your friend has come through ok, even relatively well from what you’ve mentioned. I love how you shared something of “the sounds and the rhythms of the swamp-song” and enjoyed hearing those strains ~even tho’ they be rather faint, and very far, from here.

        1. It occurs to me you might enjoy this video that was made by Bayou Grace Community Services after Hurricane Ike. They’re based in Chauvin, Terrebonne Parish. The second photo in the video shows my friend and her boat — the same one that took me on my explorations of the swamps and canals in the area.

  2. Another great post, informative and entertaining and made from beautiful creatures that normally gets greeted by an escape to reeds, water lilies and lovely hovering butterflies. Perhaps there are no really ugly creatures in nature, all is beautiful, depending on how we take to their presented form.

    A man was killed by a shark yesterday along a stunning Australian beach. The sea is their territory and yet bait drums are set out to catch the killer shark. Some people protest. It’s not the sharks fault, they say.

    1. I browsed through several articles to see if I could find which species of shark was involved, but didn’t see it mentioned. It may be that no positive ID was possible, since the fellow who got the closest look isn’t with us now. We have a terrific variety of sharks, but only the occasional bite. The last figure I saw was 66 bites in Texas since 1865. They can be an annoyance to wade fishermen, though. Every now and then I hear someone complaining that a blacktip cruised through and took the fish off his stringer. For a while, everyone stops dragging their ‘keepers’ through the water.

      I’ve always thought that creatures like the alligator gar make up in interest what they lack in beauty. The same can be said for slime molds and certain invertebrates — not to mention certain pieces of modern art!

    1. For a variety of reasons, I’ve let several Louisiana posts linger in my draft files. I’m feeling the urge to pull them out, or re-post others, so you’ll have an even better guidebook should you find yourself in Acadiana. You’d love it there, I’m sure.

  3. so glad your friend’s house was not damaged
    and this post was so interesting – learned a lot and tasting culture is a good way to put it
    also loved this “But while the city folk chatter and chirp, the sounds and the rhythms of the swamp-song continue to flow”
    oh so well written
    (and hope everyone recovers)

    1. I smiled yesterday when I read that the Tide Corporation has brought their mobile laundries into Terrebonne Parish; reading that brought back some sharp memories of our post-Ike recovery. There’s nothing like freshly washed clothing to make life more bearable — even if you’re still taking cold showers — and when those laundries pulled up in our Target parking lot, the smiles on people’s faces were something to behold.

      One thing I’ve learned about hurricane recovery is that it takes time. Even though the media are reporting that power’s being restored in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, in the small bayou communities the estimated date for power restoration is September 29. With luck, it will happen sooner, but three weeks can feel like an eternity when all you can do is wait and cope.

      Thanks for the kind words about the post. I love Louisiana, and I love writing about the place.

      1. Oh three weeks is a seriously long time for no power and did not realize it was the end of the month for so many smaller areas –
        Also the laundry assistance brings a smile my way too! Cheers to the Tide company and may it help many.

    1. They have a huge task ahead of them, but they have the skills to cope, and a willingness to help one another. One thing I’ve learned in the years since I met my first hurricane (Alicia, in 1983) is the wisdom of what one old man told me: you recover by doing what you can, not what you can’t. Every experience hones the ability to distinguish between the two.

  4. Fascinating. There’s a bloke in Victoria who plays zydeco music, but I’d not seen that dancing before and my toes were really tapping along. Frank is asleep on my lap so I couldn’t leap up and dance, but I love it! There’s garfish here, in fact I ate a piece at the cafe recently but the Australian version is a much smaller fish. I recall my father extolling the virtues of it, and it’s certainly more flavoursome than whiting which is perhaps more highly regarded.

    1. My favorite spot for dancing was Angelle’s Whiskey River, on the levee in Henderson, near Breaux Bridge. You can see a bit of that action here. It’s gone now — closed in about 2018 as I recall — but no matter. If you want to dance, you can do it in your driveway if you like — with or without a partner. I enjoy Geno Delafose, but my all-time favorites are the Pine Leaf Boys; they’ll show up here later.

      Your gar no doubt are part of the same family. We have three gar species smaller than the alligator gar (longnose, spotted, and shortnose) and plenty of people enjoy fishing for them.

    1. It’s fun to think that this post resembles a good Cajun gumbo: a variety of ingredients, with a roux that holds everything together. Now that I think about it, I suppose the roux might be my affection for the bayous and their people.

  5. You took me back to a special time in my life, more than thirty years ago when I first began visiting my (now ex) husband’s relatives in the Covington, LA area. I learned to pack some clothes a size larger for later in the trip – I ate soft-shelled crab, gumbo, shrimp and etouffee like there was no tomorrow. And every trip it took me two days to get the Cajun lingo down so I could understand, but oh, the wonderful stories Uncle Jewel told of his life, and especially his days as Captain of the police of St. Tammany parish.

    He and I would sit in the morning dark on the front porch at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., sipping robust chicory coffee, visiting in soft tones, and by 6:30 he drove me to a shack of a building where we had the best breakfasts I’ve had in my whole life! Run by two sisters in their 60’s they served up the creamiest grits, most flaky and buttery biscuits – good, rustic food with a spicy kick to start my day. By the time we got home around 8:00 or so, his nephew would just be getting up. Uncle Jewel took us to visit friends who lived in a swamp camp, deep in the marshes, and we had some wonderful fishing excursions with his best friend Kelly, following the bayou waterways more than a mile out to Lake Ponchartrain in Jon boats. I was teased about being that “black cat” that could only “catch trash from the bottom o’the sea” but those were the best times ever.

    Forrest’s sister (who now lives here on the property) has lived in Slidell, LA for the past twenty years, and has endured many hurricanes. They’ve been trying to sell their home, since they moved here this spring. It takes a lot of work to maintain a home on the bayou – what with hurricanes or even any decent storm that moves through. Watching them struggle to maintain a large home with an in-ground pool on the outskirts of the city, made me realize why so many of Uncle Jewel’s friends lived in small, humble homes of simplicity. His people were tough and resilient, just like those old gars, alligators and crawfish. Thank you for stirring up a lot of beautiful memories for me. You had me hook, line and sinker from the title!

    1. A friend has family in Covington, and I’ve spent some time in Slidell, so I know the area that’s given you such great memories. I did pause when I read St. Tammany police captain; there had to be some amazing stories grounded in those experiences! Chicory coffee and an early morning porch sit? I’m right there. One of these days, I’ll publish a post that’s been percolating for some time, about porch-sitting in Breaux Bridge.

      As for Pontchartrain, I’ll never forget making the trip across the bridge with my mother and an aunt. Neither could swim, and neither liked a bridge of any sort, let alone that one. Both of them demanded that we take a different way home. Speaking of homes, historic homes on Galveston’s east end have wooden gingerbread trim because their attempts to mimic New Orleans failed miserably. They discovered that their fancy ironwork balconies and such rusted in the salt air, so they had to trade them in for wood.

      Many of the barge captains on the Intracoastal Waterway are Cajun, so I had to learn to understand them. Even now I don’t always do well, but the language is beautiful to listen to even when I have to ask someone to back up and repeat what they’ve said. They never mind; they’re the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world.

  6. These are species that have survived through both global warming and global freezing, over and over. They haven’t had the ability to think, react, and plan for those changes in climate, but have merely adapted through their evolution across time.
    Point being, scutes trump suits.

    1. As far as I know, there aren’t any five year plans among alligator gar, and no white papers being read by gators. The crawdads seem to be doing just fine; herons and humans constantly harass them, but they’ve learned how to keep a low profile.

      “Scutes trump suits” is a great phrase. It reminded me of a line from Mark Twain that seems to apply to the critters as well as to anyone: “Obscurity and a competence—that is the life that is best worth living.”

  7. Surviving, thriving & jiving – – this story of yours is just infused with a great rhythm and your obvious affection for this place, its creatures and culture. I love how you circled around to scooting and scaling in the final paragraph.
    And as always, I learned a couple things. Fish scales so hard you can use them as arrowheads!

    1. I’m glad the affection came through, because it’s real. The food, the music, and the natural features of the land all are great, but the people are even more inviting and enjoyable. As I recall, you still favor a blend of chicory and coffee; just like that, once you get a taste of the bayou, it can become a preference that never leaves.

      As for those gar scale arrowheads, I just spent half a cup of coffee browsing this forum. There are some great photos, and the instructions and tips are better than anything that comes along in the IKEA box.

  8. “Alligator Scutes” and “Garfish Scales” could be the names of rock groups from the late 1960’s. The second one reminds me now of James A. Garfield, who served just four months as the 20th American president before being assassinated. He was unusually intelligent, especially for a politician, and even came up with an original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

    Don’t know how well the ditties about what little boys and little girls are made of—particularly the latter—would go over with some factions in today’s culture. Your “Scutes and scales and crawdaddy tails” parody will probably raise no objections.

    La Louisiane was named for Louis XIV, France’s so-called Sun King, who seems to have been rather a tyrant. I guess alligators can be tyrannical, too.

    1. To be honest, the only things I knew about Garfield were the short duration of his term and the fact that he was assassinated. A quick scan of an article about him mentioned that one of his accomplishments was rooting out corruption in the postal system; perhaps we could bring him back to offer some advice on that issue.

      I don’t know; alligators seem more opportunistic than tyrannical, unless they’re involved with one another over struggles for territory or mates. On the other hand, another resident of the bayous, the Eastern Kingbird, goes by the interesting scientific name of Tyrannus tyrannus. It may be best to avoid irritating those.

    2. Before responding to your comment about the little girls/boys ditties, I wanted to find the Bari Weiss piece that came to mind when I paused before including the verses. The fact that I hesitated is a sign of the times; the fact that I wrote the piece as I orginally intended was a very small way of affirming her second point in the article: “Absolutely refuse to let your mind be colonized.”

      1. Yes! That’s the true anti-colonialism. As you know so well, I started adding sociopolitical commentaries to my nature posts this year as my own form of anti-colonialism. Things had gotten to the point where I felt I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak out.

  9. A very evocative essay. This part of the USA is foreign territory to many or most residents of the States, including me. I’m not sure that I’d feel comfortable there. But maybe I’m very wrong about that.

    1. I think you’d be surprised by how comfortable you’d feel. It seems to me that all Louisianans, but especially the Cajuns, are among the most open and welcoming people in the world. For example, there are Sunday afternoon dances everywhere, and I never lacked for a partner — even though I’d never met one of them, and never knew or remembered their names. It was great fun.

  10. Back in the day, I supervised sales activities for an area that included Louisiana. It was always a treat to ride with the salespeople and visit some of the remote locations. There was coffee with chickory, shrimp, crawfish, gumbo, and a spirit of welcome. I loved your essay, Linda.

    1. That spirit of welcome stays with a person long after the taste of chicory and gumbo has faded. If we could get a few pounds of Cajun welcome at the grocery store, this country might be in better shape. There’s a reason so many of us remember those people fondly, and long to return for a visit.

  11. A most enjoyable read this morning, Linda! I knew I wasn’t an expert on the Bayou, but I’m a bit surprised at all the facts you managed to scare up that I wasn’t familiar with. Just goes to show, you *can* teach an old dog new tricks, ha!

    1. The best thing about the ‘learnings’ that formed the basis for this post is that they came through experience. On the other hand, one thing that was new to me was that gar scales once were used as arrowheads by the various tribes that roamed the area. Not only that, scale-tipped arrows have been found in areas far from places where alligator gar are common. There are people who study those old tribes who’ve used the distribution of scale-tipped arrows to track the movements of people centuries ago. Who knew?

    1. One of the best evenings I ever spent was with mymother and a couple of her cousins who lived outside Baton Rouge. Once they started telling stories, there was no end to it. My own cousins and I had the chance to stay with their mother, my great-aunt, in the summers, and to our midwestern eyes, the lemon and pecan trees, the Spanish moss, and sleeping outdoors did seem mythical.

    1. Then you’ll enjoy another post or two (or more) that have been lingering in the files, waiting for ‘someone’ to stop being lazy and put them together! I still have a spot or two I want to visit, but that won’t happen until we get past hurricane season and things begin to get put back together. In the meantime, I can write about what I’ve already experienced.

  12. I’ve always thought Louisiana, particularly southern Louisiana, is one of the few truly unique cultures we have. I spent a few high school years in Mandeville (north shore of Lake Pontchartrain) and spent my senior year commuting daily across the causeway into New Orleans. It took me a long time to adjust to and (at least partially) understand the world there, but a summer of sailing on Pontchartrain, water skiing on the Tchefuncte River, and eating cajun food made for some unforgettable experiences. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been back, so thanks for the visit.

    1. What I found so intriguing once I began hanging around the state is just how diverse the cultures there are. It took me a while to begin to hear the differences between Cajun music and Zydeco, for example, or to appreciate the differences in culture between New Orleans and some of the surrounding areas. Oddly, my earliest memories of the state came during grade school; I had a great-aunt who lived on Harrell’s Ferry Road outside Denham Springs; when we visited in the summer, we kids would retire to a screened sleeping porch and drift off on mattresses filled with Spanish moss. Good times!

      1. I was familiar with the song but had forgotten about it. It is a great hurricane song. We spent a few unscheduled nights in Denham Springs back in our RV days. We liked the town but couldn’t take the best advantage of it while we were there. We were getting a window in the RV replaced. I think a kid riding in a school bus had tossed a rock at our RV as we passed it on I-10, or at least we discovered the shattered window soon after we passed the bus and all the kids were looking out the bus windows and laughing as we went by. I expect you had more fun on the moss-filled mattresses.

  13. Fascinating post and equally fascinating part of the country. But I’m glad I don’t live down that way considering I’ve almost died eating shellfish or I’d starve to death, worried they stick shellfish in just about every recipe.

    1. You’d do fine. You could stick with the chicken and sausage gumbo and the smoked ribs. There’s a terrific green (vegetarian) gumbo that’s served during Lent, blackened redfish, and those wonderful Muffuletta sandwiches filled with cheese, meat, and olive relish. Of course we could top things off with beignets and coffee, or syrup cake (Gateau Sirop) made with cane syrup.

      Now I’m hungry!

    1. Thanks, Jeff. We in Texas were the lucky ones this time; the storm was far enough east that we were unaffected. It’s our turn to do for Louisiana what they did for us during Harvey!

  14. What a fascinating post and certainly one where I can say “every day I learn something new from reading blogs!” In this case — I learned a lot! But as fascinating as the history and background of these bayou creatures is, what I loved most was your riff on the children’s rhymes. You nailed the city folk perfectly!

    1. I had fun with those little rhymes. Sometimes it seems as though there’s no room left in the world for humor, so it’s nice to poke a little gentle fun that gives people a smile. Speaking of humor, I spent a little time pondering what Dr. Seuss might have done with the crawdad, the gator, and the gar. That sounds like the beginning of a joke: “A crawdad, a gator, and a gar walked into a bar…”

  15. You had me from the start with childhood rhymes.
    I have a great appreciation of Louisiana. I have made several trips to and around New Orleans with a friend that grew up there. My mother and I have done a couple of multi-day road trips through the swamps and Cajun country.

    We have gar in Tennessee lakes. I love it when they show their prehistoric selves. Sometimes they will get under my paddle board by the fin and give me a little push. They seem curious about the boards.

    1. New Orleans is great, but my real love is Acadiana, and the entire Bayou Teche region. My great-great-grandfather began his Civil War career near Helena, Arkansas, as part of the ill-fated Yazoo Pass Expedition. After moving down to Vicksburg, his company (the 34th Iowa) was given the task of getting some Confederate prisoners to Chicago — through the Atchafalaya Swamp. What a trip. More men died of disease than battle.

      I wonder if those gar are huddling under the shadow of your board for cooling or concealment. Your lakes no doubt (or maybe?) are cooler than our bays, so the shadows may not be so important for them.

      1. Whoa! What a story about your g-g-granddad. Vicksburg and the Swamp. Dang.

        I never thought about the shadow, always assume curiosity. Our gnar are much smaller than yours.

        1. We have smaller gar, too. There are four species in Texas; the Longnose is slender, and often only a foot or two long. People do fish for them, but I’m not sure what qualifies as a ‘keeper.’

    1. Thanks, Pit. I hope your weekend’s been a good one. I wouldn’t be surprised to know you fired up your barbeque pit — unless you folks were on the road again!

    1. It’s quite a different world from yours, isn’t it? But every culture resembles every other in at least a few important ways, and the Cajun love of family, tradition, and food is entirely familiar and admirable.

  16. I’ll pass on the crawfish, but those gar scale earrings are really cute. (I don’t really wear necklaces!) And I liked your take on the poems, that was fun! This was a thoroughly delightful read, Linda!!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Tina. I’m not a jewelry wearer myself — at least, not often. I stopped wearing it at work for safety reasons, and soon I stopped almost entirely. I do have a half-dozen pair of earrings I really like, but that’s the extent of it. I had fun re-working those verses; I’m glad you liked them, too.

  17. As usual, a host of potentialities lie in this post. Where to go? I’m really not sure tonight other than to say my grandfather Jimmie was born in New Orleans and lived there until his 20’s. I credit that connection for my attraction to the South…the literature, the food, the stories…everything but the gators. Your posts are the best on the web.

    1. I wouldn’t flatter myself that my posts are the best on the web, but I do enjoy writing them, and there are people who enjoy reading them, so — what could be better? Actually, I know what could be better: a change in season and cooler weather. It invigorates the brain as well as the body, and I’m feeling the urge to begin writing again — as well as getting out with the camera more often.

  18. I always learn so much from your posts! I admit, I haven’t found the courage to try crawfish yet, or Gar either, but I do understand the appeal. The Cajun culture is fascinating, and one of the major draws of the area.

    1. If the thought of a pile of crawfish waiting to be shelled doesn’t appeal, there’s a solution. Order crawfish gumbo or etouffee, and your crawfish appear all sauced up and delicious: the chef already has done the work. They’re really quite good; if you like shrimp, you’d enjoy them. Like you, I’ll pass on the gar. Stuffed flounder or a nice trout is more to my taste.

    1. Well, good morning! All’s good here, and I hope the same for you. I see you haven’t linked to your blog; is it still active? My impression was that you’d given it up. Investigation’s required!

  19. Reading your description of crawfish I doubt whether I ever would be tempted to eat them. But that is just me and my upbringing in the land of schnitzel and sauerkraut.

    1. Well, we’re sort of even then. I’ve tried sauerkraut now and then, but it’s not something I’d ever order on purpose. Schnitzel? That’s almost as good as bratwurst and beer!

  20. Such an interesting read! I always learn something from your posts which is why I enjoy them so much. I just can’t eat crawfish but then I’m not any kind of fish or seafood lover. Those childhood rhymes come easily to my mind too and I still have my very first Teddy Bear (he is definitely well-worn but he’s nestled away in a drawer for safekeeping.

    1. My teddy bear’s long gone, but the Raggedy Ann my mother made is still with me; an aunt replaced her apron and pantaloons a few years ago, but she’s otherwise just as she was in c. 1950.

      Odd as it seems to me now, I was introduced to shellfish as a child. Thanks to my dad, our family’s traditional Christmas Eve supper was oyster stew. How that came about in Iowa I’m not sure, but I developed a taste for shrimp and lobster while still in grade school. Clearly, we were being influenced by strange and foreign customs even then!

  21. Cool! Scutes and scales!

    ‘Round here, we call ’em crawdads. There was a drainage ditch that ran between my childhood home and the church next door. It never seemed to run dry and I spent many an hour wading around it it catching crawdads and minnows to watch in a jar for a while before turning them loose again.

    My brother and I also scooped up toad eggs and plunked them in a small aquarium which was placed in our dining room. We watched them morph from eggs to tadpoles and then, to young toads. Until Mama decreed “Get those things outside!” because they were starting to escape and getting stepped on. Mama was very lenient with, and even interested in, our ‘nature studies’ but she drew the line at little smashed toads on the kitchen floor.

    1. Your crawdads and minnows were the South Carolina version of my lightning bugs. I did the same thing: caught them, put them in a glass jar with holes punched in the lid, added some fresh grass and a sprinkle of water, and used them as a nightlight until turning them loose the next morning.

      I love your toad story! I never had anything to do with toads and such, but did I ever tell you my one best frog story? In biology class, dissection eventually progressed from earthworms to frogs. At that point, I figured Grandma’s technique for skinning a chicken in one piece would work for a frog. I got the intact skin off the frog, laid it out with its legs extended, and dried it. When it was good and dry, I took it home and slipped it on Mom’s pillow, just under the bedspread. Despite what followed the shriek, the shriek was worth it.

      1. Oh, you are BAD! LOL

        I really shouldn’t talk. I scared Mama with a hog-nose snake one afternoon, even though I knew she was deathly afraid of snakes. I was truly old enough to know better but I couldn’t resist. She was furious with me, though. It’s a bit of a long story, though. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.

        We did the same thing with lighting bugs. Catch them, put them in a ventilated mason jar and use them as a nightlight. We turned them loose the next morning, too.

        I’d bet a dime to a dollar no one sees lightning bugs there now. That drainage ditch is either filled in or piped over. It’s all developed. Back when we live there, there was still a lot of active farms, inactive farmland, woods, etc. – prime lightning bug, crawdad, minnow, toad and frog habitat.

        1. ‘Development’ has taken a good bit over the years. The sort that irritates me most is the commercial building that’s done ‘on spec.’ The strip malls and such go up, and then sit empty for months or years. It seems odd to me, but I’m not a real estate maven, so what do I know? I do know where I still can find lightning bugs, though. Now, if only I could find some frogs and toads, I’d be happy.

  22. Oh, my.

    So many memories.

    Illegal gamblers helping us out in Slidell. Weathering a storm in Red Stick. Exploring the Atchafalaya River. Okra and beans at my uncle’s in New Orleans.
    And your header picture evoked some chills on Gini’s neck. A stay at an old plantation in Breaux Bridge was punctuated by visits from – “something”. With one showing up in a photo and one being more physical.

    Tales for the grandchildren, late at night …..
    I’m now ready to find some crawdads to throw in a pile of fresh corn on the cob and potatoes. Yum!

    1. Where did you stay in Breaux Bridge? When I visit there, I stay at the old City Hotel, right on the bayou, near the bridge in the top photo. It’s a B&B now, but the last time I was there it still was resisting being prettified and upscaled. The woman who runs it has a place on Lake Martin, too; that’s on the “one of these days” list, along with a tour of all the towns along the Teche. I’d hoped to meet Fannin atop the Goliad Presidio, but it didn’t happen. Maybe I’d have better luck at your plantation.

      Interestingly enough, I can’t remember any of my Louisiana relatives refer to ‘Red Stick,’ even though they lived just down the road from Baton Rouge. I was well into adulthood before I knew the meaning or history of the name. Oddly, I came across it when I was looking into the history of Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska. Rabbit holes rock!

  23. There used to be a blog called “Gimcracker” and I never knew the origin of the term…until I read your statement about crawfish ubiquity.

    And I’ve never heard of garfish (those scales!). Will have to chat with my LA friend who loves to cook about recipes.

    1. I wonder if your friend’s ever cooked gar? I suspect not, although she surely has done a crawfish dish or a dozen. As for ‘gimcrack,’ it’s analogous to ‘tchotchke,’ or my grandmother’s ‘knick-knacks.’ I wondered this morning how ‘knick knack’ became part of the children’s song:

      “This old man, he played one,
      He played knick knack on my thumb.
      With a knick knack, paddy whack,
      Give a dog a bone.
      This old man came rolling home.”

      What I found suggests another connection to food — specifically, the potato — and a very interesting bit of history.

  24. A unique perspective of a colorful part of our country. I recall fishing in a Great Lakes state where we had gar in fresh water creeks, rivers and lakes. Must have been a different variety as I don’t recall tales of any as large as your photo or even that folks ate what they caught. In fact, seems to me they were categorically avoided as they had a long sharp snout that could be dangerous. We also had crawfish but any I ever saw were very small and would seem to not lend themselves to being eaten by people. Again, another species variety, I guess.

    1. I’ve heard of needlenose gar, although I’ve never seen one. In fact, there are four species of gar in Texas: longnose, spotted, shortnose, and alligator. I wonder if the needlenose and the longnose are the same, and if that’s what you encountered. I found a wiki article that said there are three gar species in the Great Lakes: Longnose, Shortnose, and Spotted.

      I’m suspect your crawfish were a different species, too. I know there are more than 30 species of crawfish just in Texas, distributed across a variety of environments. Most of the Louisiana table crawfish are farmed; every season, trucks from that state roll into our area, loaded down with sacks of red swamp crawfish — people reserve them for Mother’s Day, especially!

  25. I appreciate the detail to your discussion of life on the Bayou. The crawfish, alligator, and alligator gar have adapted to their environment in ways which bring lasting survival. Perhaps we humans can learn some lessons for ourselves in a natural world that continues to change.

    1. In a world marked by a 24/7 news cycle, the scale of geologic time hard for many to grasp. There was a time when the interior of the United States was covered by a shallow sea; my own home state of Iowa ended up with its six feet and more of deep, rich soil thanks in part to the glaciers that moved over the land. I sometimes think people are eager to embrace humans as the cause of climate change because, after all: if we caused it, we should be able to fix it. If the planet’s controlled by forces we hardly can recognize, let alone influence, that’s a different critter.

  26. WOW! JUST WOW. What a great read and sha’ you nailed it. I’m from Metairie. My parents and brothers still reside there. your writing captivated me to read to the end and looking for more.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m especially glad that you enjoyed my tales, since you have those direct connections to the area. I love Louisiana, and have some great memories of time spent there: especially around Dulac, Cocodrie, and so on. I’ll be writing more about those times — with luck, there will be some future visits to enjoy, too.

  27. Thanks for this introduction to La Louisiane! I would love to visit there when travel there some day! I also appreciated the reminder that sophistication takes many shapes, a point I know well from growing up among mechanics, farmers and carpenters whose wisdom was different in kind but equally important and sometimes more useful!

    1. Your comment reminds me of a wonderful line from Flannery O’Connor: “She had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade and he could do anything.”

      I’ve often amused myself by pondering how much fun it would be to write a book titled, “I Passed for Blue Collar.” The assumptions people make when they come across someone working on the docks can be interesting, to say the least. Beyond that, mechanics, carpenters, and farmers learn pretty quickly that the real world pushes back: actions, and decisions, have consequences. Too many bureaucrats and academicians never learn (or forget) that.

      1. That is a great book title! This summer I was doing some work on the dock with a group of sailors, one of whom noted that “so and so is a PhD, but you wouldn’t know it because he is just like one of us.” Of course, they didn’t know my occupation and felt free to share this with me, and so I felt that I passed in the moment.

  28. A detailed and welcome tale of some bayou creatures. The only one I’ve encountered is the crayfish, I found them in a backyard brook in Northern Virginia long ago. I remember them wriggling in my fingers before I put them back in the water.

    1. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I prefer lobster to crawfish on my table, but lobster are in short supply around here. We do have crabs and oysters, though, which help to make up for the lack of lobster. We have over thirty native crawfish species, so out of curiosity I looked up Virginia. Sure enough: there are 34 native species there, too. Those little mudbugs get around!

  29. I think several months ago we got into a conversation about the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. I will be heading down to Galveston next month and was thinking about that place. What’s it like for hiking? Have you been there much?


    1. I go there often, and although I don’t think of it as a spot for serious long-distance hiking, there are some nice trails. Here’s a screen shot of a map of the place. Just above the yellow icon is a set of trails along a slough, with plenty of trees and etc. Where I added the black star is where the auto route road ends at a turn-around. There are trails that can be followed in a couple of directions from there. The green and blue icons also mark trails, but they haven’t been open for a while. The last time I went down there, I ran into some feral hogs, and that put an end to that.

      There are other trails that aren’t marked on the map, and there are plenty of places to just strike out. When you first enter the refuge, there’s a road to the right that leads down to a nice fishing lake, and there are sort-of trails around there to explore.

      I almost always wear boots: not so much for water as for fire ants and snakes. By October, the gators ought to be settling down, but do be careful around the edge of any water. Mosquitoes can be a huge problem, but I’ve found spraying my clothing with Permethrin and using Picaridin spray to be effective. Picaridin has the great advantage of not damaging things like camera bodies.

      It’s a great place — I’m sure you’d enjoy some time there. By then, it ought to be filling up with birds, too.

      1. I was thinking of a nice hike around on a morning while everyone one else in my clan is being lazy. See some wildlife. Hopefully by mid-October it will be a bit cooler but who knows.

        I will be on the west end of Galveston Island so this doesn’t seem so far away. I am sure the mosquitos will be there waiting for me.

        Thanks, I will probably check it out. I have to go back to the coast at least once a year.

        1. Another spot to check out is the Kelley Hamby nature trail, just about two miles down on the left once you’ve crossed the bridge at San Luis pass. You can spot it because there’s a little roadside parking area that allows for maybe 6 cars. There’s a nice boardwalk that leads down to the beach, and it’s usually pretty empty of people.

  30. So wonderful to visit you at “your” special place, crawdads and all. I’m learning by reading your blog, looking at your photos, and hoping all is okay in your world after all of the rain and storms.

    1. Everything here is fine, except for those who still don’t have electricity, or who will be spending the weekend repairing fences and cutting up trees. Despite it all, we fared pretty well – thanks for the good wishes! I’m glad you enjoyed this little foray into Cajun country, too. There will be more — there’s such richness there, and writing about it’s a very pleasurable way to remember it all.

  31. There’s this vast repertoire of rhyme and song that we children of yesteryear seemed to absorb so early in our childhoods that you cannot recall just where you first heard or learned any particular rhyme. Now that children don’t “play outside” anymore, that centuries old tradition of child-knowledge is dying out. Nobody plays Ring-o-leevio anymore. The tale of the two dead boys is forgotten. If you were to say “ollie, ollie, oxen free-o” even to a child of the 70’s, they’d give you the blankest look. Kids don’t even jump rope anymore, much less keep alive the rich history of jump-rope rhymes that have come down to us over the ages. O tempora! O mores!

      1. I’ve come to think that the more we know about people who live quite different lives, the more we recognize the similarities among us. I’m glad you enjoyed this peek into a different culture.

    1. Just this week, I mentioned another old bit of ‘verse’ to someone, and he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. A childhood deprived of “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out” is sad to contemplate.

      You’re right about so many of the best memories of childhood being outdoor memories: not only jump-rope and hide-and-seek, but jacks, roller skates with keys, hopscotch, marbles. I wish from time to time I hadn’t gotten rid of my cats-eyes, steelies, clearies, and aggies. I wish even more that today’s parents would say no to unreasoning fears and let their kids experience just a bit of freedom.

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