The Capitaines and the Chickens

Boudreaux’s been much on my mind of late.

In 2012, not long after I’d written a thing or two about chickens in art and literature, he emailed a suggestion: “Cher, you want the complete chicken experience, come to Cajun country for a real Mardi Gras. They dance for chickens over here.”

As proof, he sent along Pat Mire’s documentary, Dance for a Chicken. After watching the hour-long film with a certain degree of astonishment, I tucked the link into my bookmarks and resolved to make my own run to the Louisiana prairie to witness the celebrations.

A year later, and the year after that, I remembered Boudreaux’s email only after it was too late to make plans. Each year, I watched the film again and thought,”Next year.”

This year, I remembered, and made some inquiries. After a few phone calls, a conversation or two, and a text, I had the name and address of a Church Point family willing to host a visitor from Texas. I called a friend who lives in Louisiana’s bayou country and said, “Pack your bags. We’ve got chickens waiting.” (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2015 at 11:59 am  Comments (95)  
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La Danse de Mardi Gras

Say “Mardi Gras,” and it’s almost guaranteed: most people will think first of New Orleans. Other cities have their celebrations, but only in New Orleans has the combination of beads, bare breasts, fancy-dress balls, beer and Bourbon Street been elevated to high art.

In Cajun country, there’s no lack of beer and beads, but the traditional Courir de Mardi Gras at the center of the celebration has a slightly different emphasis: community, Capitaines, charity and chickens. (Yes, chickens. More about that later.)

In places like Iota, Church Point, Eunice and Mamou, the Mardi gras (when used as a plural for participants, it’s pronounced “grahz”) prepare for the courir, or run, under the direction of their Capitaine.  On horseback or in wagons, they visit surrounding farms, collecting ingredients for the communal gumbo that will be served later that night.

In exchange for rice, potatoes, or even a chicken, the Mardi gras frolic for the entertainment of the farmer and his family, singing a variation of a song known variously as  La Danse de Mardi Gras or La [Vieille] Chanson de Mardi Gras. A mainstay in Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations, and often heard in dance halls or concerts, the song may be the oldest in the Cajun repertoire.
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Published in: on February 14, 2015 at 10:37 am  Comments (91)  
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Winds of Change, Part I – That Prescient Name

Detail from a painting of the lost city of Indianola, Texas ~ Shannon Salyer
Courtesy Calhoun County Museum (Click image to view the complete painting)

Today, the privilege of naming a community seems reserved for real estate developers. The names they choose for subdivisions, gated communities, or urban high-rise housing — Candlewick, Pickwick Village, The Towers — function primarily as marketing tools. While the names may reflect an area’s history, or a neighborhood’s geographic location, often they do not.

In times past, residents named their own nascent communities. If contention over the choice arose among the citizenry,  or if conflict developed between a town and the Postal Service, the history of the naming process could become as interesting as the history of the town itself.

Some places changed their name so often even residents could forget where they lived. In New Hampshire, the Plantation of Penney Cook became Penney Cook; then Pennacook; then Rumford; then Concord. In Arizona, Swilling’s Mill became Hellinwig Mill; then Mill City; then East Phoenix. Finally, the name we know today — Phoenix — became permanent.

Some names were obvious choices. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jackson rose to prominence as Americans honored men who contributed to the nation’s founding. On the other hand, Oxford, Paris, New London, and Winchester became almost as popular. It’s easy to imagine a little nostalgia in the naming process: perhaps even a longing to be as well-regarded as more historic cities. (more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2015 at 7:56 pm  Comments (80)  
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The Warmth of the Frio

The Rio Frio came by its name honestly. Spring-fed, shallow and clear, it’s a cold river: perhaps the coldest in Texas.  It can slow to a trickle in summer heat, and, when in flood, puts roadways underwater in a flash.  But if the Frio is flowing well, singing steadily over the rocks, its coursing is pure pleasure.

Other Texas rivers — particularly the Guadalupe, the Comal, and the San Marcos — are famed as venues for kayaking and tubing, but they flow through urban centers. When the season ends and river rats dry off for a final time, there still are dance halls and concerts, festivals, antique shops, and galleries to entertain the crowds.

Along the Frio, things are different.  As the weather turns and school begins, provisioning companies shutter their doors until spring.  Families continue to gather at Garner State Park for weekends of camping and fishing, and birders flock into the valley to track the autumn migration. Hunters fan out into ranchlands in pursuit of whitetail, while autumn bikers test themselves against the famous hairpin turns and steep grades of the “Twisted Sisters.”  Still, the pace of life begins to slow. As it does, the Frio and her people show a different face to the world: a face filled with unexpected beauty and warmth.
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Published in: on December 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Comments (99)  
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Autumn Trilogy II – A Closer Reading

 No
vibrant
colors here,
no surging crowds,
no disappointed
seekers after glory
on a sweet autumnal day.
 These woods reward a heart compelled
 to open bark-rough covers: resting,
 reading autumn’s book leaf by shadowed leaf.

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem that, in its basic form, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click HERE.
The photo, taken in October of 2011, shows wooden steps leading to an observation platform at the Mississippi Palisades in Illinois. You can click HERE to see the view from the platform.
Autumn Trilogy I ~ Reflected Light
Published in: on October 2, 2014 at 7:59 pm  Comments (80)  
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