restricted access 17. Spirit of Place
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27  7 Spirit of Place AS I CAME TO KNOW the bayou, I decided that the best way to fathom its spirit of place would be to rent a cabin and spend some time there. I located a rustic camp, ambient with warped doors and bumpy floors, set back only twenty yards from the stream. The living area was raised some eight feet above the ground in a gesture of flood proofing, although over the years someone had enclosed the space below as a large ground-floor room. The new owners, weekenders themselves, had never known the bayou for big floods like the one caused by Tropical Storm Allison in 200. They had begun refurbishing the upstairs living area, the first improvements the camp had seen in decades. My retreat, located in Ascension Parish on a short road that parallels the bayou, was one among a string of dwellings—trailers, otherrusticcamps,arepresentativenumberof suburban-stylehouses, and primary residences, all of which overlook the Manchac. On my first weekend a neighbor wandered over to see what a stranger might be doing there. She told me that she and her husband had moved to the bayou in 974, when theirs was one of only three places along the road and had no phone service. But they treasured the isolation, and her husband loved the beauty of it, the WINDING THROUGH TIME 28 natural history. He could name every tree along the bayou, every bird that perched in their yard, she said proudly. Later the current road was laid out for a new subdivision, but it never progressed past the blueprint stage although other subdivisions had subsequently grown up all around them. She waved an animated arm inland, away from the waterway.“They’ve cleared out the pastures behind us and developed everything,” she lamented, exaggerating only slightly. My cabin lacked a raised, tree-shaded deck like the Caillouets ’, offering only an expanse of second-floor windows fogged with age that afforded a gauzy view through the trees to the stream. In August, the far bank of the bayou was a wild place, overgrown with shrubby swamp privet that rose against a backdrop of soaring trees, their limbs draped with hanging moss and long, trailing tendrils of pepper and rattan vines. I found myself looking out at a place removed from civilization. In January, I peered through the same windows at the nearly bare winter landscape. The dense shrubs and vines across the bayou were almost leafless, silhouetted, revealing several trim, white-frame farmhouses and a pasture dotted with tractors and farm equipment. I smiled at the deception of August. One late-summer afternoon, I sat on the narrow slab under the second floor overhang that passed for my porch, absorbing the quiet, utterly green landscape. The air rested thick and heavy, filled with the buzzing of crickets like a symphony of electrical short circuits. Suddenly, the leaves became animated, rustling wildly, the sky lowered in a charcoal hue, and thunder rumbled ominously and rolled across the sky above me, amplified by the open landscape . Shocks of lightning, wild and fiery, flashed so sharply that they transformed the sudden sheets of rain into a curtain of silver dashes blasting to the ground.And then, as quickly as it had come, the summer storm raced away, leaving the long grass glistening and 29 the duckweed on the bayou swirled into a green abstract artwork. And the mosquitoes returned. In the winter, the same landscape became a monoscape of gray, taupe, and tan; even the duckweed disappeared from the coffee -brown water. But a flurry of birds—cardinals and sparrows, finches, cormorants—cawed and chirped noisily, some providing darting flashes of color among the bare branches. On the mottled bark of a sycamore, the bright red head of a woodpecker, nearly glowing against the subdued landscape, hammered incessantly. If the landscape changed, the bank of the bayou remained a slick of heavy red-brown clay, the color of a well-circulated penny, in every season. This clay could have been the rich material base for the pottery crafted by natives at the Kleinpeter site or used for bricks made by early settlers. However useful it may have been, the clay was almost impossible to scrape from my shoe soles after I had mucked through it launching my canoe. The bulky green canoe and several paddles came with the camp and offered the opportunity to see the bayou from the inside, independently...


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