Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

January 16th, 2005

January

It's in the seventies here at the beginning of January. I am coming off the edge of a brutal head and chest cold that persisted from Christmas Day until now, and I'm just managing to venture outside other than when absolutely necessary.

The mercury is flip-flopping. Cold as the dickens one week or two weeks, then warms for a spell, then back to cold. We've had frost this year, but no real freezes. Normally I'd worry that without a couple of dips into the twenties, the vegetative growth of last summer would not be killed off in the shallows. But we've had so little rain over the last few months water levels all over southern Louisiana are extraordinarily low. This is killed most of the intrusive vegetation already.

There's no sense even going out in the boat, though on warm days when my head is cleared from the congestion and I'm not coughing my lungs out the urge is strong. I'd likely crash my lower unit into a log or stump with the water as low as it is now. The dog and I walk behind my house, along Bayou Teche, and mudflats extend three dozen yards from either shore to where the channel suddenly deepens in the center of the bayou. I've never seen it this low. We need rain, and plenty of it.

The dog, a black lab female of about ten, is exuberant. During my illness she hadn't gotten out of the fenced-in yard enough, so I was sure to bring her for a walk soon as I felt up to it. She finds scent after scent in the brown carpet of cypress needles, follows one to the shoreline edge and halts at the flat of mud beyond. She cocks her head curiously at the path the scent continues on.

Some critter walked through the mud from the bank to a cypress tree ten feet out. Normally the tree's trunk is in six or eight inches of water, but it's exposed now. I can't tell what kind of small animal it was that walked out to that tree because the silty mud holds no definition in the tracks, but the animal must have climbed into the tree and vanished into thin air, because there are no return tracks and I can see nothing in the tree.

This lot, and the house upon it, were my grandparents' abode, but the house was built in about 1840 by Alexander Darden, a great-great-great of mine. He was chief of the tribe at the time. I grew up with my parents nearby, and we had perhaps ten acres between us. This bay-ouside was my haunt as a child. Now there are two other homes between mine and what is now my mom's, so I don't trespass between the two. But in my youth it was my wonderland. We kept horses here, two quarter horses named Tee Boy and Kate, and a Tennessee Walker named, aptly enough, Walker. Kate and I shared the exact same birthdate, and she was the fastest horse on the Rez, bar none. My first was a pony, a Shetland named Nancy. Even after I outgrew her, we kept Nancy around as a beloved member of the family.

When I was eight I was given my first Daisy BB gun. At age ten, I received my first pellet gun, an aged Benjamin that to this day is still the straightest-shooting gun of any kind I have ever fired. At age twelve, my first shotgun, a dog-leg .410 that was my grandfather's. I was afraid of it at first, the recoil and the boom, but got over it soon enough. I would stalk the bay ouside with it, never shot anything, and except for a couple of years hunting quail in the sugar cane fields and rabbit near the lake before giving it up for good, I was never much into hunting. I still love a fine shotgun, though, and keep one handy just in case the urge ever strikes again.

But all that was a long time ago. I walk part of that land, perhaps seventy-five yards of it, now with the sweet old lab Daisy. She is really my girlfriend's dog, but she's nice enough to share her with me. I'm not sure if my girlfriend's sharing Daisy or Daisy's sharing Susan sometimes, but that's how it goes. She's brisk and energetic for a ten-year-old, lean and fit, with the disposition of a lamb and great obedience but a menacing growl and roar for suspected intruders. She would have made a great bird dog, to be sure, but she's an even better companion walking the bayouside in January, thinking about years gone by and the flats left behind.

I realize most folks don't have such attachment to the land they were born and reared on, and I know I am blessed. Those of us who do, we take its changes and movements in stride, but there are memories around every tree trunk, ghosts behind each ridge, voices on every breeze. Daisy rolls in the grass playfully and for a moment she is a German shepherd named Lady, or a Springer named Shadow, an old hound named Bootsie. Now and then I pass an old water oak and the horizontal scars precisely spaced up its trunk to about level with my chest remind me of the barbed wire fence that used to be there to contain the horses.

Were I still a hunter, perhaps I'd be in a duck blind or a deer stand this weekend, and yes, it'd be good to be in the basin, in the wild, near water however shallow and dingy. But I count my blessings that at least I don't live on some cramped municipal street, or in some apartment complex or even on a sprawling acreage without nearby neighbors yet still far from water. I'm not being judgmental of those who live in such places, please understand. But I know that being there would diminish my spirit like some crippling disease, if not drive me mad.

Across the bayou from where the dog and I stand looking around is a cypress tree from which a thick rope hangs by one of the topmost branches. Generations of Chitimacha children have learned to swim from this tree. It's a stout and strong old tree and at it's base is a deep hole in Bayou Teche suitable for jumping from the rope or diving from the branches. The kids still come to it now and then. Sometimes they irritate me with their language or their loud music or just because I'm trying to tightline a spinning rod with a glob of earthworms for catfish on a hot summer day. But I'm sure I irritated my elders too, so I just let it go.

Let it go. That's what it seems like to me, here on the edge of Bayou Teche, where I've lived for more than four decades, where my family's lived for at least one hundred and sixty years and where my people have been for eight millennia. It seems like the rivulets and eddies of time and space converge here, at least for me. The dog comes and nuzzles my hand and I scratch behind her ear. We both sigh in contentment at the same time, and I laugh at the coincidence. The sound of it makes her leap away, spinning joyous circles around me. I throw her a stick and she gallops for it, brings it back, wide-eyed and ears perked for a redux. We throw sticks and retrieve them, making our way back to the old house, and the timelessness within. ~ Roger


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