I was on "vacation" last week. My "spring vacation,"
as it were. I usually take off in the spring and the
fall to take advantage of the best fishing of the year.
Allegedly, that is.
My cousin, Jim Ray, and his son Christopher would be
joining me after driving in from Ft. Worth, Texas,
on Wednesday. Jim joined me for my fall vacation
last year, wherein our generation of the Stouffs
committed to spending more time together. We also
resurrected the venerable old family tradition of
referring to each other as "boy." That was the way
it was in our family: The males of the next generation
were always "Boy" as in, "Hand me that box of worms,
boy," and though we are of the same generation, Jim
and I had nobody else to call "boy" so we had to
It is worth pointing out that of the five brothers
in our grandfathers' generation, all moved away from
the reservation in search of opportunity and to flee
oppression. Only Emile Anatole Stouff remained,
though working far and wide. The rest relocated,
mostly to Ft. Worth and New Orleans, one in California.
Time was when the Ft. Worth Stouffs would visit the
Charenton Stouffs annually and vice versa. My dad's
only brother, Ray Lanier Stouff, died when I was 12
This time around, Jim and I had a proper boy-calling
recipient, that being Christopher. Makes no difference
that Christopher is 24-years-old. In our family, we are
"boy" to our forebears forever, no matter the age. It's
not a term of disrespect, disparagement or demeaning.
It's just the way it is.
Jim had, on our fall visit, expressed his regret that
his kids (he also has two girls) had not experienced
the beauty and the wonder of the Atchafalaya Basin like
he had when he was growing up. A fishing trip was
required on all visits of the Ft. Worth Stouffs to the
reservation, and Jim shared many stories with me of
those boyhood excursions. He had pledged to make sure
his children are no longer so deprived.
Monday morning I set out to start the fishing, and
was doing quite well until mid-morning when that nasty
little storm front came through. It caught me on the
lake, and I had to tie up under the cypress canopy to
wait it out. And as is typical of the days following
a weather front, the fish displayed no more of the
enthusiastic biting that I had experienced early
Monday morning. Catching so much as a skinny sunfish
was an exercise akin to carving Mt. Rushmore.
Tuesday and Wednesday were excruciatingly and
frustratingly unproductive. The Ft. Worth Stouffs
arrived late Wednesday evening, and on Thursday we
were on the water. I had not seen Chris since he
was something like age eight. He told me his goal
for the entire trip was to catch four fish. Just
four. I thought just maybe we could arrange that,
but it would be marginal.
Chris was also informed of the "boy tradition" in
our family, much to his initial dismay. When you're
24-years-old, on your way through a successful
career in the information technology field, and
making your first trip to Louisiana in a bunch
of years, the last thing you want to be referred
to as is "boy."
So whenever I had the opportunity, I'd say something
like, "Hand me my hat, boy," and Chris would steam.
But by the end of the second day, if asked for something,
he'd note, "I guess that is the boy's job." Settling
into the groove, you see.
We lost perhaps $50 worth of tackle to tackle-eating
trees. These are those peculiar varieties of trees
which are magnetic, and their magnetism is so strong,
they'll divert a cast from its path from a dozen yards
away, pulling it into an arc, upward, and wrapping the
fly or lure and line around a branch precisely six
inches farther than you can reach even when standing
on the boat deck with a long paddle.
Thus began three days of the nearly fruitless pursuit
of fish. I kept thinking the next day would be the day
we'd get into them, they'd be over the effects of the
storm front, but alas, it was a no-go. Oh, that's not
to say we didn't pick up the odd fish here and there,
and Chris actually doubled his goal with eight fish
over three days. Jim and I did perhaps a dozen each.
All in all, a disappointing expedition entirely.
But in the end, that was the only disappointment. It
was a fine and pleasant thing to renew my acquaintance
with the boy, and visit with Jim again. During our time
on the water, I took the time to re-introduce the boy
to the ancestral homeland of Sheti imasha,
people of the lake. We visited the ancient worship place,
and Peach Coulee. I showed him the river and Lake Fausse
Pointe. We saw alligators and red-tailed hawks. It was
obvious the boy was humbled and at once invigorated by
his native waters, and the resonance of them tugged at
something deep within him, awakened thousands-year-old
memories he has yet to recall. He will.
If the one version of our people's origins is to be
believed, when we left Natchez we took with us a torch
from the sacred fire which burned at Grand Village night
and day, year upon year, without ever extinguishing. We
carried that fire here, to these magnificent swamps and
marshes and prairies, to tend it as faithfully as our
Natchez kin to the north.
It is unknown when the sacred fire went cold; probably
some time after the conquistadors arrived in their
galleons on Grand Lake, sparking the first of the wars
which would follow and lead to the virtual disappearance
of the people of the lake for many, many decades. During
that time, those people took immigrant names, imported
religion, but still clung to the memory of the fire out
there somewhere on Sheti, no longer giving off its light
and heat and promise, but as alive and bright in the heart
and soul of those who tended it as it always had been.
My life has been etched upon the search for that
flame. While I know I shall never find the burning
brand which marked the exodus from Natchez, the
settling of the villages along the coast and river
basin, I search for its memory and the resonance
of its presence. The boy, perhaps surprising himself,
felt that distant fire, and a link was established
last week that I do not think shall ever be broken.
Jim Ray fulfilled his pledge. He brought the first
of his children back to where it all began, planted
a seed which will flourish.
And us old timers, Jim and I, spent the Sunday
evening before I had to come back to work and
the Ft. Worth Stouffs were to set back upon the
trail that will return them home, fishing a small
pond alone. It was near dusk, and fish were rising
somewhat reluctantly under the full moon which was
moving across the sky.
Dusk. My favorite time of day. We brought the fly
rods to hand and whisked line across clear water.
I landed one nice four-pounder, three more small
bass, and Jim took to hand four or five respectable
fish as well. The sun turned into a gigantic,
red-orange eye as it retreated into the western
horizon; the eternal, sacred flame which remains
with us. The moon, silver-white, cast long streaks
of wild magic across the pond, providing just enough
illumination that we caught a few more fish on surface
poppers before the mosquitoes forced us to retreat.
Monday morning, I returned to work and the Stouffs
returned to Ft. Worth. I felt nearly as if history
was once again repeating itself: Nine decades ago,
the exodus from the reservation began, though one
remained, tending a flame of the heart. Over the
years, some returned and continue to return, answering
the call of fire, the beckoning of water. That, at
least, will continue it seems.
Mine is a world of fire, and of water. Mine is a
world of what has happened, and what will yet be.
Fire and water. Resonance and callings of the soul.
I never knew what was being handed down to me
without my knowledge, without even my consent.
But the flickering ember I saw in the boy's eyes
reminds me again that there is, after all, no
place like home. ~ Roger