Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

May 2nd, 2005

Sacred Fires 2

Though the wind was still up this weekend, I knew that a cold front would be dropping in Saturday night. Not about to miss any opportunity to get on the water again, I went out twice on Saturday.

Mostly due to the intolerable price of gasoline, and not a little due to the fact that I just wanted it this way, I left the big fiberglass boat under the tarp at home. I took my father's boat out of the garage at my mom's house, cleaned her up and together we returned to the lake.

The boat, twelve-feet long and with low sides, was in every way my cradle in life. Built two years before I was born, it is as sound as it was the day he first launched it. My father built many boats for customers all over Louisiana and adjacent states, but this is the only one I know of surviving, except for a pirogue in the hands of a family friend. At least two or three times a year I take it out, because like many things in a life, a wooden boat must be used or it dies of neglect. It needs to feel water under its bow, needs to slice through waves, needs to drift obediently through backwater slews and into the back ends of dark canals where the thin places are.

The fish were extravagantly crashing at everything that touched the water. I fished a Jitterbee under an indicator the entire weekend. Within half an hour of arriving at the lake Saturday morning, I had landed four very nice bass. The rest of the two trips that day were filled with sun perch, redears, catfish and more smaller bass.

It's not a comfortable boat. It has bench seats fore and aft. My father built it with very low sides because he didn't want to have to stretch far to retrieve fish from over the gunwales. The bench seats are not comfortable, my knees are bent toward my chest, and my back ached badly by the time I got home. I am still using an eight-pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor on it. My father bought that motor in the early 1990s, a point where I knew he was feeling his age. Before that little trolling motor, he would paddle the little boat around the lake with his left hand and cast with his right, all day long. Even as light as the thrust is, it moves the little boat admirably.

All morning I fished a little eight-foot unknown model Montague I had refurbished. That evening, when I returned, I also brought along an eight-and-a-half foot Rapidan to pitch a few streamers, but the Jitterbee was still the preferred prey of everything I caught. I was deeply satisfied. There I was, on the lake my ancestors took as their namesake, in my father's wooden boat, fishing with bamboo fly rods. What man could have been happier? I had invited no one along Saturday. I needed that time alone with the lake, the boat, the rod and the eager, thrashing fish that came to my hand.

When I was very young, we'd fish from dawn to dusk. We always had oatmeal crème pies and soft drinks in the boat if I was along, but when dad went fishing alone he brought no food and no drink. We would spend the whole day, but eventually I would grow cranky and tired, and when we finally made our way home, it always seemed to me he was leaving something of himself behind on the lake. Today I know what it was. As the years converge behind me, I know what he felt as he throttled the engine up, the boat's nose lifted and she peacefully slid along the surface of Sheti, lake of the Chitimachas. A little part of himself lived there, a little part of myself lives here also. Now, when I fish along the shores of the lake, sitting on the front bench seat and working the trolling motor, I am mournfully aware of the absence of him, but his spirit is strongest on this old lake. If the boat was my cradle, the lake was my playground and sanctuary.

I stumbled on a nest of redears. They attacked the Jitterbee with such ferocity as soon as it hit the water I missed several trying to get the line in my hand to make a hookset. They were big and dark and beautiful. I fished along the left fork of Sawmill Bayou until it converged in the rear, where a hunting club has put up cables and wire and a metal gate. The bile rose in my throat again, as it always does. For eight thousand years my grandfathers and grandmothers fished these waters, lived on these shores. For my entire life until that gate was erected I knew the twists and turns and canopies of cypress behind it. Now those who would barricade free-flowing waters and possess that which can never be possessed forbid me the right of my blood. The little boat pointed its bow at the back of Sawmill Bayou, drifting as I thought about the loss, and it floated just to the gate and slowed there, stopping inches from the metal bars. Together, we stared behind that abhorrance, wishing not for fish but for freedom.

I coaxed the boat around. It stuggled with reluctance, but obeyed. We followed the right fork of the bayou out, catching more fish as we went, until we emerged on the open lake again. Following the north shore, I caught more big redbreasted sunfish over sunken timbers. Darkness threatened. It was time to go home. There were a dozen and a half panfish in the livewell under the front bench seat. I knew I needed to get home and get them cleaned and put up. But I took a leisurely cruise on my way out of the cove, letting the blazing oranges and ochers and silvers saturate my skin. The varnished topsides of the boat were like fire, like sacred fires, like the fire my grandfathers brought from Natchez to burn eternally until the great darkness settled over our nation and so very much was lost.

"This one's for you, pop," I said aloud to the lake, to the boat, to the old man's spirit who was with me, and to the brilliant sunset of sacred fires. "This one's for you."

Out of the lake, I turned the bow toward home, gave the engine about three-quarters throttle and the boat slid across my native waters quietly, purposefully, carrying me there and back safely once again. Just as it has always done. Just as I always depend upon it to do. Just as my father built it to do.

This one's for you. Both of you. ~ Roger

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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