Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

May 31st, 2003

"There Were Giants in the Earth in Those Days"
By Roger Emile Stouff

I sit, sometimes, and look out at the bayou running behind my house, marking the northern border of the reservation.

Bayou Teche, my father's people said, was created many generations ago when a huge snake attacked the Chitimacha Nation. It was so large its tail was at Port Barre, La., and its head near Morgan City at the junction with the Atchafalaya River.

Many warriors tried to destroy it. Many died. It took a massive effort of all the tribe's strongest men to slay the great serpent. It's great body lay there and decomposed, and water sought out the spot where it had compressed the earth in its death throes, forming the small channel. My father's people called it "teche" meaning "snake."

Geologists tell us that Bayou Teche was a former channel of the Mississippi River, that great wonder of rivers, which fanned across the Louisiana coast for millenia, creating the land upon which I now live. I do not doubt them. The Vermillion and Atchafalaya Rivers were once channels of the Mississippi, we are told. I do not doubt this either.

But I do not doubt that my father's people fought and killed a giant snake, and some ages later, the mighty Mississippi flowed down the course of its grave. The two are not mutually exclusive.

It is the inability to believe which astounds me sometimes, as I walk along the water's edge, watching small bream strike at bugs and chase minnows. I stand on the dock away from the bayou bank and watch the current take debris downstream, and I know an epic struggle took place where I cast my gaze.

But it is far easier to believe in inanimate forces, the natural movements of the earth and its waters. I know that science can be comforting because people want to be comforted, want to apply order and definition to the world around them, to their lives. To believe that a miles-long snake carved out the channel of Bayou Teche takes away order, introduces uncertainty, conjures fear and danger.

Did a living, breathing serpent of flesh and blood attack the Chitimacha nation? In the collective consciousness of the people it did. In each village, around the campfires as the young listened in wide-eyed amazement, it did. In the generational memory of each passing on of the story, it did. Descartian reductionism seeks to lift the veil, reveal the wizard behind the curtain, and in so doing takes away the wonder of looking out at Bayou Teche and seeing a mind's-eye view of heroism, replacing, reducing it to the haphazard, mindless movement of water.

"There were giants in the earth in those days," we are reminded. Perhaps we study the skeletons of those giants in natural history museums, on educational channel documentaries of paleontological digs, and apply order, definintion and Latin names to them. In so doing, the simple statement, "There were giants in the earth in those days," loses all its wonder, grows fat and cumbersome with elaboration.

I want the wonder back. I have a plan to rescue it. I will one day take the boat from Port Barre to Morgan City. I will ride the spine of the great snake from tail to fang, noting where its vital organs might have fallen, where Chitimacha warriors might have concentrated their spears and arrows. I'll cross the Wax Lake Outlet which now intersects the Teche and make my way onward, until I reach the river, and hear the great rasping of its nostrils, the flick of its tongue.

Some of us refuse to shed the wonder. It doesn't matter how deeply we reduce it. It doesn't matter, because we choose to believe in it. We refuse to let go the wide-eyed gazes around campfires. We refuse to view this meandering, beautiful waterway as nothing more than an accident. The great villages of shell banks, with children playing along the water's edge, men pulling fish nets and traps, women making baskets, may be gone, but the memory of them survives with a giant snake and epic battles.

What can be so wrong with believing in a little wonder, of giants in the earth, and heroic struggles of humanity? ~ Roger


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