It's hard to write anything about fishing
when one is not doing much of it.
The weather seems to be finally straightening
out around here, but then, the old saying remains
that if you don't like the weather in Louisiana,
stick around a minute. This morning on the
Internet when I pulled up the Weather Channel's
local forecast, I was mystified to see the daily
forecast illustrated with these bright yellow-orange
round things. It took me several minutes to realize
I was looking at cartoon suns. I hadn't seen one
in so long, I had forgotten.
Though the chance of rain still lingers, sulking,
there is a good chance that fishing weather is
close. It takes, after the amount of rain we've
had, a couple weeks for things to get right again,
but the river is expected to begin falling this
week, a sure sign of good things to come.
I had been checking out one of my favorite fishing
spots between thunderstorms, or at least trying to.
Once I took off under clear skies and the radar was
clean as a whistle, but by the time I got to my
fishing spot, the sky fell out. I barely made it
home dry, and I pushed my boat to frightening
limits. Didn't really matter. While at my
fishing spot, I noted the water was remarkably
similar to chocolate milk. With marshmallows.
So there's not been much to write about lately
in the swamps, other than the rain. You'll note
that I've resorted to conjuring up some non-fishing
columns to fill the "Native Waters" which have
fallen on me nearly every moment for two months now.
Puts me in mind, though, of our own story of the
There was a great deluge, of course, a historical
marker of nearly every culture. To survive, my
people built a giant clay pot to ride out the flood.
During their voyage, the Chitimacha occupants of
the huge pot encountered two rattlesnakes who
begged to be saved. The Indians refused, of
course, for who wants to ride out a flood with
two rattlesnakes in a clay pot?
But then a pact was reached: The snakes promised
to never bite a Chitimacha ever again, and were
allowed sanctuary from the flood. The rattlesnake
became the Chitimacha's principal totem after
that, and no known bites of a rattlesnake on
one of my people has been recorded.
There is a similar story concerning the flounder.
Because my people lived in the swamplands of
Louisiana all the way down to the coast, we
hunted and fished a broad area.
At some point in the distant pass, we caught the
first flounder. Startled by its remarkable
appearance, they set the fish free, though
not really aware why. Not long afterwards,
an old woman told the people she had been
told by the Great Spirit the fish was sacred,
and should never be eaten.
It was said that the flounder was sacred because
both of its eyes faced upward, toward the
Sunday morning, a storm barreled through like
a locomotive, throwing spears of lightning and
pounding the earth with rumbling drums. Rain
fell like it was the end of all things. I
opened all the doors and windows of the
house, letting the scent of it permeate the
corners and ceilings, let the sizzle of
lightning sink into the joists and timbers,
let the noise shake its foundations.
There were four trees which marked the
boundaries of the Chitimacha nation. It is
not clear what three of them were, but the
last was a cypress, and it was known as
It grew somewhere near St. Martinville, and
in times of drought, my father's people would
snap a limb from it, perform a brief ceremony,
and submerge it into the bayou or lake. This
invariably brought rain.
The ethnologist John R. Swanton, who visited
here just after the turn of the 20th century,
documented that in at least two non-Indian
incidents, the Raintree was known to have held
this power. Once, a barge tied off to it and
broke a limb, which brought immediate rain.
Another similar incident ended in the same
results. My great-grandmother, Delphine, was
reportedly the last person to utilize the
In 1927, a photographer from Lafayette appeared
unexpected at my grandparents' door. He had been
directed there upon his first stop on the
Reservation, since my grandfather was chief at
the time. He told them, cautiously, that he was
aware of the Raintree legend, and where it grew.
He also learned that it had fallen, its roots
undermined by the waterway which flowed alongside
Gathering his camera gear, he went and took
a photograph. Back at his lab, he developed
the negatives and made prints of them.
When he first laid eyes on the prints, he told
my grandparents, he immediately took them and
got in the car to come to Charenton. He had
never been here before, didn't know who to
"This has to be with you," he told them, and
gave my grandfather a print. I still have
this photograph. It is grainy and the contrast
poor. But if you look closely, perhaps through
some trick of the light, you can discern the
shapes in the ripples of the water. Hand in
hand, several of them, dancing.
Perhaps it was merely that, a trick of the light.
But the spirits there are clear, at least to me.
They danced there, on the banks of that bayou,
mourning and honoring the last of the great
trees which marked the boundaries of a great
The photographer, whose name is now lost to
me, also collected a few limbs from the Raintree
and gave them to my grandparents. They sit in
a cypress case with a glass front I constructed.
They are dry and safe as they were that day in
1927 when they were brought to us.
It was in 1927, you may be aware, that Louisiana
experienced the worst flood in local history.
When it rains like this, I take out that old
photograph and study it. Still it brings a
chill to my spine.
And I wonder if somewhere, on some bayou near
St. Martinville, some fragment, some tiny shred
of power still exists where thick roots spidered
down into the earth. If I knew where that spot
was, I would visit there, present myself as
the descended blood of the last one who touched
and moved that power around her.
Deep in the earth, perhaps some remnant of the
Raintree may remain, and spirits may still dance
there, reflections cast by the waters, as is only
fitting for those dancers who were known as
Sheti'imasha, people of the lake.
Thank you for sharing my ramblings, and my waters. ~ Roger