The cool front moved through somewhat Thursday night but
really came in Friday night. When I rose before dawn
Saturday, the outside temperature was 58 degrees. Unusual
for October. Not unheard of, but unusual.
I debated, continuing an argument that had been going
on for weeks now. A sense of impending dread hung over
me, wariness, something akin to fear but at a level more
like premonition. Thursday afternoon at the bayou near
my office, silver flashed in the sun, shad gone belly-up
in black water. Closer inspection revealed crabs, shrimp
and a few bream. For two weeks Bayou Teche had run salty
behind the city of Franklin, trapped with no winds, no
rain. Hurricane Rita had pushed four or more feet of Gulf
water into the bayou and beyond, the surge and winds
churning up decades of organic matter laying below. Now
that matter had begun to decay, robbing the water of oxygen.
The baitfish was the first to go. Canaries in a coal mine.
The reports had been on the Internet for a week: Near
Sabine Pass, Hurricane Rita had left rafts of dead fish,
some so vast they seemed to stretch beyond a man's vision.
Also along the mouth of the Mississippi, where Hurricane
Katrina came ashore. Inland, along the basin, sporadic
reports, mostly unconfirmed, of freshwater fish kills had
become all too common. My native waters lay nearly exactly
between the two landfalls.
But I made fresh coffee. I drink it black, no sugar.
Hot, strong Cajun coffee like my mother made, my
grandmother. Dawn stole in, stretching out over the
sky first in a silver-gray glow. I stood on the porch,
thinking that subtle luminescence reminded me of the
night Rita passed more than one hundred and twenty miles
from here, making the sky shine eerily. Like a specter,
somehow, like a dingy white sheet tossed over the world.
There was no longer any debate. I finished my coffee
and haplessly loaded a couple of rods into the boat. I
had about a quarter tank of gas and thought I might need
more, but the nearest stations had paper bags over their
pump heads. It's been that way a lot around here lately.
Instead of putting in over here on the Reservation, I
trailered the boat all the way to the lake.
It was hard to see, the dawn was still growing, but I
thought the water looked okay. The engine fired, though
it had been months since I used it, and I sped across
the channel into the cove. It didn't take long.
I thought of the coffee in my cup that morning. I
thought of midnight, pulled down as the dawn overtook
it with gray glow. This is where midnight went, I knew.
Here, in Cok'tangi, and midnight reeks, you know. Like
a sewer plant, maybe. Like stagnation and lifelessness.
I pulled the throttle back and the boat settled into
the blackness, churning a foul stench.
There, along the south shore of the cove, I idled
through dead, black water. It surrounded me, stifled
me and burned my nostrils. The sun was peeking over
the levee and throwing golden lances at the cypress
trees, revealing watermarks four or five feet up
their trunks only recently receded. Nothing moved.
Nothing scattered, swirled, jumped or sped away in
a vee-shaped wake. There were bubbles here and there,
lots of them, and I thought they might be turtles,
but I realized it was churned organic matter, letting
loose methane as it rotted. Some of it was leaves,
twigs, animals and fish, that may have lay in that
anaerobic layer of muck at the bottom of most Louisiana
waters for decades, maybe centuries depending on how
often hurricanes hit there.
A circumference of the cove and a diversion down
Sawmill Bayou revealed no change. Midnight, pulled
down and spread, unfurling, over the waters. I could
stand the stink no more and, once I found a deep spot
in the bayou, pushed the throttle hard and the boat
leapt up, outward, fast. I turned left at the channel,
went to the lake. Here a north wind was building and
the water churned foamy, but little better. I turned
away, beaten. Returned to the landing, returned home.
The world would renew herself, but not today. Not for
awhile yet. Midnight, hung low, pulled down. The smell
followed me along the levee as I made my way home. It
would renew, but not soon.
I thought of New Orleans and the surrounding areas,
the horrors Katrina brought and the devastation Rita
left behind weeks later. My little black water world
was a minor tragedy in a land strewn with tragedies.
There is no rain in the forecast for the next ten days.
We desperately need rain to flush out the midnight from
between our banks, out of our bayous and lakes and coves.
North winds are lowering the levels of stagnant water,
but nothing fresh is coming in. At home I hosed down the
boat and had to scrub at smelly black stains along the
hull. Stains of decay.
When done, the boat covered, the tackle put up, I
retreated to the house and sat for a long, long time,
longing for green-black water, for the sound of
splashing around the next bend in the bayou. I ached
for the scent of rain to cleanse my nostrils of the
persistent reek still in my lungs, the smell of black,
dead water. ~ 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
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.