“Who’s your family?”
I smile at the older man leaning against a post under his camp at the end of Louisiana Hwy. 56.
“I’m a Daigle from Bayou Blue.” I say my last name the way it is pronounced back home (dĕg, which sounds like leg) and I hear my speech slide back into a flat Cajun intonation.
We then run down a laundry list of kinfolks until we stumble upon a commonality and he feels assured that I’m actually from around here. With this link established, he grants my request to walk out onto his wharf to photograph the shrimp boat that remains on land across the bayou from his camp – a poignant reminder of the power of Hurricane Ida last fall.
My trips home usually include a ride down this Louisiana Scenic Byway to photograph shrimp boats and bridges as well as to witness the never-ending march of coastal erosion in South Louisiana. The state, known as Sportsman’s Paradise for its hunting and fishing, loses 25-35 square miles of coastal land every year, an area larger than the size of Manhattan. Land that serves as habitat to numerous species of wildlife is literally being swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico. According to an advocacy program launched by the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited, the causes are numerous – leveeing of the Mississippi River, creation of shipping channels and canals that facilitate salt water intrusion, oil and gas infrastructure, sea level rise, hurricanes, etc. Though the causes and solutions may be contentious, the results are undeniable. Click here to see a comparison map of land loss between 1932 and 2011.
I was born and raised just outside of Houma, Louisiana on a bayou known as Bayou Blue, though the area still shows up as Savoie on some maps. A bayou is basically a sluggish watercourse that is a tributary of a larger water source. I’ve had friends accompany me home to LA who seemed let-down that present-day Bayou Blue doesn’t resemble a made-for-movie swamp backdrop of moss dripping over a large muddy water canal laden with alligators and water moccasins weaving through Cypress knees. It may have once been that, but human intrusion into wildlife habitat has pushed that scene further and further away from populated areas. Nevertheless, my mom still has to watch out for the 5-foot alligator that hangs out in the water near her mail box when checking the mail 😊
Houma is the largest city in (population 33,000), and the parish seat of, Terrebonne Parish. The city’s government was absorbed by the parish in the 1980s, so when folks talk about Houma, they are sometimes referencing something within the parish, and not necessarily within the city, boundaries. So, although I say I am from Houma, I’m actually from an area outside the city limits, but within Terrebonne Parish. It wasn’t until I enlisted in the Navy and made friends from places other than South Louisiana that I realized how unique and special my upbringing was. It was incomprehensible to me that most of my new, non-Cajun friends only saw their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins a couple of times a year for special occasions, whereas I saw mine several times a week. Hellos and Goodbyes didn’t take them 20 minutes to accomplish, no hugs and chatting with every single person upon arrival and departure, no matter how many present. And the food! There’s really no comparison!
Although my time back home was extended and unrushed now that I am retired, it is never long enough. I thoroughly enjoyed my time back home reconnecting with family and just being present in the place that raised me and where my roots still run deep. Next stop: Gulf Coast cruising and the ride back to NC.