I am a painter, writer, and half-ass poet. I became aware of the situation in Louisiana after seeing my basin, having been gone for 37 years. What I saw east of the Atchafalya was horrific. Oak trees standing dead in the water, where once was dry land. Gashes of canals cut across once beautiful winding bayous. Hackberry Bayou should have been a river by now, but because of the rerouting of the water, it is silting up. What a mess we have made! My Mama would have said,’ If this makes sense I’m glad I’m crazy.” I felt desperate to help. Who knew what a catastrophe a levee could cause. I had to do something. I had to paint this wonderful gift of nature before it becomes beach-front property. After finding out that for my basin there was hope, I knew I could not sit still on this issue.
As I stood at the edge of the Atchafalya, remembering my Mama and Papa, how my grand-parents survived, NO! thrived from the riches of the Atchafalya basin and the Mississippi river delta. My Papa fed and housed 14 children and could only sign his name. My mama taught herself to read by reading our school books and True Story magazine; while raising 14 children .My grandma Granier raised 8 children on a 28 foot boat called "The Buzz". The only time they lived on land was when they lived in palmetto shacks, until my Mamas Papa got them a houseboat. My grandpa Granier was Grandmas third husband because the first two died, leaving her with young babies and pregnant. She saved that houseboat and her children from being washed out to the gulf during the hurricane of 1909, the year my Mama was born; by tying a rope to the first sewing machine she owned, and throwing it overboard and using it as an anchor. I thought, you can live with the river without levees, if you want to, but on its’ terms.
The basin and the river deltas keep on giving, pound after pound of shrimp, fish, crustaceans of all sorts; day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, ton after ton, decade after decade; feeding family after family even into the 21st century. It still gives up its’ bounty, even in spite of how badly we’ve scared her. I used to read a story to my children called "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know if you are familiar with the story, but the tree gives up everything until there is nothing left but the stump. I fear my Louisiana, my dream state, is that giving tree. God forgive us.
So what could I do? How could I make a difference? I could only paint what was left of Eden. And as I would paint, the voice in the deepest part of me said Write. And the poems as simple as they are came. The stories as simple as they are came. I poured my passion onto the canvas. I did not intend to write a book or make an issue. I only knew I had to do something. Fast forward, a few years, and here it is; a drop in the gulf, but it’s my drop. One drop does not make a river flow the way it should, but one drop by many people possibly could. If enough of us say something, or do something, perhaps the Mississippi silt will work for us again. My hope is that some day, my grandchildren can stand with their grandchildren; toes shoved into the blue-green clay of the river bank and show them the wonder filled South Louisiana that was my back yard.
Re. National Geographic Oct. 2004, Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell and The Giving Tree by Shel Siverstein