When I was doing my research for Bayou Fire, I took two separate trips to New Orleans. During the second one, I took advantage of an opportunity to go out onto Bayou Bœuf. It was amazingly peaceful, and I soon put away my camera to just enjoy the atmosphere. I learned a great deal about the wildlife and plants thanks to Captain Brian Torres, who was our skipper that day.
The first thing you should know is that a bayou is a calm, slow moving body of water typically found in a flat place (like much of Louisiana). Bayous are home to a surprisingly large amount of wildlife, such as nutria, snapping turtles, egrets, blue herons and, yes, alligators. Because I was there during brumation season, I didn’t see any. Captain Brian kept apologizing for this, but there were so many other neat things to see that it didn’t matter.
Bayous can be wide or narrow … but one of the things that can make them wide is coastal erosion. This is a huge problem in Louisiana, where they are losing the equivalent of a football field every 10 minutes or so because of it. Causes of coastal erosion include pollution, climate change, and levees — because rivers that can’t flood can’t deposit silt. The barrier islands that used to protect the Gulf coast from storms are gone now, and so every storm that hits the region means more damage because there’s nothing to slow it down.
I also visited Bayou St. John, which is adjacent to New Orleans’ City Park. There is an island in the center where Marie Laveau and her daughter, also named Marie, were reputed to hold voodoo rituals on St. John’s Day and All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a beautiful and quiet place, readily accessible via the Canal Street streetcar line.
If you would like to learn more about the importance of the bayous, both economically and environmentally, I recommend reading Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Monday without a song, so here’s John Fogerty’s “Born on the Bayou.”
(The photos included in this post were taken by the author.)