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Planting with Matrix, HESCO and Restore the Earth
by -- June 25th, 2012

My alarm clock began to play whatever song they play for the 5 of us listening at 2:30am.  The day started out as any proper day should, long before the sun decided to peak over the horizon, o-dark-thirty as my parents always call it.  With a childhood of boating according to the tides this time was not unheard of for me, but still not welcome.  By 3:30 we were off, driving the hour and a half to a random hotel in the town of Galliano.  On the drive there I tried to remember why it was I had decided to get up this early.  Truthfully a large amount was due to not wanting to pay $171 for a night in a Holiday Inn in the middle of nowhere.  There we would be meeting up with Margo Moss (even though everyone at Matrix jokes about it, we are 99% sure there is no relation), the other members of Matrix, those from Restore the Earth and the large film crew.  I could not help but question why our first trip doing all this had to be accompanied by a film crew.  Then I remembered that the documentary/show they were hoping to make would be one more way to get the information out there about how fast wetlands are disappearing in this area and all the work that goes into just maintaining the same area of marsh.

Margo had told us we may be on film, but she was not sure if we would actually be able to get off the boats and help with the restoration (a statement we would laugh at quite a bit later in the day).  We arrived at the hotel earlier than expected since, as always, Google maps and the GPS had assumed that all the roads to get here were 30mph when they are all 55, and shockingly at 4 in the morning there was very little traffic.

We went in around 5 and met with people as they straggled down from their rooms to eat breakfast.  First a camera crew member or two, then Larry from Matrix, couple more camera people, then Marv and then the rest were there and we were off, to hopefully get shots on site for the sunrise.  Yes that’s right all this had happened in a day before daybreak.

We hopped in Margo’s car with Dennis, followed by the camera crew in minivans to meet up with the three boats at the boat launch about 30 min away at Little lake (the biggest little lake I have ever seen).  Due to a narrow corner with a big boat we did not make it to the launch for sunrise, but we still got to watch the sun come over the marshes.  It’s views like that which make me seriously consider this state as a future place to live (assuming our efforts do work and the state is not gone in the next 20 years).

The camera crew poured out of the cars all ready for a day in the marsh with their brand new bright white shrimp boots, designer jeans and $40,000 cameras.  We signed release forms so “they could shoot us” as the manager kept stating.  She really needed to come up with a better way to word that.

The first “drama” of the day (which was milked in the filming) came with a late shipment of sandbags that were only discovered to be needed the day before when the area was inspected.  We were then given a briefing and learned the reason for the project today was that the Parish (not church related, it is the term here instead of county, took me over half the day to figure that one out) had a project done inland and the equipment was brought in through a trench from the lake they had dug and although were supposed to fill in, never did.  Therefore the project was to block off the entrance of the canal so that marsh could fill it in.  The previous attempt to do this was via “baskets” which turned out to be metal framed cloth boxes without tops, which were somewhere around 3x3x4.  They had been filled with sand and covered with nothing, so as the sand washed out there was no support for the cloth structure and they started to come apart.

After the introduction we loaded up the boats with more gulf saver bags and sandbags than they were built for, along with the camera crew and some people.  Our boat was definitely the cool boat.  We had Natalie, Archy (representative from the Parish) and me flying down the bayou stacked high with bags, blaring some rocking music and, since it was only 7 in the morning, not even hot yet.  The idea of Natalie and I not leaving the boat was almost immediately rejected.  We were off on the baskets, unloading bags and then back on the boat to get more.  It was the fastest I have ever seen a transport line form,  tossing 10lb bags from person to person.  Pretty much a large game of hot potato, since if you didn’t get rid of your bag fast enough you could be sure you were going to have another one flying at you.  I once successfully caught the second on top of the first, usually it was an impact to the side, or worse…… the head.

More entertaining was unloading the boats when, being a taller person I was in the shallow water, rather than on land.  Each bag I caught drove me slightly deeper into the mud.  The realization of being stuck is never more clear than when you realize you have sunk over your shrimp boots up to your knees in the mud.

Half the bags were destined to reinforce the neighboring shoreline and half were to populate the “baskets”. I had done plug planting at a location up near New Orleans (plug planting is where stems of plants with their roots are plunged into the mud in an area desired to have marsh grass).  The Gulf Saver Bag, developed by Restore the Earth goes one step beyond this.  It involves a burlap bag filled with dirt and fertilizer that is stomped into the ground.  Then three slices are cut into it into which three of the plant plugs are placed and then “sewn” in with a wooden chicken skewer.

As with any good project when a decision needed to be made a person to step up to make that decision was hard to find.  But when the down in the mud planting was to be done there was a clambering to be managing.  All the time with the humorous sight of a camera crew with fancy cameras, fuzzy speakers on a poll, and sound boxes standing in the middle of the marsh trying to avoid getting wet at all costs.  At one point the lead woman even asked to be carried from one boat to another rather than have to get into the water (mind you she had no camera either).  I think the filming would have been much funnier if someone just filmed the camera crew.

My humorous acts of the day caught on camera was trying to walk out of the water, sinking farther and farther and half swimming/crawling to shore, standing up on shore with a camera right in my face.  Even worse was a little later, standing up straight after being bent over a few of the bags, realizing my feet were about 6 inches underground and that moving one back to balance myself was not an option.  I proceeded to vigorously windmill my arms to no avail and as if in slow motion, and fell backward into the mud, only to look to my left to again see a camera pointed right at me.

Select people were also wired with microphones to have conversations of the day.  The funny part being that many forgot those were on and lapsed into normal conversations.  After one bout of chatter with a great deal of sailor talk we heard a loud reminder from the boat that the microphones were indeed still on.

More “drama” that came as the day went on was the breaking down of the Parish boat.  The disappointment in the other boats and workers at the lack of boat was more than made up for by the excitement in the film crew.  We were off with a replacement boat to get their load and the camera crew leader.  She managed to get footage of the boat being towed and then manually hauled up on the trailer, a feat I was quite impressed with given the weight of that particular boat. As we were loading up the last batch of bags some humor could be found in Seth’s realization that the three of us would likely touch every single bag that was put out that day.

As with every day on the Bayou there is a threat of thunderstorms, but fortunately we made it through the whole work day (7am-4pm) with no thunderstorms and amazingly little wind.  Apparently Little Lake can get quite rough these days seeing as you cannot even always see the other side any more.  The conclusion of the day was made up of a very fake sounding thank you due again to the film crew arranging us first and stating the order people needed to thank us.  The leaders of the event did their best, but even the best speaker is hard pressed to sound sincere when told when and how to thank someone.

Once back on land the day ended with goodbyes, promises to keep in touch and my first real interview ever.  Moral of the story being, if I thought there was any chance before, acting is not in my future.  I answered all the questions as sincerely as I could and I was indeed grateful to have had the opportunity to go out that day, but……….. cameras just make everything seem so forced and insincere.  Hopefully they have some really good editors and if they do show any of that make it appear like I knew I was going to get interviewed more than 2 minutes before hand.

Overall a great experience.  One day actually getting out and doing restoration can’t truly be replaced by any amount of days reading about it.  Not to mention who would pass up a chance to ride on some boats, do a day of upper body workout and be coated in more mud than those that pay to get therapeutic mud baths?  It was a great group of people, that I will hopefully get to work with again sooner rather than later.

 

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