Beginning the Summer in the Bayou
by Sarah Spiegler -- May 28th, 2011
Finally Arrived in Cocodrie!
After worrying about the impact of the flooding on my travel plans to southern Louisiana, I finally arrived in Cocodrie, LA this week. After stopping for the weekend for a childhood friend’s wedding in Lou-vul, Kentucky, I conferred with Heidi on the phone. She informed me that there was no flooding currently in Chauvin or surrounding areas, and possibly the flooding would not impact the area as originally thought, although the cresting is still not expected for another few days. So although I was quite tired from wedding festivities, I managed to make the drive down through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi (adding two new states on the way!), and finally crossed the Louisiana border.
I stopped at the Louisiana information center and was immediately welcomed by the elderly women at the counter who gave me lots of helpful information. Included was the advice that if I were to venture onto the touristy Bourbon Street, I should NOT expect what happens on Bourbon Street to “stay on Bourbon street”, as many people have expected over the years. This is due to the prevalence of people now posting their debauchery on Facebook for all the world to see. I think she felt the need to really emphasize this point since she repeated it about 4 times.
Next I crossed over Lake Pontchartrain, which is the second largest inland salt water body of water in the U.S., second only to the Great Salt Lake. This is when I really felt that I had arrived in Louisiana, as the lake borders the northwest of New Orleans. I drove through the city and then headed south into the Bayou. As I also found out, our place of residence for the summer, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, is actually located in Cocodrie, about 20 minutes south of Chauvin. Or, as my GPS displayed as I drove down through the towns of Houma and Chauvin, the large blue area down south without much land. I could imagine my GPS asking me, where do you think you are going, there is nothing down there!
As you drive down through the Bayou, you see lots of houses up on stilts of varying heights (although many house are not on stilts). Gradually you become accustomed to these new other-worldly type of neighborhoods, and it starts to seem normal that everything is perched up really high. In fact, you start wondering why ALL the houses aren’t up on stilts to protect them from the flooding. Partly we learned that its very expensive to raise your house (usually starting around $30,000). Also, after the levee system was put in place by the Army Corps of Engineers, many people gained a false sense of security that flooding would no longer be a problem in the area. As I gradually learned this week, the Bayou is a complex world full of wonderful natural areas, sights and experiences, yet precarious in that it can cause heartbreak to its residents at any time.
This summer we will be working with Bayou Grace Community Services, and Diane Huhn, the Environmental Outreach Volunteer Coordinator for the organization. Already I can tell that Diane will be a great resource for us to learn about the area (and I’m also sure when I get some of my facts wrong she can correct me!). One thing Diane noted for us is that for many of the people that live down in the Bayou, this is their way of life, and they can’t imagine living anywhere else or ever leaving their home. For that matter, there is really no where else in the country (besides possibly the Chesapeake Bay, which has its own environmental problems) where someone from the Bayou can have the same lifestyle or the same type of employment as here in the Bayou.