I have heard several people compare southern Louisiana culture and heritage to a pot of gumbo.

The more I get to know this area, its culture and dynamic environment the more this statement holds true.

To help put this gumbo metaphor into perspective, I came across this video of a Cajun chef, Justin Wilson, making gumbo.

Apparently, the roux is the first and most important step to making a gumbo (and other Cajun or Creole dishes).  The roux is like a gravy or a mixture of oil or grease with flour.  It seems as though gumbo recipes are very personal and unique, but they are all built on a similar foundation–start with the roux and toss whatever you wish into the mix.

I am learning that, like a pot of gumbo, there is also a complex mixture of skills and tasks necessary to protect and restore Louisiana’s coast.  For example, here are some newly acquired skills I can add to my resume just after 2 weeks of work with Bayou Grace:

  • Lifting heavy objects and carrying them in sand.  Phew.
  • Applying sunscreen evenly.  (If you could see the backs of my legs…)
  • Serving and eating beignets.  (Yum.  This was easy.)
  • Not being bashful, pulling up a chair and listening to someone’s story about growing up on the bayou.
  • Hoola hooping with a 5 year old girl at the Chauvin Recreation Center.
  • Climbing ladders.
  • Using a hammer and nail.  Easier said than done.  (My thumbs are still intact.)
  • Shade House
    Shade House
  • Installing a shade house irrigation system.
  • How to avoid sinking in marsh soil while planting Cordgrass. (<–Great video made by our Duke Engage group down here!)
  • Discussing with your friend whether the organic soil you are sinking in is fibric, hemic, or sapric. (Professor Richardson would be proud!)
  • How to ask a good question.

Each day I am seeing first-hand that environmental management really is a multidisciplinary field.  It is much more than science and policy.  It requires a lot of (wo)manpower and sometimes getting a little dirty.  However, it’s also sitting down, starting a conversation and understanding the communities that depend upon and support a healthy ecosystem.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I see the “roux” of protecting and restoring Louisiana’s coast as identifying and connecting with the communities that depend upon and support it.  That isn’t an easy task since there are so many people that depend upon the health of Louisiana’s coast.  If you drive a car, shop, eat, or depend on the U.S. National Treasury you most likely depend on Louisiana’s coast in some way.

Charlotte Clark hit it right on the dot the other day when she said something like, “It isn’t a ‘they’, it is a ‘we’!”  ‘We’ may be the root of the problem, but ‘We’ are also the solution.

One thought on “Gumboisiana

  1. Thanks for this well-written piece, Heidi- makes me want to visit Louisiana even more. I really enjoy the diverse skills-set you are using for environmental management in the region. Please keep writing!

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