Avery Island

Sunday, May 2, 2004
CC's Journal 16

E.A. McIlhenny, author of Alligator's Life History, President of the Tabasco Company, and creator of Avery Island's "Jungle Gardens," was a multitalented man. I was fascinated by his works when I was doing research for my own alligator book. I spent a day at the LSU Hill Memorial Library reading carbon copies of his letters about alligators and ducks. While recently visiting Avery Island I spoke with Grey Osborne, a grandson and Island historian, and Paul McIlhenny, current CEO of the Tabasco Company, and heard firsthand about this man who did so much to enhance the natural settings of Louisiana.

Grey told me about seeing his granddad early in the morning writing on pads numerous letters for his secretary to type. I quizzed both men as we gazed out of Ginja and Matt Mosley's "mountaintop" home, an overlook perched at least 100 feet above ancient live oaks toward Bayou Petite Anse, beyond which were miles of marsh. It was raining hard when Matt drove us up the hill for dinner at his home, which had a perfect vantage point for sunset viewing. At 7:15 pm, however, the rain stopped, a crack in the clouds appeared, and there it was . . . . a fantastic sunset. It was the best sunset view from a home that I have ever seen.

The next day the McIlhenny clan arranged two boat trips for the Marshmission crew. While I crave exploring, I also love seeing someone else's favorite places. First we took off with Raleigh Rogers in a souped up airboat that could accommodate four passengers. Most such crafts that I have been on had room for only one or two. After gliding over the grass in front of the Mosley house, into the marsh we went. Rhea and I were particularly interested in Avery Island's marsh restoration projects. Raleigh and his crew have been planting smooth cord grass since about 1992, at first with the help of the State and now on their own. They grow their own seedlings of this marsh plant on the island and replant the edges of the bayous and canals leading to it. I could see that their endeavor was a success.

On our exciting ride I noticed marsh plants of many types; this indicated a very healthy marsh. It all goes to show that if a landowner makes an effort, he can improve his marsh despite the problems of coastal erosion.

Later George Luquette took us in a restored oyster lugger to the northern edge of Vermilion Bay. Chug chugging along, we saw more of the restorative plantings and the golden glow of the maidencane amongst the fresh greenery of more succulent marsh plants.

Back at the Island Sue and I walked at sunset through the 1,200-acre "Jungle Gardens," with moss festooned oak trees, giant bamboo canes, and camellia shrubs. We heard the songs of migrant warblers and saw flocks of egrets as they returned to their nests at "Bird City," another project of E.A. McIlhenny. Initially he caged some snowy egrets to get them used to a nearby pond on Avery Island. Today not only snowy egrets but also many other species of colonial birds use this rookery. If we try, we can save the coast.