A Week of Excitement

September 25, 2004
Rhea's Journal 19

Never let it be said that things are slow around coastal Louisiana. This week is a perfect example. Our Marsh Mission segment, filmed earlier this year, was aired on CBS News Sunday Morning. It was not only a beautiful show, but amazingly, our story was completely and succinctly told to America and many foreign countries thanks to the considerable talent of our producer, Pamela McDonough, and her CBS team. At first, we were just happy that the oft-delayed segment finally aired. Friends, family, and people we hadn't met yet all called to say how much they enjoyed watching it and to tell us how much they wanted to help in any way they could. But, as time passed, we discovered that they were not the only ones who enjoyed the show. In the first week following the program we had nearly 20,000 visits to our Marsh Mission website from people all over the United States, Canada, and, would you believe, Australia! Since the purpose of our Marsh Mission project is to bring public awareness to the problem of our vanishing wetlands, you can't imagine how pleased we are to know that the CBS crew's well-told story reached so far and wide.

Before the emails finally slowed down, we were thrown into the apparent need to prepare for Hurricane Ivan. Its uncertain track (a couple of days before landfall in mid-September, 2004) threatened southeastern Louisiana, along with the rest of the Gulf Coast to the east as far as Apalachicola, Florida. Several million people who boarded up homes and packed cars, children, and pets languished in bumper-to-bumper traffic, while all were trying to reach the safety of higher ground. Many were thinking that this just might be the one that would, at last, submerge New Orleans. Knowing how much extraordinary havoc a Category 4 or 5 storm might wreak, the concerned evacuees acted accordingly. Gratefully, eventually we were spared a direct hit since Ivan made landfall on the Alabama coast. There was yet significant flooding and damage to the far eastern marshes and estuaries of coastal Louisiana where the full extent of negative effects has yet to be assessed.

I am sure that after all the damage information is in, it will be discovered that we have lost even more of our precious marshes, and the saltwater storm surges that invaded our inland have killed more invaluable swamp trees. If America doesn't begin more major wetland restoration/protection projects soon, there won't be much left to try to save.

Speaking of dead swamp trees, ordinarily "a big issue" has not been made of the particular painting that was associated with my past journal articles. Be that as it may, "Ivan the Terrible" and the very highly complementary associated painting, "Silent Pickets," are both very special.

Some readers will recognize the painting as a stylized portrayal of the haunting, dead cypress trees near Bayou du Large and west of Dulac, in lower Terrebonne Parish. They died as a result of saltwater intrusion due to storm surges associated with Hurricane Betsy in early September, 1965. The depicted hulks of angry, red "silent pickets" seem to "scream" to America, "How could you have allowed this to happen to us!" They all "empathize" with the freshwater swamp trees that recently have been killed by Hurricane Ivan's saltwater intrusions into unprotected southeastern Louisiana.

I would be greatly remiss if I failed to remark that my seeing firsthand toward the mid-1980s the poignant views of those dead cypress trees near Bayou du Large and the rapidly deteriorating marsh south of the Leeville Bridge on Louisiana Highway 1 a little north of Grand Isle galvanized my resolve to do what I could to help save Louisiana's wetlands.

After a lapse of almost 20 years, the idea of creating a coffee table art book by combining my wetland painting talent and the extraordinary photographic ability of naturalist C.C. Lockwood to make a persuasive case for national concern for wetland preservation crystallized. Within a very few months The Marsh Mission Project plan was formulated and funded. You know the rest of the story. If I had never seen those heartbreaking dead cypress trees west of Dulac, quite likely there would have been no Marsh Mission, and you would not be reading this journal article!