"Maison Chauvin," the weekend home of my sister Dede Lusk from Baton Rouge, is on the west bank of Bayou Petit Caillou, about 10 miles southeast of Houma. The bayou is a navigable waterway that extends about 35 miles, generally north-south, between Bayou Terrebonne and Lake Pelto area. I was thrilled to be invited to lower Terrebonne Parish for a couple of days in order to visit with her and search for uplifting vistas for future paintings. Dede is a professional photographer, so I knew she could take us to some scenic sites.
Early the next morning, just as the sun was coming up, we took off in her boat and cruised down the bayou toward Boudreaux Canal. We then turned into the canal and headed west. Boat traffic included early morning fishermen, and crabbers. Meanwhile, we passed shrimpers who were just coming in after trawling either all night or maybe several nights. Next, we went through the flood control locks, which are closed whenever a hurricane approaches, and headed to Lake Boudreaux.
By the time we pulled into the lake, the sun was up, and we were treated to a dazzling play of light on the marsh grass lining its edge. The Lower Boudreaux Basin is now a deteriorating former fresh-water marsh. This area, now almost all water with only a few scattered small clumps of marsh grass, was once verdant pastureland. In recent decades Lake Boudreaux's shore has experienced high rates of erosion due in part to wind driven waves. The former rim has washed away, and the interior marsh vegetation is now exposed to further damage from wave action, especially that of hurricane storm surges.
Fortunately, a comprehensive shoreline protection and marsh building project is currently being considered by the U.S. Congress that should mitigate such inevitable wetland losses if it were approved. That plan, at this point in time, envisions, among other things, many rock and earthen dikes that will be constructed along the basin's western shoreline. Additionally, the new marsh will be created with hydraulically dredged material.
We photographed potentially paint worthy scenes for a while, and then we set off across the lake toward a low-lying ridge where hundreds of seasonally visiting American White Pelicans were swimming in formation and fishing for breakfast. Dede cut the motor, and we drifted quietly toward them as she got some great photos with her powerful camera lens. Finally, we got too close and off the pelicans flew. We stayed there a while and enjoyed the serene scenery while having our own breakfast of cereal topped with yogurt.
Being in Lake Boudreaux made me recall fond memories of many "Boudreaux and Thibodaux jokes that I had heard over the years. Here is a favorite: Once, Boudreaux and Thibodaux were at home "down the bayou" in the Hubba Hubba Bar and began to celebrate. The bartender asked Boudreaux, "What ya'll celebrating?" Boudreaux said "Hey, cher, me and Thibodaux here put dat puzzle together, and it only took two years!" The bartender said, "Wal' don' you tink dats a long time jus' to put a puzzle together?" Boudreaux, he say, "No, dats pretty good, cher. De puzzle box say 6-11 years."
Nourished, we finally crossed the glass smooth lake and turned into Bayou Chauvin, a dark brown stream lined with trees growing on the narrow ridge at its edge. Wildlife was also plentiful here. Large numbers of kingfishers, snowy egret, white and blue herons and red winged blackbirds were busy gathering their morning feed. We passed fishermen in boats who had been out checking their crab traps. These men wore bright red gloves, the images of which reflected beautifully in the still water surface. Several nearby alligators that were lazing around suddenly became curious and swam over to check us out. When too many got too close to us for comfort, we moved on to explore a smaller side canal that turned out to also be full of those intimidating reptiles. Meanwhile, we were searching for photographic views with one eye while watching the gathering alligators with the other when suddenly the boat's engine coughed and quit - we were out of gas!
I paddled quickly to try to keep at least a little distance between us and them, while Dede transferred gas from a reserve tank. Luckily, soon the engine sparked to life, and we were happily on our way - with the alligators left behind. We then laughed and congratulated ourselves over how proud our late father, Buck Jones, would have been of how self-reliant his two "city" girls had become!
With the gas tank topped, we moved on to explore several nearby "swamp cemeteries." I perceived them to be great stands of "silent pickets" - dead cypress trees killed by hurricane storm surge wave salt-water intrusion into a fresh-water ecosystem. Sadly, similar "cemeteries" are found all over this area, and they are timely reminders of the urgency of saving the wetlands.
After lunch and taking oodles of pictures, we headed back to dry land where we met with three delightful bayou artists about whom I'll tell you next week.