My sister, Dede Lusk, and I decided to explore the community of Pointe aux Chênes (about 12 miles southeast of Houma). If you look for its name on maps, you can find two spellings, each depending on the government agency that created the chart. Those drafted by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and Public Works departments dub it "Pointe au Chien" (point of the dog), while those of the Department of Transportation and Development insist that it is "Pointe aux Chênes" (point of the oaks). There is quite a controversy over which is correct. The old timers with whom I conversed contend that the real name is Point aux Chênes.
When I worked for LSU in the cooperative extension service in the 1960s, I visited schools up and down all the bayous in Terrebonne Parish, and that of Pointe aux Chênes was my favorite. The cooks always had fresh beignets and hot coffee waiting when we arrived. However, my husband, Leon Gary, had a totally different feeling about the place. Having been reared in Houma, to him Pointe aux Chênes was perceived to be as far as one could go "out in the boondocks." So if he was misbehaving, his mother would say, "If you don't straighten up, I'll send you to Pointe aux Chênes!" So I took him there in the boat and showed him what a really nice place it is.
On a beautiful sunny day with very little wind, water was omnipresent and lapping into the parking lot of the local marina and even right up to the side of the road. It was easy for us to empathize with poet Samuel Taylor Colridge's Ancient Mariner, as per the two quotes that began with, "Water, water, everywhere . . ."
Before excessive saltwater intrusion in recent years, this area was covered with large oaks.
Now amongst the numerous tree skeletons are only a few living trees. The nearby Pointe au Chien Wildlife Management Area consists of 35,000 acres of wetlands on the border of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. It contains a wide variety of plant and animal life, and there are sites of slightly brackish marshes being negatively impacted by saltwater intrusion. The area was purchased by the State in 1968. In the early decades of the 1900s it was heavily logged for cypress, and many of the surviving isolated trees are dying from exposure to salt water.
While we were in "Barry=s Pointe au Chêne Marina," I began talking to Fran Hammonds about our project and about the planned book on the vanishing wetlands. After giving me a curious look, she replied, "Honey, the wetlands are not vanishing; it's the dry lands that are vanishing." Fran had left Pointe aux Chênes for 10 years. Upon her return she didn't recognize the landscape. All of the natural terrestrial landmarks of consequence were gone. Fran said she used to walk to a nearby beautiful oak forest that had completely disappeared.
After leaving the marina, we headed off to find Dovie Naquin, a 90-year-old resident, who has lived there all his life. The community had no schools when he was growing up, and there were no roads on which to get to a school. So Dovie doesn't read or write, but he must be the best storyteller around. He learned to speak English while working as a guide for fishermen and hunters from New Orleans. Related to us by him was that in 1936 all the water there was fresh water. They could crawfish, and cows were raised on local land that is now under salt water. There were many cypress, oaks, and willows in the area when he was young; now they are very few and far between.
Dovie's house, like many others close by, is raised hopefully to keep rising water out. He told us about a friend's dwelling that was picked up by a high wave and set down in the middle of the road!
He and two of his sons are alligator hunters. Even at ninety years of age, he still gets his limit every year. The reptiles are taken to a dock in front of his house, where buyers come to pick them up. Dovie told us that today alligators are smaller than they were several years ago. The largest he ensnares now are around 900 feet long, while in the not-so-distant past they were up to 12 feet in length. This year he was paid $1200 a foot. Many years ago the price was much higher. One year he remembers being paid $60 dollars a foot. I no longer wonder why an alligator purse was so expensive back then.
Dovie has seven children, and all still live within one mile of his abode. When they get together for a family reunion, there are over 200 celebrators! At the end of our visit he sang a song he made up about a Cajun man, while playing a harmonica. We left happy to have spent such memorable time with this convivial Louisiana legend.