Early Springtime in a Freshwater Swamp
March 16, 2004
Rhea's Journal 9

We are living in a high-tech era that often makes it difficult for us to keep in touch with nature's wonders. But when spring arrives, it's time to put aside the computers and spreadsheets and answer the "call of the wild." So in mid-March I pulled my son, David, and his wife, Candace, away from their busy desk jobs to pursue a spring nature experience. We left Baton Rouge shortly after sunrise and embarked (towing a boat) to explore another part of Louisiana's freshwater swamp in northwestern Terrebonne Parish.

As we pulled into the parking lot of Bob's Bayou Black Marina and saw numerous vehicles, it was obvious that this was a popular hub of outdoor activity. It is located in the Oak Forest settlement on U.S. Highway 90, roughly midway between Morgan City and Houma. When I entered the marina to pay the five-dollar launching fee, I noticed our Marsh Mission business card had already been tacked to the bulletin board by my project partner, C.C. Lockwood.

From the boat launch we cruised down an unnamed barge canal that led us southward into the Intracoastal Waterway, which extends 1,300 miles from Brownsville, Texas, to Carabelle, Florida, (near Tallahassee). Across coastal Louisiana its configuration alternates between man made canal stretches and natural waterways and lakes. Once on the Intracoastal, we headed southeast about a mile to its segment known as Cocodrie Lake. Meanwhile, I discovered that there are several water bodies in Louisiana with the same name. Be that as it may, the Intracoastal was busy with traffic, including barges, cranes, fishing boats, and other commercial craft of all sizes.

The first thing I noticed on the lake shore was how different the trees and other vegetation looked compared to what I had seen in the vicinity only two weeks before. Back then the only color of consequence in these wetlands was scarlet from the red swamp maple winged seeds. On the other hand, this week the deciduous trees, notably cypress, have budded out in shimmering shades of green. Next, the alligators caught my attention. They were out swimming and sunning
themselves seemingly everywhere we went. Candace, who had never seen an alligator, was fascinated by the reptiles and really good at spotting them even at a distance. On one of the occasional stops we made for David to wet a fishing line, a curious alligator swam right up to our boat to scrutinize us. Candace tried in vain to feed it some of our lunch, but we later learned from C.C. that it was still too cold for them to eat. Since gators can survive without food for up to a year, waiting a few more days for the water to become adequately warm for feeding was no big deal for the reptile.

This area is a birder's paradise. We saw numerous bald eagles soaring over us and unsuccessfully tried to find their nests because we didn't go quite far enough on the canal where they were probably located. We did, nevertheless, see a huge sturdy osprey nest on the edge of nearby Bay Wallace.

We subsequently reconnoitered the bayous and canals that locally fed into the Intracoastal. It was a treat to leave the busy Intracoastal and duck into a quiet natural bayou. Each of them seemed to have a personality of its own. One was so quiet and different that the three of us thought it had the feel of another world. However, we were often reminded of reality by the many canals with signs that read DANGER KEEP OUT .

As we started back toward the marina, David suddenly slowed our craft down and said, "Did you all see that?" We all gasped at the sight of what appeared to be the largest alligator we had ever seen. After what we had seen did not budge for a protracted period of time, we prematurely concluded that what we were looking at was an artificial gator, put there perhaps by a swamp tour company to amuse sightseers. Just as we started to laugh about how silly we were to have believed that thing we saw was alive, it drifted toward the boat, slapped its huge tail on the water surface, and then swam away. It was at least 12 feet long and very animated, indeed. I was glad that one was not eating yet; but we didn't take any chances and got out of there quickly.