Lousiana - Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge

by Kimp 1. April 2013 02:55

Photo Blog

This year for Spring Break. Sam and I headed deep into Cajun country. We stopped at all of the cities and several small towns in the lower 3/4 of Louisiana.

Mississippi Delta:
It's thought that the Mississippi river was created at the end of the ice age. As the glaciers in the Northern part of the United States started melting.  The run off was slow, creating a slow moving, winding river that carried lots of sediment within it.  Even today, it's still eroding soil away and is always a shade of brown from all the sediment that's being carried down river. The sediment, which comes from fertile farm land, is nutrient rich and gets deposited at the end, where the river dumps into the gulf of Mexico.

This created the Mississippi river delta, which consists of nearly all of southeastern Louisiana. Much of Louisiana is at or below sea level. The highest land is only around 18 ft (6m) above sea level. As delta's are created, there comes a time when the land that is being created builds up enough that it diverts the flow of the river. Sometimes way upstream, the river finds a new path of least resistance to follow. The result of all of this, are the formations of swamps and marshes. A swamp is land that has enough stability and nutrition to support trees. A marsh, is an open non-wooded area, with lots of vegetation, that attracts many birds. Louisiana is a stopping or resting place for about 40% of North America's migrating birds and it contains about 60% of the worlds species of fish.

Lots of fish and lots of birds, makes living off of the land possible, and that's why Cajun's often stayed near home and lived in the swamps. They were a self sufficient society that didn't need any outside help to survive. There's always lots of good healthy eating in Cajun land.

At one time, Louisiana had many Cyprus swamp forests. Cyprus has two qualities that most wood does not have. It's highly rot and highly insect resistant. Cyprus groves still exist, but the large Cyprus trees have been over harvested. There are still some that sunk to the bottom of the Bayou during transport. When one of those is found, Cajun's will work very hard to try to free it. Large Cyprus logs are worth a lot of money and being under water for 100 years doesn't effect them at all.

My history:
I spent 4 years in the Navy with a young Cajun working for me. I'll never forget the first time I meet him. I asked him where he was from and he said in a slow drawl, "I'm from the land of tall trees and green grass, where all of the folks just call me Bad Ass!!!".  I said, "Dude you just earned your nickname, cause you are about as far away from a Bad Ass as anything I've ever seen.". That last year he worked for me, I got him started working with software. Ten years later, he tracked me down, just to say how grateful he was that I had started him down that path. All I had really done was show him a few things and told him I knew he had what it took to do it.

Cajun Jimmy:

Sam and I hung out with Cajun Jimmy for a day. Cajun Jimmy spent 4 years in the Navy, during the Vietnam war. I didn't ask him, but I assumed, since he was from Louisiana, that he was probably part of the brown-water navy, on a gunboat patrolling the rivers.

I've know a few Cajun's in my day, and for some reason, I thought all of the Cajun's who stayed in Louisiana, were people who lived in the swamp off of the land. We got to Cajun Jimmy's and I was surprised to discover that he lived in a beautiful house in a sub division. Turns out, that's fairly common in this day and age.

It's a type of man-made disaster. All of the levy building and flood control systems destroy the wet lands and its natural defenses from seawater intrusion. Saltwater destroys living plants and tree's, just like it does people who are stranded in the ocean. With more stable land available, the Cajun's end up building on the land instead of staying in the swamp. Then they need more flood control to protect all of the development and the cycle repeats itself.

Jimmy said that he grew up living in the swamp, but he didn't know he was very poor until he left Louisiana.  Growing up,  everyone he knew was just like him, and they all lived pretty much the same life. When someone needed something done, they all pulled together, pitched in, and helped each other.

Interestingly, Jimmy's wife wasn't a Cajun. She was from California, of all places. I asked Jimmy how that happened. He said that after he got out of the Navy, he moved to California to go to school on the GI Bill. Then he continues to quietly say, "I made a big mistake and stayed in one place for too long and got married!!!". Jimmy has a degree in software engineering and now he spends his time outside enjoying his modified Cajun lifestyle during the week and works on software mostly on the weekend. Sign-me up Jimmy, I know how to swab a deck and I can create software too.

A bayou is a natural waterway that's about 5 foot deep and where the bank is only about 1 foot higher then the water. The water is usually slow moving. The whole scene has the same aesthetic quality as a Venice canal. They are usually a shade of brown (nutrient rich). Some are very dark and are called bayou black. Some are very clear and are called bayou blue. The song blue bayou should have been named bayou blue. All bayou's start with the word bayou first, then the specific name. Like bayou Teche. It would never be called blue bayou. That lyricist has obviously never been to Louisiana.

It was a beautiful, sunny spring day and there were lots of Gators out sunning themselves. Cajun Jimmy said that gators are not aggressive to humans, so there's nothing to worry about. I believe him, but at the same time, I saw a lot of baby gators out sunning, and I have a feeling, if I got close to one of them, mama gator was going to dig deep and find some serious aggression. 

Cajun's kids:
My fear, didn't seem to stop or even slow down any of the Cajun teenage boys who were knee boarding in the alligator infested waters. As a general rule, Cajun kid's are healthy, are hard workers, are self reliant and are very respectful to elders. 


We saw quite a few neat birds while we were out. The most interesting for me were the Bald Headed Eagles. Bald Headed Eagles migrate here in January to mate. Actually, since Eagles mate for life, they bring their mate with them. The eggs hatch in March and in May they head back up North, to as far away as the Arctic circle. Eagles always use the same nest every year, so this is like their winter home.

Inland Waterway Billboard:
There is only one ugly thing in the wetlands. A very thoughtful lawyer bought some land near one of the major inland waterways. An inland waterway is a natural waterway that is wide and deep enough to support navigation by large ships and barge traffic. The land he bought was not zoned, so he put up a huge billboard advertising his specialty. Oil worker compensation claims.
Sense of urgency:
We were only supposed to be gone for about 2 hours. Four and half hours later we finally get back and Cajun Jimmy's wife looked a little disappointed. I could see it in her eyes from about 1/4 of a mile (400 m) away. I asked Jimmy what that might be about. He says, "Oh, I'm not sure? I was probably supposed to be somewhere or do something today. My wife is always telling me that I don't have any sense of urgency. But it's not that I don't have a sense of urgency, I just haven't owned a watch in over 20 years."
As we were departing, Cajun Jimmy's last words to me were:  "You sure take a variety of pictures.". That could have been a complement, like saying that I have a variety of interests. More likely it was a jab in the ribs, like saying I sure don't have a clue about anything. Not sure of which, I just politely smiled.



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