A Walk Outside Natchitoches Louisiana
Arrival in Shreveport
Louisiana is a state full of secrets. Lying behind the thick underbrush, covered with newly fallen pecans, are the swamps. Swamps that slowly move through the dark moss, Hanging Willow, and Mimosa Trees. Swamps that house the American Egret, the Snowy Egret, the muskrat, the badger, and the alligator.
I arrived in Shreveport in the middle of May. I had visited some friends of mine who lived in Natchitoches. John had just graduated from Northwestern University, located in Natchitoches, with a premedical degree.
Of more importance to me though was that his wife was pregnant and I wanted to be there to wish them luck and give a gift of friendship.
After two days of listening to John explain the rich tapestry of culture and tradition that still has a strong presence in Nacitoches, we journeyed into the southern woods located across the street from John's trailer, a small tract of land that Northwestern University had set aside for their Ecology program.
We began our travels at the trailhead, John's dog Bijou, led the way with a wag of her tail, her muzzle on the ground immersed in scents only dogs can smell.
On Our Walk
When John was not yelling at Bijou to stay out of the mud, he would tell me the lifestories of insects found under decomposing trees.
Of the large Black Beetles that would feed on decomposing matter, spending half their lives in a continual search for food.
During the stories my mind drifted off into the town of Nathcitoches that still held it's humble history from the cobblestone streets of Main, to the richly decorative Catholic cathedrals that bore the original stones that dated back to the 1800's.
This town had a history not disturbed by the distribution and marketing of chain food stores or strip malls. It held to the old with a stubbornness only known in the South.
John told me he had found a place to raise his child. A stable place to plant seeds and reflect on parenthood.
He stated that the locals had won his heart with their battle against the fire of change that scalds most of small America.
We walked farther into the woods. John begun to tell me stories of the trips he had taken into the rain forests of South America to examine the ruins of the Olmec and Mayan.
He stopped his story to point out a cocoon that hung calmly in front of our path. He held the cocoon delicately between his thumb and forefinger. Biologists, John explained, can give the composition of the cocoon and the paths taken by the caterpillar to build their new homes until their transformations to moth or butterfly occur. Science still has no answers to the reasons behind the nature of the transformation.
Most of small town America go through similar transformations. A sudden influx of population thrusts most small towns into a cocoon of internal construction and growth only to emerge as a new creature.
A new establishment no longer recognizable by the residents who only had one choice, that of silent observer.
Nathcitoches had different reasons to form a cocoon. This town's cocoon was protection against the external. It was a form of survival. The occupants of the town realized that when the day came to emerge from their cocoon, they would still be able to identify with who they were and where they belonged.
They would transform into a butterfly hidden in the swamps and safe from the net of progress.
A Walk Along the Levee
Earlier, Betty, John's wife, and I, walked along the old levees that kept the water from flooding the town. Underneath the levees, where the excess rainwater pumped from the lake had taken the form of a small river, a family fished for catfish.
They fished not far from where Tony and I saw an aligator in the river and had spotted a badger den.
Only a few miles north of the levees John and I crawled over a fence and had picked a fresh batch of wild blackberries. John told me that if caught we should drop our load of fresh berries. The owners of the land would more willing to lay down their shotguns if we leave them the gift of our labor.
It was their land, a land that provided food for locals. In this part of the swamp, many still create Cajun delicacies from the animals they hunt. Most restaurants in Natchitoches use the fresh caught shrimp from the bayou outside Houma, in the delta waters.
The culture still offers a multitude of dialects that maintain a sense of a cultural thread that ties the community together. The culture of Natchitoches and all of Louisiana seem to be an oasis not willing to change. A culture not willing to give up i'ts swampland, it's language, or it's secrets hiding underneath each decaying log.