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Time Flies June 28, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Big Fun on the Bayou, Fishing, Friends, Louisiana Wildlife, Ramblings, Relief Work.
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3 comments

So I can see from the date of my last post that I have been a bad blogger once again. It’s been a fun-filled week of new friends, volunteers (who are now new friends), relief work, paper work, good food, too much sun, gator spotting, eagle spotting, and fishing. And oh boy, did we fish!

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And fished some more…

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and a little more for good measure.

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Oh yeah, and a little more fishing just to be sure.

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And since a limit a day keeps the psychiatrist away…

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And although it looks like I spent every waking moment fishing, I actually did engage in a few other activities. Like chasing what I thought was an eagle around the rec center for 2 hours in the 104 degree heat trying to get a good pic, but not being too successful…no matter since it wasn’t a real eagle…DSC_4437

and trying to get a good picture of a gator at night…

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and trying to keep a safe distance, but still get a good pic of some honey bees…

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and trying to get just a little better close up…

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and carting around tools and supplies for a great bunch of guys from Tennessee (the Volunteer State I might add)…

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and becoming the incredibly proud owner of a GJ original (although I was so excited I forgot to turn it the right way for the camera).

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And now it’s time to pack a bag for a few adventures of the Michigan variety and get a little bit of this action going on.

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Renewing Our Commitment to the Gulf Coast Region: How Coastal Erosion Contributes to Poverty June 22, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Coastal Restoration, Hurricanes, Relief Work.
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2 comments

Here is an article that I co-wrote with Courtney Howell, Executive Director of Bayou Grace Community Services, for the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity campaign.

Time For a New Federal Approach

Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, national attention on the region has dwindled even though poverty resulting from the storm’s effects persists. In partnership with the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, an initiative of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity will present a series of commentaries on the need to renew our national focus on the region’s recovery, with a focus on low-income and vulnerable communities.

The communities of Coastal Louisiana, once exceedingly rich in resources and culture, now lie on the verge of collapse. A unique and remarkable environment that took thousands of years to create thanks to the abundant sediment and fresh water of the mighty Mississippi River has been nearly decimated in less than a century. Unfortunately, this natural disaster will also exacerbate poverty in a region already deeply afflicted by economic loss. Without action now to help address coastal erosion, an environmental problem will become a socioeconomic one.

Historically, healthy barrier islands and vast systems of marsh and wetlands helped block coastal communities from the intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms. They served as natural first and second lines of defense—slowing wind speeds and absorbing storm surge. Under healthy conditions, wetlands act as a colossal sponge, absorbing roughly one foot of storm surge for every 2.7 miles of healthy marsh. In addition to placing themselves between these protecting forces and the sea, early settlers built their communities in areas that provided a third line of defense—ridges, which served as natural levees.

But over the last 75-80 years, human intervention has so weakened these natural defenses – especially in the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary which lays east of the Atchafalaya and west of the Mississippi Rivers – that families are now forced to rely almost solely on manmade levees for their protection. What was once the last line of defense is now quickly becoming the only line of defense. Even worse, far too many residents, particularly low-income Louisianans, live outside of levee systems, where there is almost no protection left at all.

Unnatural land loss and erosion have not only assaulted the physical landscape in which coastal Louisianans live, it has battered the financial landscape as well. The expense of repairing or rebuilding their homes and replacing their belongings has put a huge financial strain on so many, but a storm no longer needs to make landfall to put a burden on families’ pocketbooks. Due to the unnatural loss of natural protections, many communities can no longer offer shelter facilities close to home due to safety concerns. Families must often make difficult decisions about when and where to evacuate in order to ensure that they don’t become trapped with no way out.

In addition, living along coastal Louisiana requires that many residents elevate their homes – in excess of ten feet in some areas – a venture that can cost between $30,000-100,000. Insurance rarely covers the total cost after a storm, and even residents still able to afford insurance face higher deductibles with each passing storm. Home owners and flood insurance has quickly become unattainable for many residents, with policies that now cost between $5,000-8,000 a year, or more.

These costs only exacerbate financial insecurity in a region that has endured an economic downturn for some time now. Many people who traditionally have made their living along the coast as fishermen or workers in the oil field could at one time claim moderate incomes, but that is no longer the case. Even without the costly effects of hurricanes and other storms, a large percentage of people along the Louisiana coast are worse off than the previous generation. Many are just getting by, and like many Americans, are one pay check away from financial collapse. According to a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 2007 shrimp marketing survey, the average dockside price paid for shrimp in Louisiana has dropped from approximately $1.85 per pound in 1995 to approximately $0.98 per pound in 2006.

Despite these hardships, another costly environmental threat is on the horizon. Currently, there is just enough marsh left to provide food and nursery beds for shrimp, crab and other fisheries. However, if land loss is allowed to continue, the fishing industry is headed for collapse. And it is likely that it will not happen gradually. The collapse of the ecosystem will add stress to families already under great strain and who live in the most vulnerable areas.

Coastal Louisiana is at a critical juncture and in desperate need of comprehensive restoration and protection. This problem has been well documented for decades by both state and federal agencies. However, action and full commitment to restore and protect this area has moved slowly and the money needed to holistically implement restoration and protection projects that can reverse the tide have been minimal in light of what is required.

Some positive actions have occurred since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast was approved in 2006 and is administrated through the newly created Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). Federal funds from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) of 1990, Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), oil and gas revenue sharing or state surplus funding that are dedicated to coastal restoration and protection are available through a competitive process under the CPRA.

Yet the CPRA is underfunded and in need of greater federal commitment. Funding available one year may be gone the next. In addition, because this is a competitive process due to resource constraints, coastal restoration and protection projects are often not well coordinated.

One of the biggest untapped opportunities would be for Congress to redirect the Army Corps of Engineers to help steward land management in the region.

The first thing Congress must do is guide the Corps to perform coastal restoration work in the name of hurricane protection. When policymakers determine the Corps’ budget for Louisiana, they tend to focus on the immediate primary Corps operations, which include: navigation, flood control and restoration.

While all the pieces are there, policymakers frequently overlook the interconnectedness of these goals. The truth, however, is that island enhancement and marsh restoration will reduce storm surge and storm intensity, thereby limiting the cost of flooding and devastation.

If policymakers took a more holistic approach to restoration, they would recognize that protecting the coast would reduce the constant need for federal dollars to rebuild communities. Redirecting the Army Corps of Engineers to undertake restoration work as a means of protecting coastal Louisiana would accomplish this.

The second thing Congress can do is allow the Corps to use the sediment that they dredge annually from the Mississippi River and its tributaries to be used in a beneficial way. Currently, the Corps dredges the Mississippi to maintain river depths for navigation. The Corps is directed to dispose of the sediment they dredge in the most cost-beneficial manner. Unfortunately, this usually means not returning the material to the Louisiana estuary. Instead, the Corps dumps the sediment off of the continental shelf.

If Congress were to redirect the Corps to put sediment into the estuary, it would be an easy, effective way to build marsh and land. New technology will help ensure dredged sediment can be used to stabilize the environment and help to rebuild the environment so that it can once again protect the area.

Finally, all related agencies – the CPRA, the Corps and other state and federal groups – need to work with nongovernmental organizations to educate the public not only on the effects of coastal land loss and erosion, but also why rebuilding the coast will help sustain the environment and protect people from future storms. If the public at large is not a part of the overall process of restoration and protection, no governmental efforts will succeed.

If coastal Louisiana is going to survive, then the multiple lines of defense – barrier island enhancement, marsh restoration and hurricane protection systems – must be implemented. Allowing the natural environment to falter will only exacerbate the severe deprivation already pervasive along coastal Louisiana. Congress can take the lead in protecting this vital part of our national environment and reduce Gulf Coast poverty at the same time.

Courtney Howell is Director and Diane Huhn is Volunteer Coordinator for Bayou Grace Community Services, which implements outreach, services, and advocacy that addresses the immediate needs of the 5 Bayou Communities of Terrebonne Parish, giving residents opportunity and renewed strength to advocate and work towards the environmental health of their community.

To read other articles in the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity commentary series, click here.

To learn more about the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, click here.

My Adventure With The Swamp Dwellers, Part 3.14159265… June 20, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Big Fun on the Bayou, Friends.
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18 comments

OK, so we rounded a bend in the canal and I caught sight of a dock and what looked the outline of two bayou beings of the human variety.

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The two bayou beings are first cousins, separated by 30 years, but joined by their deep love and respect for the enchanting south Louisiana landscape.

I learned that the older cousin is 84 years old, but I honestly wouldn’t have pegged him for more than 72 or 73. It might sound odd to describe the movement of such a man as graceful, but he just seemed to spring lightly about the dock. I could immediately picture him moving swiftly across the flottant while his younger cousin, nearly double in stature, would most likely be lumbering well behind on the verge of breaking through any second on his way to China.

As we chatted about the fish that had gotten away, I could not stop looking out on this view. Unfortunately, my photos just don’t seem to do it justice.

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I sat entranced by the wealth of history carried by this older cousin. He was born out here. Grew up hunting and fishing and trapping. Living off the land. Crossing the canal by pole. It felt odd to realize that this man and my father were born in the same year. Not that my father was a city boy. He did his fair share of hunting and fishing and exploring along the banks of the Grand River. But I got the sense that their lives were vastly different, but both much more tied to nature than their succeeding generations.

As the older cousin explained how, at 84, he still works trapping nuisance alligators (seriously, how cool is that???), an occassional bass would splash about toying with us and all of us would momentarily pause the conversation looking at each other to determine who would grab the fishing pole next to try our luck. First the younger cousin…

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then BW…

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then the older cousin…

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and I certainly couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try my hand. (Thanks for the pic, BW!)

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But alas there would be no bass upon our plates so we settled instead for a most delicious, old-fashioned, camp meal of boiled steak and potatoes prepared perfectly by the younger cousin.

Before we knew it, the day had gotten away from us and it was time for BW and I to bid adieu to my new friends…

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and book it on home while the sun took it’s leave at our backs.

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If you’re ever down the south Loozy way, I would highly suggest you arrange a tour with BW and make it a point to drink in this magnificent jewel for yourself. But, sadly, you’d better not wait too long. If we can’t get some real action moving soon to restore and protect the Louisiana coast, this treaure will be lost like so many before and a whole way of life washed away with it.

Alright BW…when are we going back?

For more scenes from this most amazing day, click here.

Please Pardon The Interuption June 20, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Ramblings.
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2 comments

We regret to inform you that the next installment of our Adventure With The Swamp Dwellers has been delayed due to heat stroke. Diane sends her deepest thanks to those readers who commented. She has renewed faith and will push on with the tale as soon as she has recovered. In the meantime, stay cool, revel in the wonders all about you, and enjoy this little gem from the PS 22 Chorus. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming as soon as humanly possible.

My Adventure With The Swamp Dwellers, Part Drei June 18, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Ramblings.
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6 comments

So I am pleased to report that there is a nice little bayou breeze action going on this evening. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still insanely hot. Eighty-eight degrees with a “feels like” temperature of one hundred according to weather.com. But in the shade with the breeze it really doesn’t feel much over 95.

And now back to my adventure with the Swamp Dwellers. Really, it was about as far from a scene from Deliverance as you can get, but I really like that movie and have been thinking about watching it again. I love that part when they’re digging the grave for the creepy pig-squealing guy and Drew goes all spastic. Plus, it’s like how come you guys didn’t bring your paddles to help you dig?

Alright, where was I? Yes, yes. We rounded a bend in the canal and…you know, I’m getting tired of this story. I think I’m going to go eat leftover Redneck Gumbo and watch Deliverance in the cool AC of my home on wheels instead. Maybe I’ll finish it for you tomorrow. I don’t know. Does anybody really care?

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My Adventure With The Swamp Dwellers, Part Deux June 17, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Big Fun on the Bayou, Friends, Photography.
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4 comments

Ok, so we load up the gear, get the boat in the water, get the trailer tucked away, and off we go. Still I have no idea where exactly we are off too. BW whips out her cell phone and lets the folks at our destination know that we are on our way, hangs up, looks at me with this little grin and says “We’re going to the last surviving cypress swamp and meeting up with the swamp dwellers.” Actually, I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s exactly what she said because my heart leapt and my head went dizzy with “surviving cypress” and “swamp dwellers”.

I will confess that for a split second I did get a little nervous. I mean, “swamp dwellers”, geez, that kind of terminology in the brain of a Yankee just conjures up scenes from Deliverance if you know what I’m mean Vern. But then I was like, wait, they’ve got cell phones. Why having a cell phone automatically means you’re not a psychopath waiting in the swamp to kill me and feed me to the gators, I don’t know. But it works for me. Plus, I trust BW and I don’t think she’s in the Yankee trafficking business or anything.

So anyway, as we cruised along Lake DeCade, BW pointed out how the local landowning company in the area has been fortifying the bank of the lake to try to prevent erosion. And for the most part, it appears to be working except for this area where there has been a breach.

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This is just one small area, but you can see how rapidly the marsh behind the breach has become water. It shows, however, how quickly and relatively inexpensively protection can be established by private interests. BW informed me that the land company reinforces the entire shoreline of the lake each year in a time span of about 6 weeks. Most government entities who shall remain nameless can’t even decide whether or not they should make a decision about doing a study in that time span.

Sorry, getting off track. Seriously, this heat is frying my brain. Where is the ice cream man when you need him? Has anyone started on that petition yet?

OK, so BW slows the boat and turns in to this canal…

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and tells me that the ridge in the background is known as the Mauvais Bois, which translated means something like “bad woods.” This is the last living cypress swamp in our area. Notice all the water hyacinth along the banks of the canal. Water hyacinth is an invasive species in south Louisiana and can basically double it’s population in a span of two weeks. It’s really nasty stuff and can quickly take over an area, impact water flow, block sunlight from getting to various aquatic plants, and starve the water of oxygen. BW tells me that it made it’s way to Louisiana via the 1884 Cotton Exposition held in New Orleans. Apparently the Japanese delegation distributed plants that they had imported from Venezuela and it quickly became popular as an ornamental plant in ponds and such. The rest is history. The picture below that I took today on Bayou Petit Caillou near the Bayou Grace office is a good example of how quickly water hyacinth takes over. Just a few weeks ago, there were only a handful of plants along the banks of the bayou.

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But I digress. Back to the story. But, seriously, does anyone have a big tub of ice or something I can lie in whie I write this? I’m not even going to torture myself and see what the “feels like” temperature is according to weather.com.

Nope, I lied. I just checked. Apparently it is 89 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of, are you ready, get this, 105! I know you think I’m exaggerating. But I only wish that were true. Here’s proof.

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OK, so really, back to the story. BW tells me that much of the marsh in this area is known as flottant. Flottant, as you may have guessed from the name, is a kind of floating marsh. I think it’s generally made up of Maiden Cane (but maybe BW can correct me on this bit of trivia.) As I was l to later learn from one of the Swamp Dwellers, if you’re a small person like he is, you shouldn’t have too much trouble walking across it. But if you happen to be a little on the bulkier side, you’d better watch your step or you’ll be on your way to China.

As we crept farther down the canal, we began to see these big, beautiful cypress trees…

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and BW explained that the cypress knees we saw are actually like a big protection system for the trees by anchoring them in the soft muddy soil.

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I am so thrilled to see this because most of the cypress trees I’ve encountered in my travels around the 5 bayous look like these, killed by saltwater intrusion.

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Then we round a bend in the canal and I get my first glimpse of the Swamp Dwellers…

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Tune in tomorrow for Part 3. I’m heading to the gym to sit in the industrial-sized ice maker for a while. But in the meantime for your viewing pleasure…

My Adventure With The Swamp Dwellers, Part 1 June 16, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Big Fun on the Bayou, Friends.
2 comments

So I woke up the other morning, made some French Press coffee and grabbed my mug of joe ready to head out the door to take the Blue dog of his morning jaunt around the Rec Center. Now when I opened the door I was greeted with a blast of hot air. Upon checking the weather channel, I learned that it was already 86 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of 99. This should just not happen at 8:30 in the morning. Can we start a petition or something to get this kind of thing stopped? I mean really people, this is not funny. It’s only the middle of June. What am I going to do when August rolls around?

Needless to say, I decided it would perhaps be a good day in lay low in the AC and watch that stack of educational DVDs about the wetlands that have been sitting on my counter for a while. A few hours later after eating some dipping dots to chill my core, it was time to brave the heat and let the Blue dog take another trip around the Rec Center. When we got back, I noticed that I had a voicemail from Wendy Billiot, legendary Bayou Woman extraordinaire. The message went something like this. “I’m launching my boat unexpectedly and I need you to come with me on an adventure. So as soon as you…” I have no idea what the rest of the message was because I promptly began dialing Wendy back while simultaneously grabbing my camera bag and keys and heading for the door.

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My first attempt at reaching Wendy, whom we shall henceforward refer to as BW, landed me at her voicemail. Now I thought, she couldn’t have gone already. According to my phone, she just called me like 5 minutes ago. So I left a message and continued for the car hoping I wasn’t too late. Within moments I rejoiced at the sound of Hail to the Victors (seriously I must be the only person in the state of Louisiana with that ring tone.)

When I answered, BW told me to get a few provisions together and book it on over to Dularge and call her when I hit the pontoon bridge. So I promptly headed for the gym, grabbed the closest cooler, filled it will ice and headed off to the Pig for some beverages. The cooler secured, I headed down the bayou toward the crossroad.

As I hit the pontoon bridge, I was ecstatic that I didn’t get get caught waiting for one of the hundreds of barges or tugs or shrimp boats that travel through each day. I gave BW a call and let her know I was about four and half minutes out from the marina. Literally fifteen seconds after hanging up, I rounded the corner and saw this.

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With a heavy sigh I inched up to the guy who had just flagged me down, rolled down the window, and said “Hey buddy, how long you think?” To which he replies, “Shouldn’t be too long. We just got to strap down that crane. You should have been here earlier while we were loading her up. It was a real sight.” Now here’s the dilemma. When someone on the bayou says “it shouldn’t be too long” you really have no idea what that actually means. When a Yankee says it, you instinctively know that it basically means any where between 3 and 5 minutes. But when a Bayou Person says it, well, let’s just say it could be 5 minutes or 45 minutes. Kind of like when a Bayou Person tells you something is just down the road and 15 miles later you’ve arrived at your destination.

Knowing that the only alternative route to span what should be a 4 minute and 15 second drive to my awaiting adventure will actually be 20 miles out of my way, I decide to take my chances and sit tight. I hit BW on speed dial and informed her of my plight, then learned that the flag guy was actually from Kentucky and that while it certainly gets hot in Kentucky, it usually doesn’t get this hot. But you know it’s not really the heat, it’s the humidity that really gets to you. And no, he really isn’t exactly sure what they’re doing. They had to do some drilling and work on a pipeline and he thinks it has something to do with some levee they’re building, and hey look, you can head on your way now.

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So a short while later, I was back on track and decided that “shouldn’t be too long” translates to about 10 minutes in Kentucky time. I think it just keeps getting longer the farther south you go. Four minutes and fifteen seconds later, I pulled into the marina, grabbed my camera and the cooler and met BW at the boat launch.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of my adventure with the swamp dwellers. I’d keep going, but the only way I can get a signal this evening is sitting outside and I just checked weather.com and it’s currently 88 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of 100! Yep, 100 degrees my friends. It’s 6:45 PM and it feels like 100 degrees. What the what? I keep hearing this do do ta do diddily do music. Am I hallucinating? No! It’s the ice cream man! See ya later gator!

Only On The Bayou June 12, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Louisiana Wildlife.
4 comments

Yes, yes. I know. I have been a very bad blogger. Ten days and no posts. And I’m sorry to say it, but I’m going to be a very bad blogger again today. However, I’m hoping that today’s photo will make up for it. I wish I could say that I was the one who took it, but photo credit goes to Matt Stamey of the Houma Courier. Seriously, this could be one of the best newspaper photos I’ve ever seen.

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No serious human injuries, but apparently the guy hit by this car was coming home from a day of frog hunting. Do they make froggy-sized body bags? I mean really, all I can say is…I LOVE THE BAYOU!!!

Tenacity Over Tears June 1, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Coastal Restoration, Friends, Hurricanes, Relief Work.
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I’ve decided to yield the blog floor again. This time to Captain Wendy Billiot, aka Bayou Woman. I had the honor of first meeting Wendy, long-time coastal restoration and protection advocate and all around way cool person, a couple of months ago and the delicious pleasure of having french press coffee with her yesterday morning. (And thanks to Wendy and the generous folks at Community Coffee, I am now the proud owner of my very own French Press with which I made some absolutely delectable java this morning and thoroughly enjoyed sipping away at while reading Wendy’s most recent blog post reprinted below.)

As I head to Washington, DC tomorrow for what I hope will be several days of successful coastal restoration and protection advocacy, I will carry these words with me and the desire in my heart to help make “Triumph over Trials” a reality. Thank you Wendy for your honesty, tenacity and eloquence.

Tenacity over Tears

“Tenacity over Tears” is a phrase I coined in reference to the repeated reaction of the Bayou People to the continued negative impact on their homes, culture, and way of life by coastal land loss and hurricane devastation.

While this phrase may not be the best title for the recent article I wrote for the Baton Rouge Advocate, it is a phrase I will continue to use and plaster across every mode of media possible.

Why?  Because I want the world to know the brave commitment the Bayou People display, despite all adversity and seeming lack of concern by most of the nation and the world.

Coastal Louisiana is valuable.  It is vital.  It is worth restoring.  It is worth protecting.

And I dare say that if another country came along and destroyed an area the size of Delaware,  America would be up in arms immediately.

Yet, this is what has happened with coastal Louisiana, and there has been no such outcry.  While we sit and watch the news and worry about the war in Iraq, the latest bailout, and a shaky economy, another football field of Bayou Land slips away.

And the really maddening part is that the Army Corps of Engineers are the Wizards of Wetland Restoration, because they hold in their hands the magical power to help the coast or hurt the coast, with the latter seeming the prevailing choice.  It’s just a matter of saying “yes” to the implementation of restoration projects that strain like racehorses at the starting gate.

These things weigh heavy on the minds of Bayou People this time of year, as June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season.  We enter the season knowing that there was not enough marsh to protect us from the flooding of Ike last year–and even less marshland to protect us now as a result.

We enter the season with unspoken fears that another large storm will make landfall to the west of our coastline, while our homes and property sit like a defenseless nation at war without weapons.  Our weapons, the barrier islands and the marshes which once protected us, are gone.

We could give up, hang our heads, and cry.  We could sell out for pennies on the dollar and move.  Or could we? Where else could we go with our pennies and rebuild our fishing communities?  Where else is there an estuary system productive enough to support us?

There is only one Mississippi River Delta, the boundaries of which are moving further and further inland.  At the current rate of loss and the added loss caused by storm surge, this writer believes that if the Army Corp does not wave its magic wand soon, the Bayou People will have no choice but to cry, for they will have lost it all–homes, culture, and way of life.

As our potential enemies are forming up off the coast of Africa, it is my hope while we face this storm season, defenseless, that this nation will join their prayers with ours for mercy from our enemies.

And one day, with enough hope and the wave of a magic wand, Tenacity over Tears will be replaced by Triumph over Trials.

We can only hope.

Bayou Woman

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