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Small Stuff #71: The Restorative Power of Plants, Power Tools and Laughter April 7, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Uncategorized.
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Small stuff that I’m grateful for today: Getting to watch this…

…while I get to do this.

I love my job and I love gas-powered tools! Thanks, Boss!

Small Stuff #70: Tax Man Cometh April 5, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Coastal Restoration.
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Small stuff that I’m grateful for today: When my trusty tax-preparer hit the magic button on her computer to assess the damage, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t great…but, it wasn’t as bad as it was in my nightmare last night which involved Kenneth from 30 Rock, a pirate, a life-sized crawfish, kumquats, and my Kindergarten teacher Miss Smith. Don’t ask. Seriously, you don’t want to know.

So, I definitely didn’t run to get my taxes done this year as soon as my w-2s and 1099s hit the mailbox. I knew I was going to owe Uncle Sam and I figured if I could earn an extra 2 cents of interest by holding off, I’d hold off. But alas, deadline time is closing in and I decided it was time to face the music.

So unfortunately, what I owe the Feds is almost exactly the rate for a nice extended weekend retreat at that little beach house I’ve had my eye on. Oh well. But, ya know, it’s not all bad. As I wrote out that check to the IRS, all I could think about was the fact that for the first time ever, the Federal budget is dedicating funds for the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration program. So if my little chunk of change can help protect and restore  this…

…so people can keep doing this…

…and this…

well, that’s pretty darn cool.

Small Stuff #61: Planting a Harvest March 9, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Big Fun on the Bayou, Coastal Restoration, Friends.
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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: Planting all 7,000 spartina plants!

Bonus: Playing at the beach after a hard days’ work!

For more pictures of our adventures, click here.

Small Stuff #60: Playing in the Mud March 8, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Coastal Restoration, Friends, Hurricanes.
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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: Playing in the mud.

Bonus: The Refuge team from Northern Illinois University/Immanual Lutheran Church of DeKalb, along with students from Viterbo University and BTNEP, were able to harvest 7,000 marsh plants for a restoration planting tomorrow at the Maratime Ridge in Port Fourchon. YOU GUYS ROCK!!!

For more images of our adventures at the Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Center in Galliano, LA, click here.

Big Stuff #53: My Midland Team February 24, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Coastal Restoration, Friends, Relief Work.
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Big stuff that I am grateful for today: The amazingly wonderful folks from Midland, MI. I gave them a workout and they came through brilliantly. They roofed…

built steps and ramps…

built shelves…

drove heavy equipment…

framed…

climbed a whole lot of ladders…

hauled Christmas trees to save the coast…

moved furniture, mudded, sanded, painted, plumbed, installed bathroom fixtures, showers, lights, molding, stove tops, and the list goes on and on…and most importantly, they touched the lives of many wonderful bayou folks and moved them leaps and bounds towards recovery and closure.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I love you guys!!!

Small Stuff #20: Using the dead to preserve the living January 21, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Coastal Restoration.
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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: Getting the opportunity to work with some amazing folks to use dead trees to protect living trees. Wish I had an opportunity to tell y’all more about this right at this moment, but I am swamped after my trip to the swamp and have many miles to go before I sleep even though the alarm is going to go off in less than 6 hours for a trip to Alabama. But I’m thinking that when I get a little time to share the story behind this, I will be grateful.

Bonus: I got to ride in the super fast boat all day!

Head West Old Woman, Head West November 23, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Coastal Restoration, Ramblings, Travels.
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So yesterday morning I decided to put a few chores on the back burner and head west for a few adventures. I’ve not explored much of the beauties of south-western Loozy, although if you want to get all technical, my intended destination would probably be more appropriately deemed to reside in south-central Louisiana. And while every day really is an adventure when living life in the Louisiana wetlands, I was yearning for some new vistas.

At 6:00 AM, I grabbed my coat and grabbed my hat (it was a tad chilly and drizzily), left my worries at my doorstep, and hoped the sunny side of the street would be at my back. Unfortunately, the sun never did make much of an appearance except for about 30 seconds on my way back east. Guess it just wanted to show those meteorologists who’s boss.

Anyway, I made a quick stop at a local convenience store to get a little more Community Coffee pulsing through my veins. When you get down the bayou, a lot of the convenience stores tend to exhibit a flavor all their own which is decidedly different from the typical, I-could-be-in-anytown-USA, northern Express Mart flavor.

When you patronize one of these spots, you’re almost guaranteed the opportunity to satisfy that grease fix that accompanies fried chicken whether it’s on a stick or served up in the standard red and white checkered cardboard tray. And if chicken doesn’t fit the bill, no worries. Shrimp, oysters, crawfish, catfish, jalapenos and a multitude of other such fare should grace the menu as long as you don’t ask for it lightly sautéed in a nice lemon-pepper butter sauce. Should you desire a little beef or pork, sausage biscuits and boudin should do the trick and the jerky products typically have an entire aisle to themselves. And if you’d like to wash down all that fried goodness with a spot of Jack, no problem, just ask the clerk to grab you a bottle from behind the counter. And if you got a few dollars left in your pocket, you can slip behind the red or green swinging doors and play a few hands of video poker to see if lady luck is on your side.

So as I prepared the perfect cup of joe, the usual gang was there decked out in their LSU caps, well-worn work garb and white shrimp boots. I had arrived too late for the play-by-play recap of yesterday’s Tiger’s game and too early for the predictions for the afternoon’s Saints game, but had arrived just in time for the another favorite subject…

“I heard they’re going to close that canal and put some kind of thing that lets the water flow through.” “You know, what they don’t think about is a back-up plan.” “Yeah, well I heard they was going to put a bunch of rocks out there.” And it basically goes on and on with a whole host of “I’ve heard’s” for quite some time until someone says “You know there’s only one thing that’s going to save us. And that’s if we all just get the #@$! out of here.” Laughter erupts for about seventeen seconds and then the realization hits that such a scenario could be all too true and to dismiss that painful thought as swiftly as it arrives, the conversation quickly moves to the “What they outta do’s”. And it’s too bad more of the folks in charge don’t sit in on some of these conversations, cause these guys know a whole lot about this landscape and how it works and some of those “outta do’s” are pretty dog-gone smart.

But, time was a-wasting. So, armed with twenty ounces of goodness, $4 of jerky and a full tank of gas, it was time to head up the bayou…but, unfortunately it’s now time to hit the pavement. To be continued…

Shooting Mullet November 14, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Coastal Restoration, Friends, Ramblings.
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So yesterday held the last few hours of my 30s and I decided to kick off work a little early and try my luck at shooting photographs of mullet. And no, not the bad hairstyle variety, but the flying fish variety. It seemed like a challenge and I love a good challenge. I found a nice spot out in the marsh and a relaxing pile of dirt from which to sit upon. And I typically try not to get all philosophical as my birthday approaches, but my mind started to wander a tad.

I’ve been “down de bayou” for a little over a year now. I originally planned on being here for only a year to hopefully help a few people and figure out what it is that I want to be when I grow up. And now I’m forty. How the hell did that happen? And am I supposed to be grown up by now? Cause I don’t feel anymore grown up today than I did yesterday, or a year ago, or five years ago, or let’s just be honest, twenty years ago.

So anyway, let’s just say that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that “what the heck do I want to be when I grow up” stuff lately. I’ve certainly had a great ride thus far and generally speaking I really enjoy where I am. I’ve got a pretty cool job that certainly beats the heck out of sitting in a gray cubicle every day. If I want to get all officialized…my designated job title is Environmental Outreach Volunteer Coordinator. Geez…doesn’t that sound important? And well, it is pretty darn important when I think about it.

Has it been easy getting to this point? Yes and no. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my job and I one hundred percent absolutely, positively, unequivocally LOVE where I live. But has the last year, two months and change been easy? Well, in a nutshell, no.

You see, I’ve moved to a place that I absolutely adore, but it’s also a place that doesn’t necessarily adore me. I’m an outsider. Always have been and probably always will be. I’m pretty sure I could live here 30 years and still be called a Yankee. Again, don’t get me wrong. I have found some truly amazing people here that I can most certainly call friends, but when it comes to finding some real, “hey I need to sit in a boat, drop a line, have a beer and chat about life” buddies, well that’s been a different story. And yes, I do know myself well enough to admit that I’m not necessarily the easiest person to get to know.

But while bayou folks are extremely friendly, let’s just say that they’re a wee bit quirky. Actually, if I get my psychology hat on, they tend to exhibit a fair amount of paranoia. And probably for good reason. They’ve been promised a whole lot of stuff by a whole lot of people and been let down a whole lot of times. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying that they’re not good people and willing to help a girl out when she needs it. I mean I know if I’m in a jam, there are a bunch of folks that I can call to get me out of it, but just finding someone I can really let it all hang out with has been a challenge. So maybe in one sense the last year and change has been easy, but has it been lonely? Yes, at the end of the day, it has been lonely.

I was talking to a man the other day that I feel I can call friend. He’s a pretty important guy in my book and is a man that I have the utmost respect for. He’s got a whole lot riding on his shoulders. His job entails a great deal of travel and meetings and securing funding and basically all the stuff that I don’t miss about my previous life. I said “Geez, it must be hard to travel all over and sit in all those meetings when you’d probably rather be on a ridge planting marsh grass or paddling around a bayou looking for some fish.” He said “Yes, but I do it so my staff can do what they do best.”

And I thought about the last year and change and started to wonder if that’s kind of what my role is. I may never be truly accepted here, but can I work hard to make a difference in people’s lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren? Well, I certainly hope so. Do I need them to understand that and give me a pat on the back? Well, it’d be nice, but at the end of the day, no.

From the depths of my soul, what I really want is to just see this place still exist in forty years. I probably won’t be here since I’ve not been all that kind to my body during the previous forty years, but I want someone who loves this place the way I do to be able to sit with a camera on the same bank I sat on last night and try to take pictures of mullet flying through the air and watch ospreys and egrets and herons fly overhead and hear owls hooting in the distance and time how long the diving ducks stay under water looking for something eat.

Do I think that can happen? Well, I sure hope so, but honestly, if things continue the way they are right now, in forty years the bank I sat on last night will probably be under 14 feet of water and the herons and the ospreys and the egrets and the owls and diving ducks won’t have any place to land and maybe saltwater sport fisherman will venture this far down to try their luck, but who the heck knows if there will actually be any fish to catch because maybe this spot will just be part of a big giant dead zone.

Does this make me beyond sad? You bet it does. Do I feel like packing my bags and heading someplace else at times? You bet I do. Do I really want to do that? Hell no!

So what is it that I really want to do? I want to stay where I am and fight to restore and protect the place that I have grown to love for the people I have come to care deeply for.  And if you really want to know the truth, what I really want is to get the President, the head honcho of the Army Corps of Engineers, the head of the EPA, and the few handful of other people that really and truly have the power at their finger tips to change things to go fishing with me in Cocodrie. I want them to hook a big ole bull red or two or three or twelve. I want my good buddy Kevin to cook them a delicious Jambalaya. I want my good buddy Wendy to take them up to the Mauvais Bois to teach them about bayou culture and see the wonders of a cypress swamp. I want them to sit on the deck of a camp, kick back with a few cold ones and watch the ospreys and the egrets and the herons and the owls and the diving ducks and all manner of spectacular wildlife and watch a sunset of orange and red and yellow and purple and blue. I want them to see for their own eyes what I love so dearly. Because, in my heart, I believe that if they could experience for a day what I experience every day, there wouldn’t be any question about the national importance of saving the community I call home (even if the people around here don’t think it’s my home). In fact, if we could make that happen, I feel like I could almost guarantee that we could get our priorities straight and saving this place would become job #1 for the United States instead of sending brave men and women off to their deaths half way around the world in the name of democracy.

I mean, how is it that my community is allowed to slip acre by acre in to the Gulf of Mexico every single day and almost no one in Washington, DC seems to give a damn? I mean, really, how is that possible? Do they just not know? How could they not know? Do they just not care? How could they not care? Do they just think we’re not that important? HOW COULD THEY POSSIBLY BELIEVE THIS? How is it possible that they sit idly by while an entire way of life is being sent to its death in their own backyard?

I mean, come on people. I can spout the figures. My communities, my beloved bayou people, supply 30 percent of the domestic oil and natural gas for the rest of this nation. My communities, my beloved bayou people, supply 30 percent of the domestic seafood on your plates. My communities, my beloved bayou people, operate 10 of the 14 major seaports that serve this nation and the world beyond. My communities, my beloved bayou people, work hard every single day to make this nation what it is. They are dedicated to this country. Why is it that their country is NOT dedicated to them?

I just don’t understand. Could someone out there please explain it to me? Am I just wasting my time? Am I sacrificing that well paying corporate job waiting out in middle America for me to try to save a place that the US government has simply written off? Am I just a fool to think that my friends’ children and grandchildren and great grandchildren can live in and toil in and care for this place that I so love? Yes, I do understand that it’s a “complicated” issue. But is it really? Is it really so complicated that we can’t get those handful of people who said they wanted to be in charge of our well being to sit down and figure it out if we just put our minds to it?

I mean really, Mr. President, sit in the marsh with me, cast a line with me, meet the people I call friends, and tell me to my face that this place and this way of life is not worth saving. Because every day that we as Americans sit by and do not make saving this American treasure a national priority is a day that we pound another nail in the coffin on a place and a people and a culture that is of vital importance to the health and prosperity of the place that I used to be proud to call the United States of America. Please make me proud once again. Please renew my faith. Please give me the audacity to hope for change and a better tomorrow. Please tell me that yes we can save my home so that future generations can call it home.

So I just realized my intention when I started this post was really just to share a few photographs of mullet flying through the air in all their majesty…but maybe we’ll just have to save that for another day my friends cause it’s my birthday and I’m grabbing my new fishing pole to see if I can rustle up some fish for dinner and hope that I don’t accidentally get shot by the folks trying to rustle up some duck for dinner. Thank you to all of my friends and buddies who make restoration and protection a priority in their lives and work tirelessly to make it a priority in the lives of others.

Many Miles to Go October 20, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Coastal Restoration, Family, Friends, Photography, Travels.
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So I’ve been on the road over the last week and still have many miles to go before I sleep (and go fishing). But while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed scenes such as these…

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I’m thoroughly missing scenes like these.

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What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been September 20, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Friends.
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Some day during the past week marked the one year anniversary of my arrival in Chauvin, LA. I can’t actually recall the specific date. According to my first blog post after arriving here, I said that I had arrived 11 days earlier. If the post on September 28th was correct, then I guess I arrived on the 17th since 28 minus 11 is 17. But since WordPress goes by Greenwich Mean Time for upload times, I might have actually made that post on the 27th, which would mean that I arrived on the 16th because 27 minus 11 is 16. But, then again, I stated that I only thought that I had arrived 11 days earlier.

You’d think I would have written this momentous occassion down somewhere. Oh wait, I did. I was keeping a journal of all the crazy things I experienced, like the giant pig running down the middle of the debris strewn highway straight at my car and almost hitting a downed telephone pole to avoid it. And seeing and smelling the dead pig in the bayou that didn’t survive the flood waters. And seeing televisions in trees. And the old Bayou People talking in Cajun French about the crazy Yankee girl unloading semi trucks of supplies. And shoveling seven inches of mud out of flooded homes.  And being scared that the alligator that people saw a few days earlier in the field behind where I was staying in a borrowed RV from Idaho or Texas or someplace would eat my dog. And driving across a road collapsing in the water in order to help tarp roofs and gut out homes damaged by wind and high water. And eating fried alligator for the first time and deciding that it was really, really good and hoping that maybe it was the gator that people saw in the field behind where I was staying in a borrowed RV from Idaho or Texas or someplace. And hundreds of other amazing, tragic, humorous, crazy things. But long story short, my laptop got completely wiped out about three weeks in to this adventure and I lost everything. Yes, I do know that I should have backed everything up, but I barely had time to sleep in those first few weeks following the devastation of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, let alone back up my computer.

So let’s just say I marked my first anniversary on the bayou somewhere between September 15th and September 18th. But I guess I can’t really say that I “marked” it if I don’t actually know when it was. Anyway, I thought I would spend some time sharing the wisdom I have gained during this past year (give or take a few days). But unfortunately, my brain is completely fried after helping with three Bayou Bash fundraising parties in two days for the local kids and I need to hit the shower so I can help out with two more today. So for now, let’s just say that I am probably the most blessed person I know to have had the opportunity to meet the most amazing people I have met and experience the most amazing experiences I have experienced. Wouldn’t have traded one minute for anything in the world . And here’s hoping for another amazing year, minus shoveling mud and tarping roofs and gutting homes and crying with people who no longer have homes.

I’ve had the opportunity to photograph some unbelievably beautiful and amazing things during the past year, but this is my favorite. Most people probably wouldn’t give this photograph a second glance. Technically, it’s not a particularly great picture. The lighting isn’t too good. It’s not framed well. One of the subjects has her eyes closed. But to me, this photo is priceless. And every time I look at it, tears of joy and sadness stream down my face.

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