Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

March 29th, 2003

MARCH
By Roger Emile Stouff

March comes around again riding the winds of seasons, the changing of the face of the world yet again.

The temperatures are pleasant, though rain threatens vaguely. There are green leaves on the fig tree in the front yard, but of course, fig trees are notoriously misleading regarding the arrival of spring. I watch the pecan trees, much more wary and timid about setting forth tender new growth.

In March, I watch the season unfold through the brittle window glass eyes of the house, grown distorted with horizontal lines in the panes. The grass in the yard is mostly brown and growing slowly, though patches of clover sprout like green mounds of spring here and there. In a few weeks, white flowers will turn the clover into pincushion-like celebrations of the nearness of winter's demise.

As I sit and watch March gather choirs to sing of spring, I look through those rippling window panes and marvel that I am seeing the same bayou bank I explored and grew to love as a boy. A man's life, measured from birth to where he now stands amidships, has been written on these same few acres and that wonderful flow of water beyond.

It was in March that I overhead my father say, for some reason I still don't know, that he'd just as soon pack up and move away. He was angry about something, I still don't know what, and I was about 10, suffering over what I overheard, not realizing the emptiness of the threat. I sulked along Bayou Teche, close to tears, wondering where we would be, what would become of us, if there would be water nearby. Perhaps that was what disturbed me most about dad's unintended and insincere threat to move us that there would be no water to watch flow by, coming from unknown headwaters and making way to undiscovered countries far ahead. I thought he might take us to Ft. Worth, where much of the family had fled for jobs and opportunity long ago, escaping the reservation and all its fruitless, hollow emptiness. My boyish vision of Ft. Worth was a dry, dusty place devoid of water. No greater misery could be imagined.

Of course, we didn't move, and I never asked my father what it was that made him so angry that day. It was unnecessary. Sometimes in March, when the air warmed and the rain held itself in restraint, I'd hop on Nancy, my Shetland pony, or in later years, my quarter horse Kate, and ride the brown cane fields around Charenton alone. Mine was a childhood of solitude, but I was never lonely, never really longed for friendships because I was so surrounded by those four old people and their powerful presence. I wonder, as I look back now on those March bayouside forays and horseback rides, if children who grow up in solitude have less apprehension of the long silences and more fear of crowds and noise. I know I do not like crowds, I feel confined and suffocating in them, the nerves in my skin buzzing with the instinct to get away. Riding through brown cane fields in March on Kate's back, crowds and noise and thoughts of escape from either were completely unknown.

It's not that I was completely friendless in March, but there was only one that I can recall who was close. Otherwise, March was solitary and comforting. No kick the can, no baseball, no sleep overs. In March, I huddled under blankets late into the night reading Black Beauty and explored Bayou Teche days, a few hundred yards of it, anyway, but there was more there to find than any basketball court or chalked-in pattern of hopscotch could ever offer. Armadillo holes were mysterious and dangerous, for I had read somewhere that the animals carried leprosy. There was an abandoned water well near the old camp that Uncle Fred had lived in, and dad warned me many times to stay away from it, though he had covered it up, there was still a chance of catastrophe.

A big cypress tree stood in the bayou a dozen yards from the bank, and rows of thickly growing knees bridged the two. If I was careful and the water not too high, I could negotiate across the cypress knees to the tree, where I had nailed a couple of old boards to sit on and watch the water move through, coursing between the knees. Now and then I'd spot small sunfish, orange-breasted and wide-eyed, chasing minnows. I would dip tadpoles from tiny pools of isolated water with an aquarium net, or survey a nest of sparrows in the limbs above me.

But it is March, and the weather is warming and the year is unfolding like creation all over again. In a few weeks it will be time to load the boat and go to the lake, where I'll feel complete once again. I have been bound to these wonderful walls for too long, and much as I love them, need them, I require the surge of lake water in my veins. Dreams of Lake Fausse Pointe filter into my sleep like tides; in waking hours, if I close my eyes, I see its stands of second-growth cypress, water lapping at their trunks. Though I pay attention to conversations, laugh with friends, commune with acquaintances, there is always lake water behind my thoughts. I am always aware of it, cognizant of the distance I stand from it, I know which direction it lies without thinking about it, and I sense its presence day and night. It lurks behind my eyelids, floats in the fluid between the back of my brain and skull.

I must go down to the seas again,
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn
from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over. (John Masefield)

It's odd that I really mostly think of these things at the margin of seasons, staring at March from behind windowpanes that are now so old and brittle they crack with the changing temperatures and must be replaced. The windowpanes have ripples in them horizontally, decades of settling. If that old house would stand long enough, and I would live until then, they would eventually settle into puddles of glass. They say that in some of the oldest cathedrals of Europe, the glass must be flipped now and then to keep it from settling, because glass is not really solid. It is a very viscous liquid. When I have the panes replaced, they are crystal clear and dead flat. I cannot see the world outside in March as well through their clarity. The distortion of old windowpanes reveals more. Things on the peripheral can never be seen dead-on. They must be viewed askance. Seeing March is best through old window glass, like sitting on cypress boards watching sunfish and tadpoles in the water, which swim away or vanish with the fading dusk, like childhood, like the safety and surrounding embraces of the truest hearts in a life. ~ Roger


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