There is a canal on the north shore of
Lake Fausse Pointe, my native waters,
called Peach Coulee. It is a place of
mystery and, some say, stirring, restless
No one is sure how it was named Peach Coulee.
It is a natural canal, not one of the many
manmade channels cut during the logging days
of Louisiana. It's right bank is, for quite a
stretch, of prehistoric construction. Winding
from the lake down the coulee's shallow spine,
to the boat's starboard there are occasional
glimpses of white shell peeking out like bleached
bone. Over the years I have never found a piece
of broken pottery on the shell mound lining the
east bank of Peach Coulee. Unlike most of the other
ancient Chitimacha sites I have found and visited,
I cannot guess its purpose.
But the Indians avoided the place in recent memory,
told stories of it designed to frighten the young.
My grandfather hunted pirate's treasure there, for
it was long rumored that Jean Lafitte used Peach
Coulee as a hideout. My grandfather said that when
he was a very young boy, the very tip of a mast was
visible at the mouth of the coulee. Over the decades,
it sank into the mud and vanished. He said that,
during the Great Depression, he and one of his
friends picked Spanish moss from the overhanging
limbs along the lake, and while in Peach Coulee,
they noticed a cypress knee shaped like a saddle.
Nearby was a pile of oyster shell.
"Looks like some old Indian sat down for his lunch
there," he noted. They passed the spot for months
each time they picked moss in Peach Coulee. Finally
he got to wondering about the spot, and went back
to find it, but both the cypress knee and shell
There are many stories about Peach Coulee, some I
disregard as fabrication, others are eerily familiar.
Tales of headless women, monstrous beasts with red
eyes, hanging nooses strung from tree limbs, wooden
crucifixes that appear and disappear at random. I
know that it is a place of power, though I have
never seen anything within it to describe. Yet it
is always silent within Peach Coulee, no birds,
no croaking frogs. My father and I took many fine
bass and bluegill from Peach Coulee, but we never
stayed there long. Trees sway and twist in the breeze
within Peach Coulee, except that there is no breeze.
Many ages ago, a Chitimacha family was tending to
their daily fare when a white dear pranced out of
the woods. Though it was forbidden to harm such
an animal, they killed, cooked and ate it. After
their hunger was satiated, the old people say,
each of them stood up, as if in a trance, and
walked deliberately into the lake, never to be
heard from again, at least in their human form.
Yet it is said among my people that they sometimes
emerge from the lake as balls of fire, penance for
the crime being eternity in such form.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I would go
camping on the eastern shore of Lake Fausse Pointe.
Nearly every time we were there, late at night, we
would see them: Four bright lights, circling over
the northern shore of the lake, over Peach Coulee.
They danced there, almost jubilant, almost alive.
We could never explain their source. An old fisherman,
heading in late with a skiff full of dying catfish,
stopped near our campsite as we were watching the
lights dance over Peach Coulee.
"It's thin there," he said. "Thin." He nodded to
us knowingly and took his leave.
I didn't know what he meant at the time, but I
think I do now. There are places in the world
where the boundaries between this world and the
next, the separations of the seen and the unseen,
are not so substantial. Thin. Peach Coulee is one
of the thin places, and now and then, the comfortable
lines we depend on to organize and make safe our
world bend, converge and overlap.
There are times, even, when I wonder if the old
fisherman who stopped by that night was from
within the lines of comfort, or behind the
I go there now, chasing fish. The coulee forks a
mile from the lake, and if I were to follow the
east channel, it would eventually end at a rise
in the topography. My grandfather said there was
a farmhouse back there, though it was long abandoned
even when he was a boy. He stumbled on it, he said,
while treasure hunting. He had met an old black
gentleman who told him a story at the local waterin'
hole one night. The man had been but a lad, and
somewhere at the back of Peach Coulee, a group of
white people were digging a massive pit. They had
erected a tall fence around the site, and he was
not allowed within.
As he was standing there, the man told my grandfather
decades later, he suddenly noticed a small woman by
his side. She said to him, in a language he should
not have understood but somehow did, "What are you
doing here? This is not for you," and she promptly
picked him up and threw him over the fence.
At the exact moment he fell, hard and bruised, to
the ground, the men digging the pit emerged, screaming
in terror, running. The young bystander, his own
experience with the small woman now compounded by
this mass hysteria, fled with them. Later, he told
my grandfather, he learned that the white men in
the pit had looked up from its depths, and they
saw men in uniforms standing around the edge. My
grandfather suspected they were military uniforms,
perhaps French or even Spanish. They were firing
down into the pit with muskets, though the diggers
heard no sound. Yet, when they looked at each other,
they saw horrifying wounds.
Convinced that there had been a treasure excavation
ongoing, my grandfather asked the old gentleman if
he remembered where that spot was in the back of
Peach Coulee. He said he did, and promised to take
my grandfather there. They set a time of six o'clock,
after my grandfather got off work.
He was half an hour late. Walking up the driveway,
he met someone coming out of the house.
"Where's Mister Beau?" my grandfather asked the
other man, who shook his head sadly, hat grasped
in his hand in respect.
"He died at six o'clock," he said.
I go to Peach Coulee when I can. It does not frighten
me. When I reach the edge of the finger of shell lining
the east bank, I sprinkle tobacco over the ancient soil,
into the green-black water. Whatever spirits lurk here
seem to be appeased. I fish the channel down to the fork,
follow it as far as there is enough water to float the
boat. There are big bluegill here in the spring, coming
into the shallows to spawn, and in the summer, the
occasional nice largemouth lurks under a canopy of
overhanging cypress limbs. They like the hardpack
shell along the east bank.
Now and then, when the trees sway in air still as
stone, or when silence becomes deafening enough to
raise the hair on the back of my neck, I understand
that this is still one of the thin places. It causes
me no alarm. It is but one part, a facet of the whole,
of my world. To the south is Grande Avoille Cove, the
religious center of my people's entire nation, where
turkey-buzzard men still dance and tend the bones of
the dead under starless skies. To the west is an
enormous village, its name forgotten, where broken
pottery lies brown and tan and yellow under the
lapping movement of the lake. To the southeast is
Amat'pan namu, a great village where the Spanish
first landed in galleons almost five hundred years
The creel of home waters bulges with tales. This
is but one of the stories that I keep close to
my side, safe from disbelief in a world grown
too stubborn to recognize the thin places. It
is a treasure I keep and share to those who
will hear. ~ Roger