Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

October 31st, 2005


It was cool out. A small front had moved through and squashed the mercury down into the low fifties. A light northerly wind would, I knew, also push some water out of the lakes into the bayous and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

So reluctant to take my big, ugly fiberglass boat into the shallows, I retrieved my father's forty-three year-old wooden bateau from it's safe haven under cover. After a good cleaning I put it over into Bayou Teche at the Rez boat landing and we were off.

Dawn was barely peeking over the trees, and I relished the smooth acceleration, the gentle restfulness of the little wooden bateau, as al-ways. We spirited down Bayou Teche and into the canal linking the bayou with Lake Fausse Point and the cove nearby I love most.

Last time I passed this way, water black as midnight reeked of storm surges, saltwater and death. Now the water was largely copper-brown-black, but healthier. Still, I would suddenly pass through pockets of dead black water and the smell would assail me. I don't know if it is a matter of buoyancy, but it always seems the little boat carried me just a little quicker, as if trying to get out and away from those pools of dank stagnation.

We made a wide turn near the locks at the Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee, the preemi-nent earthworks of the twentieth century in-habitants of these waters. While my father's people built great monuments to the Creator at Grand Village, and stepped pyramids along the coast, effigy mounds in the shape of thunder-birds with outstretched wings, the marauding herds of hydrologists and civil engineers that followed left behind levees and locks. Indicative of a vast difference in cultural paradigms, my father's people made peace with the water around us, their successors struggle in vain to subdue it.

Passing through pockets of dead water now and then under skies just being lit by an as yet unseen sun felt like journeying between nether-worlds, but at last I reached the cove and turned the bow to it. The little boat, no more than twelve-feet long and narrow, arced across the water like a bird, winged, outstretched. True to the designs and inspirations of its builder, it flawlessly and devotedly returned to the cove yet again. I wish I knew how many of these journeys to the cove it had made. I am sure it numbers in the hundreds.

That north wind was picking up again and I believed I would be safer in the back of Sawmill Bayou, so I pointed the bow to the northwest corner of the cove, careful to avoid the sunken row of pilings I knew were there. My father warned me about them each and every time I said I was going to the cove.

"Watch out for that row of pilings from Saw-mill Bayou to the other side of the cove," he'd say, every single time without fail. "That'll put a hole in the bottom of your boat."

One weekend evening he came limping home, paddling up Bayou Teche to pull the boat home on the trailer. The engine hung there on the transom but with no lower unit.

"What happened, pop?" I asked, incredulous with dismay.

"Hit one of them damn pilings back of the cove," he grumbled and refused to discuss it ever again.

There was calm water in Sawmill Bayou, and I lowered the electric trolling motor into copper-black water, but when I touched the switch noth-ing happened. I spent ten minutes fiddling with it and gave up, resorting to my paddle.

A leggy Accardo Ligon Bream Killer was my choice: Good visibility, slow, tempting sink and light enough to throw on a long leader with my little rod. Now and then a whiff of deadness carried over me by the slight breeze there in the back of the bayou, from some trapped stagnation in the swamp. I fished carefully, paddled when I needed to, and wished desperately for rain. Shot-gun blasts not far away reminded me that squirrel season had started.

I noticed downed trees across one fork of Saw-mill Bayou, hoped spring rises would wash them clear; also Susan's Bayou was blocked by a fall that was, remarkably, still green and lush. The Bream Killer worked hard for me, in dappled sunlight and in shade, but I noticed that even considering the low water levels overall, there was far less water under my paddle than before Katrina and Rita. This cove faces northeast, and I knew the counter-clockwise fury of the storm's winds had pushed tons of sediment and muck into the back of the cove where it had no way of flowing back out.

My arm ached from paddling. I grinned and cursed myself for getting too soft, too accustomed to electric trolling motors. My father paddled this little boat all over the lake with his right hand, casting with his left, from dawn to dusk, while I enjoyed the ride from the time I was old enough to sit upright and hold a rod. I knew my father was feeling his age when he bought his first electric trolling motor. He was quite a bit older than I am now, though.

The Bream Killer dropped without fanfare into a shadow jutting out from the base of a big cypress tree, cast by a huge limb not far off the surface. I saw it settle in slowly, those long white legs undulating upward nicely until it faded into the copper-black and beyond my vision. But then the tip of the line moved upstream and without thinking I lifted the rod tip.

The line moved upstream more quickly then, and the weight of a respectable fish was more like a treasure to me than any gold or silver. Catfish? Bowfin? No, for when he came out of the water and danced on his tail, the green and white of him was that spectacular and familiar reassurance of a largemouth.

Soon I took him to hand, and yeah, I admit it, I kissed him on the nose. Two hurricanes had passed, missing us with their full impact but their outer intense bands had both churned and blasted us. Two weeks before I had found nothing but deadness here, stagnation and stink. Yeah, I kissed him on the nose, and lemme tell you, brothers and sisters, I ain't ashamed of it at all.

I didn't kiss the four redears I caught after that before the wind picked up too much and I retired for the morning, but I felt like it. My little lake and cove are coming back to life. It was all I could have asked for, all I could have wanted, right then and right there.

I cranked up the engine as the cove was getting rough from the wind but I took a leisurely trip out to the canal that led home. Now and then black water would be foaming and reeking as I passed through it, but I knew the lake was purging itself, slowly, unflinchingly.

And I thought about circles, not for the first time and surely not the last. How I have always believed my father's people, those who didn't fight the water but lived with and within it, existed in circular time, time with no beginning, no end, no middle and no apex. I think that those who came later, those who built levees and locks and dams live in linear time, time which has finality, has an ending and a closure.

At what might otherwise be the end of all things, I know that instead everything comes back to where it began. At least for me, and for mine. Back to this little wooden boat and this wonderful old cove of cypress trees, sunken pilings and the way of memory. Back, at least, to when there were no levees, no dams and no locks. There may come a day when it can hold no more sediment, no more mud, no thick sludge and dry out under the sun, become a marsh then a prairie maybe even a forest in time. I'll be long gone by then, singing with my father at the feet of our grandfathers.

That's all in a time to come. For now, at least, there is still life here, precious and rare, and within the confines of a small wooden boat, enough belief to keep it all in existence perhaps just a little while longer. ~ Roger

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from,, or Barnes & Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.

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