It couldn’t have been a worse weekend.
First, temperatures plummeted like Wile E. Coyote falling off the cliff, without the requisite puff of dust at impact, because a whole ocean of rain came with it.
Then Bayou Teche came up eight inches behind my house, and I knew that meant the lake was up, too.
I puttered around most of the weekend, though I did take most of Saturday to go to the Acadiana Fly Rodder’s annual conclave in Lafayette to hang out with my pals Pete Cooper Jr., Larry Offner and Glenn Cormier. It’s nice, as I mentioned, hanging out with folks who actually know what fly fishing is, much less the minutia involved. I got some much-needed, excellent casting instruction from the kind and learned Tom Jindra, who taught me more in five minutes out on the back lawn of Grace Presbyterian Church, where the conclave was held, than I had garnered in four years of my return to fly angling.
But by Sunday, I was about to jump out of my skin from what I call the "land lubber loonies" or that insanity, anxiety and hysteria that forms when I have been away from water too long. I tried to stave it off by doing some work to The General, my lawn mower named affectionately after Gen. George Armstrong Custer. I piddled with this and tinkered with that and finally, about three in the afternoon, I couldn’t stand it any longer, loaded up the boat and the dog and headed to the landing.
It took some coaxing to get Bogie, my 14-week-old yeller Lab, into the boat, but once he was in he thought it was a pretty cool thing. When we got under way under power, I had to keep one hand on the engine tiller arm and one on the puppy so he would not go over the rail in his enthusiasm to chomp the spray of water coming up the sides of the boat.
I expected high and muddy water, and was granted both, but I rigged up an eight-and-a-half foot five-weight fly rod (see what I mean about understanding the minutia?) and cast a small popping bug at the base of submerged trees down Sawmill Bayou. On my way in, still cruising, I couldn’t understand what it was I saw along the edges of Grande Avoille Cove: It seemed like some kind of iridescence, somehow soft lavender and it wasn’t until I got close in that I realized the majority of the cove was lined with purple irises, softened and thinned by the haze of late-afternoon. They were absolutely stunning. Here and there a patch of white, spider-lily blooms provided an exclamation point to the scene.
My "go home tree" was the first one I fished. This tree is about 20 feet from the bank in the cove’s shallow water, at the point of the intersection of the south fork of Sawmill Bayou with the cove proper. It almost always holds a fish or two, but I got nothing. Usually this is an indication of the rest of the day, but since it was the first spot I fished, I kept going.
Loudmouth maroons – eight of them in a 14-foot aluminum bateau! – sent me back up the canal and around to the west end of the cove where a few small canals spider. Bogie behaved wonderfully, and when I finally set the hook on and landed a midget perch, I let him sniff and lick it for a few minutes.
"Not yet," I told him when he tried to clamp his jaw on the green sunfish. "You’re too little yet, but one day, you’ll have your chance, little man." I threw it back, and he pouted by crawling under the foredeck and glared at me.
The water was the color of thin chocolate milk and some 20 or 30 feet into the woods. I missed one significant-sized fish, which I think was a choupique, and stayed maybe an hour and a half, two hours tops. Of course, this was like being home after a long absence. Co’ktangi ha’ ne hecti’ne, the "pond lily worship place," my forefathers called that little bay off Grande Lake. The Spaniards would similarly name it Grande Avoille Cove after the huge flat-topped lilies that grew there before it silted up and became shallow and thin.
In the novel The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, the hero acquires a time-traveling device which allows him to visit the past and future at will. Midway through the story, our protagonist learns that every time he time-jumps to some point in the past or future in which he would already exist, he creates a duplicate of himself, since he is in essence existing twice in one moment. He finds that those "duplicates" are holding a poker game in some temporal netherworld, and drops in to visit them now and then, all these hundreds and thousands of copies of himself.
While certainly fanciful writing, that’s something like how I feel about myself and that little cove. I’ve been going there since I was old enough to sit up straight in a boat. There are hundreds of duplicates of myself there across the strewn moments of my past, and there are hundreds more spanning the undiscovered epochs of my remaining days. I can nearly – there at dusk, when the sun is changing the form and function of our carefully ordered reality – see myself there, behind a cypress stand or drifting down Sawmill Bayou. I’m sitting in the back of the same boat, and the old man is paddling with his left and casting with his right.
"It’s my religion," a brother of mine said of his moments, his duplicates of himself out on the flats of the Atlantic coast of Florida where the Indian River meets the Great Water. That is why we are, in some not so small a way, brothers.
This is my cathedral, after all. It is my temple and my chapel. Nearer, my God, to thee, here than anywhere else I have known. The power of the Creator of All things is most prevalent here. He moves, in mysterious ways, through rustling cypress needles, swirls between their wading trunks, and causes yellow finches to erupt in jubilant flight at his presence, swirling like a maelstrom of tiny angels, beaks diminutive trumpets sounding triumphant hymns.
My forebears came here from across the entire nation – roughly a third of present-day Louisiana – to be close to the Great Spirit…it was the central religious point of all Chitimacha. This little cove would probably be insignificant in the great expanse of the basin were it not so heart-breakingly beautiful, is one of the few places I know where such power as Black Elk spoke of still moves.
It is late. I put away my gear and don my life jacket, sit behind the tiller. I notice water has collected in the aft of the boat, a nagging leak I have tried in vain to locate and seal. The boat, built in 1962 by a father who built many boats but upon its completion declared "It don’t get any better than this," has carried me from the cradle to this place. I had hoped it would carry me to the grave, too, but I shall have to find and repair that leak, the first in 46 years of its life. If I can’t, I shall have to retire the old girl to preserve her.
The engine roars and rumbles. I bring the pup – more golden, glowing, saturated in the late evening light – to my feet and twist the throttle. The little boat lifts her nose, and across the arc of time behind us and before us, duplicates of that little vessel are doing so over and over and over again. The boat seems as comfortable here, as at peace, as I.
I rev up the engine and she finds her sea-legs, squats down on her haunches to catch the cove’s uplifting water and shoots forward, planing gracefully. Off we go, along the north shore of the cove, toward home, the dog at my feet, my hand on his shoulder, and the sun is behind us, and in the sanctity of the temple, my father is watching us go.