Saving Home

July 15, 2009

It’s all extremely exciting.
   I mean, I know it’s a long haul, and the job will be difficult, if possible at all. But Rep. Sam Jones was able to get a bill passed through the state legislature and signed into law creating an advisory board for the restoration and enhancement of Lake Fausse Point and Grand Avoille Cove. Unlike most advisory boards, this one has the ability to accept funds, such as grants and the like.
   It’s been a long anticipated dream of mine. I wrote an article last year published in Louisiana Conservationist magazine describing the cove’s history and slow death.

Lake Fausse Point

  Long before the levee was built and, like a dull-edged knife, sliced through the heart of that massive series of lakes, effectively a fatal wound, it was known as the Lake of the Chitimachas. Most old maps show it so named. In fact, the “people of the many waters” made our homes all along it.
   For me it was my playground, my schoolhouse and my church. My father took me there as soon as I was old enough to make a boat ride. He put a rod in my hand when I could hold it upright. Anytime he had spare time from the carbon black plant or any of the other sideline jobs he took on to put food on the table…we were on the lake. No sports, nothing but the lake.

Grand Avoille Cove (just south of the lake)

  Back then, the fishing was phenomenal. Coming home with over a hundred perch was common. I have such vivid memories of the cove and the lake from those early years, more crisp and clear than anything else from the same part of my life. They are indelible, etched upon not only the little brain cells that hold them like saturated photographs, but into my soul.
   Oh, the green-black water that stretched so peacefully over Grand Avoille Cove! The lilies which the Spanish explorer called grande avoilel grew in abundance on the south bank, round, flat-topped and with the most beautiful flowers. Beads of water would collect on their glossy, slick surfaces and looked like smooth gems, and a large patch of lilies with many droplets looked like a field strewn with diamonds. Sunlight danced across the jewels of moisture, leaping and glinting like stars.
   Many times birds or frogs resting on the lily pads fell prey to bass that would leap clean out of the water to snatch and devour them. My father and I would travel down one of the forks of Sawmill Bayou. He would paddle with his left hand and cast with his right. We fished either earthworms under a bobber, or fly rods with little yellow poppers with white rubber legs. Sawmill Bayou has a fence across it today, but back then we could travel it nearly to the lake. The cypress and tupelo canopy kept it shady most of the day, and even at an early age I knew it was a place of power. Power old as the earth itself lay in the primordial waters, in the soil along the banks, the air seemed to sizzle with it sometimes. It was, as Norman Maclean said, a world with dew still on it. My mind, still unclouded by notions of impossibility and realism, knew and accepted it as sacred and magical.
   The wonder of it all is that wonder never left me. By 1980 or so, my best friend and I fished the lake and cove. But some time later, as if overnight, from one season to the next, Fausse Point and the Cove transformed. The fish were suddenly far less abundant; the lilies diminished and eventually were gone. Even the coongrass abandoned the cove, and the lake turned emerald green, a sign of euthrophic water: low in oxygen but high in nutrients, causing algae to form.
   Later, I understood it all. Like the basin to the north of the levee, Fausse Point and Grand Avoille were suffocating. The flows were gone, and what water did pass through them moved so slowly the sediment fell out, decreasing the depth. As that happens, they get hotter, and fish life falls off.
   But I keep going back, throwing flies to very, very few fish. Because the magic in that old lake and cove are still there, though weak and short of breath. It is cradle and home to me.
   I resolved myself years ago that I was sitting at its deathbed. That one day, the bottom would finally come to meet the surface and it would turn into a grassy freshwater marsh. I accepted that I would one day be unable to probe its niches and crevices, perfunctorily in search of fish, but at essence a search for consolation. That I would witness something none of my ancestors could have imagined in their darkest dreams: That there is finality. That one day, all this would no longer exist.
   Maybe there’s a chance now. Maybe this committee will be able to bring enough attention to this incredibly beautiful and powerful place to save it. It is my deepest wish, my most beloved dream.