It was a world with dew still on it. More touched by wonder and possibility than any I have since known.– Norman Maclean
There were horses in the back yard, and a pasture between the two houses. One house was ours, the other belonged to my grandparents. The horses were free to roam behind and between both, grazing.
Bayou Teche, of course, ran behind it. Most of the bayouside was wooded, but both our bank and my grandparents’ had a tree a couple dozen yards out, cypress knees surrounding them like a fortress erected by British colonists. I could walk easily to ours because siltation had filled in a peninsula linking it with the bayou bank. If the water was up a little, I could make my precarious way to the big tree itself, where there was a gnarled burl like a ledge. I could walk out on the cypress knees, and if the water was up a little, I would sit on that burl watching little orange-breasted perch swim around between them. Sometimes I’d watch them feed on tadpoles and minnows. Now and then a wasp or cricket would land on the water and they’d gobble that up, too. The tree at my grandparents’ bayou side was for a time linked to the bank by a walkway, but it succumbed as my grandpa got older and was unable to maintain it.
It was a wonderland. There was an old shack that had, before I was born, been a camp where my Uncle Fred had lived. He was my grandfather’s brother, but everyone called him Uncle Fred and so that’s how I knew of him, though I don’t remember him at all. I was forbidden to go near the shack that had been partially damaged by some hurricane years past, and there was an old water well nearby that Dad feared might cave in. But I did anyway, and inside the camp there was a ceiling threatening collapse, an old, simple kitchen table with one broken leg, cabinets mostly empty and a small bathroom. But in one corner, poking around with a stick, my trusty Benjamin pellet gun in my hand should I run into a snake, I found a handful of buffalo nickels, most of their dates worn off, but some were as early as the 1920s. There was an old cedar armoire which I dragged out when I was a teen with the intention of rebuilding and refinishing. I never completed it, so I gave it to my best friend, who also never finished it, but his father turned it into a beautiful gun case. I was glad of it.
When we’d leave to fish on the weekends, Dad would early on put the boat down at Charenton Beach. I was very young. I remember not being able to see across to the other side. At some point we quit fishing that side of the levee. I never thought to ask him why. Today I really wonder. We’d leave the beach and find our way to Buffalo Cove, an emerald-green oasis within the overall magnificence of the basin.
Grand Avoille Cove and Lake Fausse Point were worlds with dew still on them. He would let me get out at Cok’tangi. "Pond lily worship place," our grandfathers called it. A shell reef destroyed by dredges in the early 1900s, but for centuries before that it had been the religious center of the entire nation. He’d let me slip out of the boat sometimes. Climb the gunwale and lower myself into the green-black water that was, at most, chest-deep for a 10-year-old. I’d pick along the bottom under his watchful eye and pick up pieces of pottery with my toes. Some of it had the fingerprints of its maker fired into perpetuity.
"Might have been your great-great-great-great grandma," he would tell me, and I’d stare at it through black horn-rimmed glasses I’d worn since I was two. Diagonal lines slashed through some pieces the size of a credit card, and many, many years later in college I would learn the archaeologists call that pattern Manchac Incised. To me they were lines of time, leading from an unseen past to an unknown future, and all I could see and hold in my hands was that little credit-card sized piece of the here-and-now.
We wound down Sawmill Bayou, chasing fish, in a world that might have been created just the day before. Though it was only a matter of minutes in the boat to get back home, I felt as isolated and distant as if I had followed one of those lines on the pottery to pre-Columbian contact, when all the people here were Human Beings, there was no small pox, no horses, and especially no gates like the one that would be erected across Sawmill Bayou years later when I was a grown man. Like going back to the home you were raised in and finding it has been torn down and a gas station built on the site, that gate offends and infuriates me. After eight thousand years, gates deny me Sawmill Bayou and a world that only snapped into existence day-before-yesterday.
In the summers, the Stouffs would come from Ft. Worth for a week or so, and summer of course I was away from school for what seemed like an eternity but passed in a split instant. I would stand with my father, grandfather and my Uncle Ray outside, being a man with them, I thought, as they’d share the shade of the big pecan tree Hurricane Andrew later took out. They’d talk about many things, and Uncle Ray gave me my first pocket knife, as was the tradition in the family, because Dad gave my cousin Jim his first. I had no nephews to give a pocketknife to, but I gave Jim’s son his first fly rod. It was, under the circumstances of a world where the dew has evaporated away, the best I could do.
A boy wakes up new every morning, Havilah Babcock wrote, and I certainly did. I probably had 300 yards of bayouside, tops, but every inch of it was new and mysterious to me. The boat ride from behind our house to Lake Fausse Pointe always revealed some new secret. It was, far back in the narrow sloughs of Peach Coulee, a world south of now, north of tomorrow.
I can’t see it that way very often anymore. It’s not the same world. The dew dried up and leaves not even a hint of itself. The fields where my father and I rode our horses, T-Boy and Kate, now lie under the casino. Gates block Sawmill Bayou from people who cherished it for eight millennia for more than its value as a "preserve," a cultural oddity which we should be ashamed of. I can see the other side easily from Charenton Beach now, and Grand Lake has been diminished to little more than a series of winding canals.
But now and then, when I approach Grand Avoille Cove in the boat and the mist hasn’t completely burned away yet, the sun hasn’t completely revealed the here-and-now, I think I can see it. A world with dew still on it. I touch my glasses, expecting to find thick black plastic arms holding them atop my ears, but they’re only thin wire, and what I thought I saw was only an illusion, or at most a glimpse along a line incised on broken pottery to a time when both this place and I were only just born.