Millions of dead fish

When we were on our tour of the US last year, one of our favourite states was Louisiana. We found the swamps beautiful and enchanting beyond belief and adored New Orleans (oh, the grilled oysters…). We wanted to take a tour of the swamps and decided that we didn’t want one of the “see an alligator, take a picture, go home”-tours, so we splashed out on a private tour with the Atchafalayan Basinkeeper himself. It was an unforgettable experience – and we didn’t even see an alligator. We saw lots of other things and Dean, the basinkeeper, knew every animal, bird, fish and insect in the basin. Knowing that this fantastic place will disappear within a very short time frame if something is not done, we joined the organisation, that supports the basin. Which of course means we get a newsletter now and then. Not often – since Dean is busy doing things, not just writing about them. Hm. In the latest newsletter he wrote this:

Hurricane Gustav hit the Atchafalaya Basin very hard. Cypress forests are hurricane resistant and hurricanes are actually good for the health of cypress swamps because high winds knocks down “trash trees.” The Atchafalaya’s fish and hardwood forests are not as lucky. Millions of fish died after the hurricane and it will take years for the Atchafalaya Basin’s fish populations to recover.

We bought and read this book about the swamps, what they mean to the eco-system of North- and South America, who lives there and why they are disappearing. It is very well written and researched and I warmly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in environmental issues. Here’s a quote from the book, where the author is talking to a Cajun shrimper (Tidwell, the author, knew nothing about environmental issues when he was first sent to the bayous by Washington Post to write a piece about the dying Cajun culture):

“All dis land around us, as far as you can see, is droppin’ straight down into de water, turnin’ to ocean. Someday, Baton Rouge, one hundred miles nort’ of here, is gonna be beachfront property.”

Oh, and speaking of books. James Lee Burke‘s detective Robicheaux  operates in Louisiana. This one takes place in the aftermath of Katrina. Both the description of the devastation after the hurricane and the plot are fantastic.

I was actually so fascinated by the swamps that I’m still thinking about retiring in a house on stilts, surviving on a diet of cajun-style cooked shrimp, jambalaya and oysters. As long as there’s Internet…

Egrets, ibises, wood storks, great blue herons, little blue herons, spoonbills and anhingas are feasting on the fish, which have sought refuge here. Photo by basinkeeper Dean Wilson. Above photo also by Dean.

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A wedding anniversary in Mississippi

If, on our wedding day, anybody had suggested that we’d celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary in a provincial town in Mississippi, we’d probably have laughed at the thought. But here we are! We’d decided to splash out on some sleeping accomodation that wasn’t the RV instead of presents. And according to various guide books, Nathcez on the Mississippi river in the south-westerly part of Mississippi would be a good choice.

Natchez is a strange place – it survived the civil war without battle, because it’s commander thought it impossible to win anyway and so just flew the white flag. So the town is full of antebellum houses. It does it’s very best to attract tourists, but isn’t alltogether succesfull. Something that’s  evident from the number of empty storefronts in downtown. At the same time some businesses seem to thrive – among these unfortunately the casinos. But also the guesthouses in antebellum plantation houses seem to do well for themselves. The one we chose was inside the town, because we wanted to be able to walk to the haunted King’s Tavern for dinner and on the whole not set eyes on the RV for a short while.

We had a lovely afternoon and evening and slept fitfully in big beds in a room 3 times the size of the RV. Next on the agenda is the “Full Southern Breakfast” which is something hotels and guesthouses take great pride in here – so we’re looking forward to it! I won’t be counting calories though – surely the breakfast will hold enough of them to keep me covered for a day or two…

It’s great to be back in the south – there’s something about it which I can’t define, but really like. And I like the warm weather too! Today we’re headed for New Orleans for a repeat performance. We loved that city and want to spend another day there. After that we’re headed for Texas again to complete this part of our trip by celebrating Thanksgiving with the family. We’re very much looking forward to that.

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Catching up

My aunt’s funeral was just as it should be. Her son and daughter had taken great pains to make arrangements that would have pleased my aunt and that would be pleasing to the family. The coffin was decorated with the Danish flag and red and white flowers, and they’d found a Lutheran pastor, who held a very good and balanced speech, where he touched upon both my aunt’s addiction and her recovery through AA, many years ago. He did both in a subtle but yet straightforward way.

Before I went to Texas we went for a tour on foot in the swampy forest outside Savannah, where we were camping. It was wilderness for dummies, so we weren’t exactly about to get lost. But since it wasn’t the weekend or holiday, we were by ourselves. It was hot, humid, different and fascinating.

The color and the stillness

Crabs – hundreds of them

What a tree!

We visited Savannah, but were’nt really that impressed. Much to our own surprise. The much acclaimed River Walk was extremely touristy and rather sordid. We found a really nice café and enjoyed the many lovely, shady squares. We also visited one of the houses from the 19th century. We couldn’t help snickering a little. When you come from a country where you don’t even raise an eyebrow to churches that are 800-1000 years old, it’s quite funny to experience the Americans’ awe over objects and houses that are less than 200 years old. But – the other side of that coin is, that we Europeans could learn about taking more pride in our history from the Americans.

Talking of history – the next day we visited Fort Pulaski. A fort that it took 12 years to built, but only 30 hours’ of union bombardement to conquer.

While I was away, Dane and David had a great time doing real father-son things. They went fishing, but all they caught was a poor old turtle, which they of course let go again. They saw an alligator in the lake by the camp ground, so didn’t go fishing in that lake… They wen’t canoing together and Dane climbed a twenty meter climbing wall. Probably all for the best that Mommy wasn’t around for that!

As mentioned earlier, Dane has developed a vivid interest in the second world war, battleships and fighter planes. At Patriot’s Point he got lots more input to feed that interest.

More and bigger-size pictures here.

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Sad

My sweet old aunt, Godmother and namesake in Texas died last night in her sleep. We’d been looking forward to seeing her again at Thanksgiving, but now there’s a funeral…

We’ll be changing our plans, but don’t quite know to what extent yet.

We’re at a campsite outside Savannah without Internet, so I’m writing this at a Starbucks café in a Savannah suburb, while David and Dane are out fishing in the Moon River. The campsite is in a state park and beautiful. We went on walk on a nature trail in the park this morning. It was beautiful and very exotic.

More later.

By the way, friends and family: We would like to hear from you too!

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What a wonderful place!

After having done our washing in a laundromat (yet another first), we drove to a new campsite in Baton Rouge where I have more family! They had long known to expect the crazy Europeans and when we announced our arrival, they were quick to invite us to dinner. And not only dinner, no, homemade Gumbo! Mmmm, that was good! And I must say – what nice family I have over here! Keep’m comin’!

The sweet and hospitable Bryan family (and us) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The next morning we got up and away early for our much anticipated tour of the swamp. We decided to splash out here and charter a boat rather than sharing a ride with other tourists. That turned out to be a very good idea. Searched around on the web for a while and fell completely for this guy here, who’s love for the Atchafalaya basin is unrivaled. On the way there, we didn’t get lost once and made it on schedule (more on getting lost later…). We let our RV stand on a deserted parking lot and took off in Dean’s little boat. Wauw, it was fast!

The swamp, the atmosphere, the sounds defy description. But it was breathtakingly beautiful and magic. Dean was a great guide – telling us about the history of the basin, the terribly many environmental issues that are facing the basin and wetlands generally and about the plants and animals that are invading the swamp and the ones who are extinct or threathened to be extinct. He knew the name of every bird, fish and insect we saw on the way. And – contrary to popular belief – there were no mosquitoes or horse flies or other despicable creatures – only insects we saw in the 2 1/2 hours we were on the water were – dragonflies. In all shapes and forms. We didn’t see any alligators – Dean was sure he saw one at one point, but it went under when we came near it in the boat. He did show us the tracks on the river bank, though! However, I found the ancient cypresses much more fascinating than any alligator could ever be!

 

 

More pictures here

After this fantastic experience, we drove on down towards New Orleans. Pronounced New ‘Orleans much to David’s dismay. And we got so, SO lost. The GPS wouldn’t accept the address given by the campsite, but we figured we could just follow their directions which seemed pretty straightforward. Well, guess what, they were’nt, or else (which is not totally unlikely…) we just got them all wrong. Downside was that we drove around New Orleans for hours. Upside was that we got to see with our own eyes, exactly what havoc Hurricane Kathrina really caused down here. In some of the poorer neighbourhoods we drove through, more than half the houses were left, empty. We probably wouldn’t have seen any of that, if we hadn’t got lost. Besides, we made people laugh. The people sitting in front of their little rickety houses knew that we were lost and grinned at us – but in a real friendly way!

Tomorrow we’ll spend the entire day in The Big Easy.

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