Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Weekend 10: The Big Easy

I spent much of last week in south Louisiana with some fishing buddies, chasing reds and specks around the marsh just west of New Orleans. I love this little corner of Louisiana, both for what it is now, and, with a little love, what it could be once again.

The marshlands of south Louisiana are disappearing to the tune of a football field every hour thanks a channelized flood-control system that pushes sediment down the Mississippi River and out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it just falls off the edge of the Continental Shelf and is lost forever. Before the levees and the channels were constructed, the river would frequently change course and deposit sediment all through the marsh--building land and actually increasing the barriers that stand between the Gulf and the higher ground inland. Now, the waters of the Gulf, pushed by tides and sometimes by severe storms that bear names like Katrina and Isaac, lap against the marsh grasses and pull the earth away from the grass, eroding fishy swamps and turning them into vast, shallow, brackish lakes that stretch miles across.

Chris Macaluso with nice Lake Bourne black drum.
It's one of those unique problems--we know what causes it, we know what the solution is, but for some reason, we can't look past the challenges to reach the compromise needed to protect the coastline and all that great fish and game habitat so many of us love. Thankfully, there's a campaign afoot, and I got to fish with its director, Chris Macaluso, last week and learn more about it.  The Vanishing Paradise effort, conducted largely by the National Wildlife Federation, the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited is making great strides, bringing important partners together and working to find ways to reintroduce fresh Mississippi River water--and the sediment it carries--into the marsh in hopes of stemming the land loss this area experiences every single day.

Chris toted me and my buddy John Gale around the marsh for a couple of days lastweek, and we stuck a few decent speckled trout and a few really nice redfish. I love fishing the marsh--within 20 minutes, a guy can leave the French Quarter and be far enough out into the wilderness to cast to wild fish out of sight of the city. It's a unique little corner of America... and I hope it stays that way.

Here's what's best about it, in my book, anyway:

10) Obviously, the fishing. And the vast number of opportunities the boat-bound angler can enjoy. Redfish, speckled trout, flounder, sheepshead and black drum in the marsh to bass, bream and crappie in the sweetwater swamps, this may be the fishiest town in America. But don't tell anybody.

Ah, yes... the culture.
9) The culture. It's a unique little corner of America rich with history ranging from the remnants of French-Canadian immigrants to Antebellum plantations and, of course, the urban grit of the French Quarter. It's diverse, lively, slummy and sophisticated. I love it.

8) The music. Zydeco, jazz, blues ... it's all here, and it's all absolutely amazing. Nowhere else in the country can you find such a diverse offering of outstanding music within a single square block. I remember as an 18-year-old, wide-eyed kid wandering the streets of the Quarter for the first time and stopping into a busy corner pub on Bourbon Street where an honest-to-God Irish band wailed away to a captive crowd. I sat in the corner and drank black-and-tans until I couldn't stand up ... and I bought a cassette tape from the band that plumb wore out in the tape deck of my old 1980 Toyota Corolla.

7) The people. The locals are perhaps the most genuine people on earth, and, yes, a lot of them look and act like the dudes on Swamp People and Duck Dynasty, but I haven't met one who wouldn't give me the shirt off his back if I asked for it. Then, in the city itself, New Orleans is a mishmash of outsiders from all over the world--on this last visit, we sat drank Irish whiskey served by a bartender from Holland who arrived the day after the Saints won their first Super Bowl a few years back. "I had no idea what that was all about ... but everybody was happy."

6) The resilience. Perhaps no other American city has endured such Biblical wrath as New Orleans over the last decade. First, Katrina whipped ashore and pushed the Gulf of Mexico right into the city, literally destroying much of it. Then came the Deepwater Horizons disaster that washed raw crude into the marsh and left behind a toxic legacy that's still unfolding. And, of course, there's the whole marsh erosion issue that just pushes the Gulf that much closer to the city's levees every single day. This fall, Isaac roared ashore... Yet she always bounces back. I love that about New Orleans.

5) The food. Po' boys, etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya and all the tricks that can be done to redfish... this city is where obesity begins, simple as that. Honestly, if I thought I could handle the culinary temptations, I'd try to live there... but I lack the willpower.

4) The Mississippi River. It's an amazing body of water, and despite the wrong-headed decisions made over the years to channelize and control this unpredictable river, you have to be impressed with the way New Orleans has carved out a little niche of below-sea-level swamp in an elbow of this massive stream. Watching it flow by Jackson Square is one of the more impressive displays of "progress" a person can experience.

3) The Saints. I'm a die-hard Bronco fan, but the Saints are easily No. 2 in my book, and it's largely because of what happens to this city on game day. The Quarter comes alive with black and gold--and, of course, with the colors of the visiting team--and the city turns an ordinary Sunday into a party. That's another thing... if it doesn't have an excuse to party, it'll make one up.

2) Chickory coffee and piping hot beignets at Cafe du Monde. If you've never eaten breakast on a steamy August morning under the awning at this joint across from Jackson Square, you're missing one of life's simple pleasures. Put it on your bucket list.

1) The future. I might be a rare optimist, but I think New Orleans' best days lie ahead, what with the realization that mistakes of the past threaten this special place. I can't imagine allowing it to be swallowed up by the waters simply because its past is paved with the best of intentions and the worst of realities. As I said, we know the problems, and we know the solutions. Now we just have to get it done. God Bless New Orleans... I can't wait to see you again.

1 comment:

  1. There is another small place near there, inside a courtyard. Wish I could remember the name, but they had huge cups of coffee, splashed with milk, and fine beignets...wish I could go back, I miss the oysters, the crayfish, and buckets of shrimp. New Orleans is a great place, and resilient.