Vanishing Isle de Jean Charles

 Isle de Jean Charles, located in the southern Louisiana Bayou, is home to the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. The island is quickly vanishing due to environmental problems from coastal erosion to canals dredged in the nearby marshland by oil and gas companies. These problems are further exasperated by a rising sea level. In 2016, the state used 48 million in grants to resettle 100 members of the island’s Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe. Many residents say that after a heavy storm surge or hurricane, few are able to leave the island for safety. 

 


Excerpt:
Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana

After the ongoing curves we arrived on Island road. It was a thin strip, a two-way road, on the same level as the water. It became pertinent that I stayed glued to the left. If I glided too much to the right I would be driving over the gulf of Mexico, and sinking slowly. The two-way road was still somewhat spacious, though there were often large puddles of water. I drove on the opposite lane for fear of getting into a deep puddle or splashing the people fishing on the sides of the road. In front of me, I saw that half the road was covered in the water, but I figured the jeep could handle it, so I passed along carefully.

The sky was its truest blue with only a few white clouds hanging lazily in the background. On both sides of the road endless water and the land was protected by rocks and gravel. This was no time to drive fast, since it meant heading directly into water. We drove down, wondering where we could park. We passed a submarine and a sign that read “We’re not moving off this Island. If some people want to move, they can go. But leave us alone. The people have the right to live where they want, not where people tell them to go and live…”

Here the roads were wider and there was little flooding. There was a faded light pink house on high stilts with a long staircase on the side. “The water must get that high,” my partner said. I wondered if anyone lived in these houses, if  they just came on weekends or, if they abandoned them to the gulf.

There wasn’t anyone walking in the street. We stopped where it said Dead End, since up ahead the road had been thoroughly covered by water. It did not appear deep, but I did not see any land after that point. It could be the road was only just below the water, but I didn’t want to risk it. Other cars stopped at that point too, thinking they would cross, but then they weren’t sure so they headed back. Later on I saw two bicyclists without backpacks or water bottles, which meant they had come from nearby. “These people came by bike all the way from New Orleans,” I told my partner laughing.

We walked around for a short while over a small hill on the right, which left us by an open body of water. I used my binoculars to spot birds. All I could see were Red-winged Blackbirds flying above us. Two men were revving up their small motorboat. I stared at them through my binoculars then waved and they waved back. We walked to a blue house with a sign in the front that had a fish. I couldn’t see much else from where I was standing. We passed the parking lot, and made out something about fishing hooks on the sign. We decided to check it out. For the most part everyone on the road and around here had been friendly. We went up the stairs, hoping to find food or at least directions.

At the top of the staircase, we saw some long tables and chairs. No one was around except two or three men. One of them came toward us, said hello and shook our hands. He had a calming and honest quality about him, and his eyes told me he meant what he said. He introduced himself as Theo. He was bald and wore a white shirt. “I was wondering if y’all were going to continue driving.” I told him we left our car just past the parking lot. Storm Cindy had passed a couple of days ago so we wondered if they had any major flooding. Theo said that there was two feet of water by Island road and down the road after the Dead End sign. “How long have you been living here?” I asked. He said he had been in the island for 80 years, but lived in Houma now, and only came back to take care of his father’s house. Theo looked younger than 80.

Thoughts: La Vache

IMG_8047

 

In Hinduism the cow is considered a sacred animal, often seen as a caretaker or a maternal figure. Whenever I see a cow, I feel a sense of peace: something about their eyes and the way they stand. Recently when a friend visited me, we watched the movie, El Cuento Chino, in which a cow becomes a symbol of happiness and pain for the main characters.

Throughout our wanderings in New Orleans, walking, biking under tree canopies, visiting art galleries, and driving, we saw images of cows several times, that we regarded mostly as happy accidents. But they could also be seen as omens, slowly fading into fast-moving days in the middle of the southern heat. We both glanced at the image and remembered what it meant for us. The cow became our shared experience.

Now every time I see a cow, I think about that film and my friend’s visit to New Orleans. On a recent road trip, I felt a familiar sadness connected to driving, and the sudden acknowledgment, that I was an adult with so few road trips under her belt. One of my favorite songs was playing: “Primavera que no llega….” I looked out the passenger window at the green field and the cows grazing the land. A herd of them were spread out: brown, white, dotted ones. They were all there. All the cows you’d ever need. “Only the cow knows my sadness,” I thought, and it felt soothing to see them, to know this moment was sacred, even though I could explain it to no one. I wondered when I would be out here, on my own driving, fading into the clouds

*A spring that hasn’t arrived.

Drive in the Sun

I have a long history with driving, and most of it has been spent hating it or driving like a squirrel. I prefer to walk, bike,  or direct the designated driver, which usually means messing with the radio, or pointing out blacks cats and old ladies in yellow rain coats.  It’s obvious who’s really having the most fun in a car? Passengers.  “I am a passenger. And I ride and I ride…”

Cynthia Via
Cynthia Via

Being shotgun means you get to be the dj and enjoy the views, while also distributing snacks if it’s a long ride. No worries, just the long road ahead. It’s all fun talk from the back people, who are left abandoned to their devices,  sloppy sleep, or talking until words run out.  At least they  get to nap while the people in the front stay awake, worried that they’ll miss a turn on the long journey.  As a passenger your job is to keep everyone entertained, while also being in charge of checking alternate routes, messing with the GPS, or using a printed google map when there’s no service. “We won’t know if we’re going the right way until we get there,” echoes from somewhere.

The last time I held a real map was in 2007. It was a giant one, and it was upside down when we were on the highway heading to Canada. Eventually the giant map overtook me and covered my side of the front window. My friends in the back laughed hysterically. The driver wasn’t too thrilled. I heard the car steer. No more giant maps after that.

Who’s the real decision maker? The driver. While I love indulging in music, the views, and being the squirrel shotgun who spaces out. I often wonder wouldn’t it better to drive, to make decisions on the whim—last-minute, quick decision.

Pierrot le fou's Anna Karina et Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Pierrot le fou’s Anna Karina et Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Now that I’m back to driving the second time around, I feel more confident, and less fearful of traffic. I still have my reservations, and they should be in place. I don’t want to be the daredevil beginner driver who gets a ticket on her first badass driving maneuver. When you’re learning its best to be patience and take it slow. Expert drivers can take calculated risks, since they anticipate the possible outcome after years of difficult driving.

Being fearless doesn’t mean exhibiting a kind of hubris and making careless decisions on the road,  it means weighing out the options, and making a wise decision. As an example, here are these two scenarios.  The first  is a calculated risk. A friend was in a  small parking lot with only a few spots available. She spotted one and hurried to take it with confidence, moving past the slow cars while being careful. The second decision was a careless one: she was in a curvy highway on the side of a mountain, just beyond the road was gravel then the abyss. On this barely lit highway she decided to suddenly stop and take a photo of a blue sunset (It was beautiful, I have to admit)—not knowing if there was a car behind her. “Gasp!” The car behind stopped, albeit abruptly, but at least it didn’t hit us. The moment was so quick, I doubt she enjoyed the sunset in the same way we did.

On Sunday I  drove in the sun.  Despite the noises outside, the traffic, the conversations inside the car, I was able to black out those minors things, and simply watch the ongoing streets, lights,  and pedestrians walking by. Everything was clockwork, turning, turning, slowing down, moving quickly, staying still, letting cars pass, moving again. At some point I began feeling the fluidity of driving, and it was no longer a chore. I like driving in the mornings when its quiet, especially if its foggy. Everything is blank and new out there in the  cold early spring days, making me feel empty with clarity.  The repetition of driving is therapeutic—sameness down ordinary streets.

 

 

Wildness

"For the sad truth was that poets didn't drive, and even when they traveled on foot, they didn't always know where they were going." —Paul Auster, Timbuktu (pp 142)

For most of last week my body was visited by strange ailments, some of physical lengths and others marked by emotional queries. They distorted the time of day. I was the girl with pins in her stomach.

But I don’t suppose I’ll let my fears and the emotions of my mind win out the rest of this month. If we let that happen, we forget that reality is perceived; it can either exist or cease to become permanent.  The real strength of character may come from the ability to control and organize our thoughts, moving from irrational to logical, finally to a place made for you.

While driving in the fog the other day, I realized how flat and permanent reality appeared on the road: the straight white lights from ongoing cars, the misty fog and the early winter darkness. Fear was running before I took off– made aware by dreams of spiral roads, shaky turns, crashes, fumes and faulty breaks. It happens every time I dream of driving; either I’m immobile and the car moves by itself or the accelerator and the breaks are missing. How silly it is to fall under the feeling of dreams.  Once moving, and the accelerator finding its place under my foot, I glided through the fog, making fear impermanent and the drive a continuum instead of divided in parts.

There is no easy way, and as any person climbing into a new boat, it takes many wild days to understand a new experience. How does one take off so elegantly? There are the stops and goes even when you are grounded. The doubts, and the reemergence of energy; it is the up and down motion of a child learning how to stand up. There is the question of inspiration. And then the arrival of silence when you don’t want to write a word, and to force yourself would be insincere. I should wait until my eyes are led to a new thought. There will be first tries, mistakes, rejections, fears and bitter endings, but there is always a time to start again, to push the wheel until you find that words come easily.