The bayous of Louisiana more closely resemble the Degobah System than a terrestrial landscape. I spent a few days in the swamps and lakes of Lafayette last week and I expected to see Luke knee deep in his ninja training doing flips and shit over logs with Yoda strapped to his back but I never did. I saw plenty of alligators, however, and I was profoundly affected. There’s something about man-eating dinosaurs that rub you in a visceral way and I simply couldn’t get enough. I booked a swamp tour for twenty bucks.
Our captain, who’s about to be featured in a History Chanel special on the invisible parts of Louisiana, would stop our flat bottomed boat amongst the vegetation and kill the outboard so we could hear him speak about this or that. There were three Americans (myself and two rather trashy gentlemen with Budweiser tallboys and homemade tattoos), three men from London, and a married couple from France. The French spoke French and our captain spoke bastardized Cajun as well as broken English. The blokes from London spoke impeccably. The two other Americans spoke ebonics at best and I was somewhere in the middle of it all laughing to myself.
It was easy to forget where I was while the boat was stopped and our captain droned on with his hypnotic slang. The water’s surface was a solid living mass of vegetation, and when our wake would finally die, it’d look like a smooth forest floor. I’d reach my hand out over the surface and slap it occasionally which would send out waves and make it look like solid ground was undulating; the forest floor was a water bed. And that’s when the boat went silent. The captain casually pointed to eleven o’clock and said “gator”. The little bastard was looking right at me. I slowly raised my camera and snapped two quick pictures; the gator had seen enough and sank back down to the depths like a prehistoric submarine.
I have no idea why I did it but I forced myself to push my hand through the water’s living surface until my elbow was wet. The swamp was warm as soup. I imagined the scene from the gators perspective; a dark wet sky parting to let a wriggling snack through. I was exulted. The captain laughed and said something about “crazy Alaskans” before starting the motor and taking us back to shore. Everything in the lake from that point on, drift wood included, looked like something deadly but the captain would laugh and say that I had just spotted an “a-log-ator”. The Brits dubbed him a “cheeky fellow” thanks to his outback humor.
I had always assumed that swamps were fetid places that reeked of death and decay but these lush habitats smelled pure and verdant and I fell in love with the landscape instantly. The cypress trees grew straight from the water weeping moss and beauty back into their reflections. Alien sounds bled from everywhere to compose a reptilian symphony. Monstrous birds that at first glance looked like pterodactyls, would slowly sweep their wings through the humid air as they flew in fright from my tour boat’s motor. It was a Cajun paradise.
I grew up in bear filled mountains and I now live in a desert wherein just about everything is poisonous but I’ve never before felt as if I was living at nature’s whim. The sun was setting and we were only a few miles from shore but what if I didn’t have the security of that skiff? Would I be able to make it back to land when I was surrounded by fifteen foot gators that were three quarters of a ton? That’s a lot of lizard. I was out of my element and I loved it. I’m positive those twenty bucks were well spent and when both of my daughters are old enough I’ll fly them to the deep south so they can breathe in the clean air of the bayou and taste that tinge of fear when a red-eyed monster looks at you like the morsel you really are. It’s a perspective we all need.