I am leaving New Orleans. Of the friends I’ve made in my time here, perhaps none were closer to me than the swamp. (Though I could not invite the swamp to my house for dinner like normal friends.) Before hitting the road, I wanted to say goodbye to the cypress trees, alligators, orb-weaver spiders, armadillos, and other swamp-things that have kept me company over the last 3 years. I rose at about 5:00 AM for a pre-sunrise drive to the Barataria Preserve, at Jean Lafitte National Park. Things were about to get sacred.
I have probably come to Jean Lafitte 30-35 times in the last 3 years. It’s a place of great significance to me, a sort of secret haven from the saxophone-infested clutter of New Orleans. Sometimes I would visit the park and see packs of cute-but-invasive nutria. Sometimes I caught glimpses of pigs. Sometimes I’d see these giant disgusting grasshoppers, the nightmarish and gargantuan versions of the normal, pastoral varieties. (I just discovered they are actually called “Devil’s Horses” which is appropriate inasmuch as they are cruel-black and big enough to ride.)
This ecosystem has been a weird sort of friend. A friend that just listens but could definitely kill you if it wanted. As my bog-green truck bore me away from New Orleans, over the Mississippi and toward the swamp the road was nearly vacant. A low fog hung about, and one by one, the lights ahead nestled into my rearview.
Turning a Fun Day Into a Frowny Face
I arrived at 6:20 AM, a good 30 minutes before sunrise. I stepped out of my truck, the air pleasantly lazy, lethargic like the bayou, or some biological equal to a slow-jam. The resident wildlife however, wasted no time in greeting me. Mosquitoes or possibly small squadrons of hostile enemy planes began flying-by my ears, using my arms as stunted runways and feeding troughs, and generally terrorizing my idiotic dream.
It was an idiotic dream because the swamp is FILLED with bugs at sun-up and sun-down, of course. I knew that. But I didn’t know that at 5:00 AM when I decided to go be a hero.
The swamp is a ridiculous place. The south is a ridiculous place. The swamp is teeming with dripping fangs and stingers and bright yellow, run-for-your-life backsides and snarling things. I tried my best, swamp. I tried to walk calmly down your boardwalk that had borne my weight and offered me levity over the years. But the Bayou Battalion was fierce, and the more they attacked, the more aggressively my heart beat and blood flowed. As my temperature elevated and I walked faster, I become increasingly desirable real-estate. Surely a call was trumpeted to the farthest palmate fronds: At this strange hour, there was a thin-skinned human walking in plain sight, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and NO BUG SPRAY. Insect holidays are based on such great fortune.
Despite the stunning reversal of a romantic stroll into a low-stakes blood-bath, the sounds of the dawning bayou-sphere were a delight. Weensy clickings near the still-waters from bugs popped out with disregard for meter. Slightly higher-up, a carousal of burbling and trilling bird calls chuckled out at me. In the highest climbs of the cypress trees was the sonorous hoo-ing from bard owls. These are the sounds a microphone would detect, anyway. (And mild, distant traffic, unfortunately)
The Sounds of Barataria Preserve
What the human ear detects is somewhat divorced from the mystical musings of the swamp. Here is a constructed attempt to illustrate the sound I heard:
Mike Vs. The Swamp: FIGHT!
The wretched of the skies sought to take their fortunes from the still-warm flesh of M. Long as he paced through the swamp. My final stroll through the Barataria Preserve was a gauntlet of aggression, the face of nature saying, “Hey bud, you should probably get going. Sincerely, wildlife.”