Dead cypress trees in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin. Photo: Martyn Lucas

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
22 August 2018

(The Bitter Southerner) – I am leaving my skiff at a funky little marina on the swamp’s west side, an access point to the Atchafalaya in the deep Cajun parish called St. Martin. Boat docked, I head to my pickup. […]

It is the largest swamp and wetlands area in the United States, some 600,000 acres, twenty miles wide and 150 miles long. The Atchafalaya was nigh inaccessible for so long it kept the Acadian culture pristine and whole, beneath a bell jar, preserving its looks and even its language.

That changed, of course. The interstate causeway that links Baton Rouge to the 22 Cajun parishes had a lot to do with assimilation, with change. But long before the big bridge was built, people looked into the vast dark mirror of waters and saw dollar signs floating.

The Atchafalaya has been drained, dredged, abused, and mined – for moss, oil, and lumber – yet still somehow the beauty of the place remains overwhelming, a dreamlike reminder of what the world must have been before humans. What the world could be now with proper stewardship.

And in the midst of this stunning Jurassic Park there are trees, towering recriminations in the wilderness. They are the few giant cypresses missed by the wholesale annihilation that went on the beginning of the last century. The skeletal cypress sentinels remain to haunt us.

“Once we have cut down all the big trees, part of our punishment will be to live in a world without any big trees,” the late environmental activist Greg Guirard once wrote.

Guirard, who died in May of 2017 at age 80, spent the last two decades of his life planting live oak and cypress replacements on the land he inherited and, in turn, left to his children. It troubled him that a beloved grandfather who first owned the home place on Bayou Mercier had been part of the workforce that harvested what Greg Guirard lovingly called “the giants.”

But cypress, not a renewable resource, is endangered, like the swamp itself. If it looks like forever, it is not. Guirard himself was a part of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a small, but feisty nonprofit organization that opposes the harvesting of what’s left of Louisiana’s cypress for lumber, mulch, or even wood pellets.

Makes no sense, but Louisiana politicians for years have winked at the decimation of its most valuable natural resources.  It has been up to such activists and individuals to express the outrage that elected officials never feel or wink away. [more]

Erosion of a Culture

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