Lafayette, Louisiana. Wednesday March 29
Zydeco. Cajun. Acadian. Tabasco. Bayou. Sugar. Oil. Crawfish. Catfish. Alligators. Floods. What do you think of when Louisiana and its delta area are mentioned? We have spent an enjoyable two days touching on all of those and other aspects of life in the area between New Orleans and Lafayette.
Tuesday we made a stop at Avery Island. First off, Avery Island is not an island in the usual sense. It is an area of land (2200 acres) rising above the marshy, more flat ground in this section of Louisiana. So the islands stand out and above from the rest of the landscape; there are several “islands” in this area. Some of these islands are unique in that they are salt domes, pillars of salt tens of thousands of feet deep, deposited eons ago and now mined for the salt. Cargill mines the salt under Avery Island.
On Avery Island, the McIlhenny family began growing peppers and preparing their unique sauce, Tabasco Sauce, after the Civil War. The family still runs the business and makes the sauce here on Avery Island, growing the peppers, using the local salt, preparing and mixing the sauce, then bottling and shipping it from here. We toured the factory and watched the process in action.
On a side note, there is another salt dome and mine less than 10 miles from Avery Island. In 1980, by mistake, a Texaco Oil Company rig drilled into a Diamond Crystal Salt Company salt mine. A hole was punched into the roof of the mine and the lake (Lake Peigneur) drained into the cavern that had been created from years of mining. The cavern was so large and deep, water from the nearby bayou flowed in reverse, the freshwater became saltwater, geysers spewed out of the mine, and a waterfall began where the water now flowed into the mine opening. No one died and nine of eleven barges sunk during the disaster later popped out of the whirlpool. Today the mine is closed but the dome is still used as a storage and hub facility for pressurized natural gas. Just a tidbit for your edification.
Side note number 2. In 2012, another salt dome collapsed. Bayou Corne sinkhole was a dome with numerous caverns. Drilling created a weakness and gas and oil escaped into the dome. The sinkhole is swallowing land and discharges gas into the water and air. Hundreds of families have been evacuated and many will eventually be relocated.
Side note number 3. In 2002, the American Chemical Society recognized the 1843 invention by a free man of color named Norbert Rillieux who invented the multi-state evaporator for refining sugar as one of the greatest inventions of chemical engineering. It paved the way for greater efficiencies in sugar production. Rillieux owned part of the land that Chalmette Battlefield of Jean Lafitte National Park is located on.
Side note number 4. Oil was discovered in this area in 1901. Off-shore oil drilling began in 1947. We observed numerous oil field supply companies and airports with more helicopters than airplanes.
Back to the fun stuff. The McIlhenny family also runs Jungle Gardens and Bird City. This is a 170 acre botanical garden and wildlife refuge, also on Avery Island. Touring the gardens and factory were a pleasant afternoon diversion. The gardens are nice but once again very little blooming plants were to be seen. I was expecting the azaleas or iris or camellias to be in flower. Where are the bountiful blooms of gardens like the Portland Oregon Rose Garden or the gardens at Richmond and Norfolk VA, etc? The best part of Jungle Gardens was Bird City, a nesting area for egrets and herons.
Bird Island video
Tuesday morning, besides watching sugar cane fields and refineries, driving along bayous, seeing more ships, marveling at huge live oak trees with their spreading branches, we visited the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux LA-part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Preserve. Together with the visit Wednesday afternoon at the other Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, we read and heard about the history of the French Acadians in Louisiana.
This blog has already mentioned the intermingling of cultures that has given flavor to Louisiana; Spanish, African, Canary Islands, several Native American tribes, Irish, German, Chinese, and Filipinos. One of the most notable cultures is that of the French, particularly the French Acadians.
The history is complicated but essentially French settlers came to that part of Canada we now consider as Nova Scotia but which was called Acadia at that time. Later the settlers spread to Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island. Over several decades in the late 1600s and up to the middle 1700s, control of this portion of Canada switched between the British and the French. When the British controlled the area, they sought pledges of allegiance or at least neutrality, from the French living in Acadia. However, around 1750, the British controlled the area and were fearing the French would try to re-take Acadia.
The British became more forceful with the French Acadians who resisted a full pledge of allegiance. In response, the British began a seven-year process of forced deportation of the Acadians. A brutal process that separated men, women and families; the Acadians were shipped to American colonies and back to France. Most American colonies did not want them, the Acadians were denied entry, were separated among many towns, and many died of disease. For instance, Massachusetts never allowed the refugees off the ships and 1500 died of smallpox. Virginia sent their 1500 exiles off to camps in England. In South Carolina, 940 escaped to the interior of the colony while some escaped to go back and fight the English in Acadia. In Pennsylvania, many of the 450 exiles were imprisoned for not giving up their children to English-speaking families. Over time many of the Acadians exiled to American colonies returned to France, and too independent to live under royal rule in France after being gone for so long, they decided to try a new spot in America. Combined with French from the West Indies, Louisiana became their new home. Louisiana was under French or Spanish rule, depending on the year, and the French Catholic Acadians were welcome here.
The Acadians in this area preferred to settle on the levees, the fertile high banks along the slow-moving rivers. Surveyors would parcel out land to them including fertile land, waterfront for fishing rights, and back country land for grazing animals. (This is not dissimilar to the process used in Hawaii to give natives pieces of land in a pie shape to include ocean, hilly terraces and mountainous land.) The term Cajun became the English pronunciation of Acadian. Their French is still spoken here, although dissimilar from continental French.
The Acadian culture was almost lost. In 1916, Louisiana undertook legal steps to forbid the teaching of French and the Acadian culture and two generations suffered by not learning their history. Not unlike the efforts made by the U.S. government to undo Native American culture.
Wednesday morning we took a two and a quarter-hour swamp tour. We are staying at the Savoy Bed and Breakfast at Lafayette LA. The owner gave us the name of a company, Cajun Country, that he recommended to replace one we were contemplating that is run cooperatively with the National Park Service. Cajun Country gave us an excellent experience. This is not our first swamp tour. We have completed ones at the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia, the Everglades in Florida, and Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. Still, it is not our everyday experience.
As our guide stated: “A marsh is a lake with trees in it.” Lake Martin runs between four and seven-foot of water and is now managed by The Nature conservancy. Together with the nearby Cypress Island Preserve, 10,000 acres of land, water, forest, and marsh are protected. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Anhingas, Cormorants, Whistling Ducks, etc. breed here and we observed all of those species. Alligators and turtles were everywhere, from small to large.
We ended the evening with dinner eating Cajun food and listening to Cajun music at a local restaurnt also recommended by our Savoy B & B host.
Ed and Chris. March 29