Atchafalaya Swamp

by Dr. Mary Ellen Brown

Giant blue crabs congregate where salt water closes in on fresh.

Beyond, a sea of grass controlled by Gulf tides as tidewater creeps, spreads and envelopes the marsh in salt water; black mud expels tiny sand crabs onto their sideways journeys creating the “pop, pop” explosion of crabs when they clamber up through the mud as saw grass whispers and vibrates like a thousand rattlesnakes.

When I was young, we took Highway 90 to The City and went clear around the swamp as the road passed rows of shrimp boats in Morgan City and Thibodaux, the scent of fresh-caught grey-brown shrimp, their black-orb eyes emerged as seining nets sunned themselves while ring-billed gulls and brown pelicans hovered, croaked, hoped for a chance at the bottom catch still tangled in the weave covered in yellow-green slime.

Closer to shore are dark, churning creeks and bayous navigable by bark canoe or carved pirogue while the brownish-pink knees of cypress settle in place, admitting a wild magnolia or two, their tiny, scarlet seedpods, slick leaves and waxy white blossoms exposed to alligators who line the banks like abandoned cars, hides wet and glistening when patches of sun sift through shelves of leaves as they slide into the water with a distinctive “plop,” and an occasional black snake, moccasin or rattler drops from a low-hanging limb, maybe into a passing craft, maybe into the silver water where it glides away, diamond-shaped head above the surface.

Now Interstate 10, high above, slashes its way through the center of the swamp obscuring the endless canals that funnel roughnecks and roustabouts out to the Gulf for twelve-day-and-night shifts on towering, ghostly offshore oil platforms next to the deafening, unending noise of giant pumps grinding up and down as they suck blackness from thick mud and quicksand beneath the sea.

Grackles ride the wind like hawks.

Dr. Mary Ellen Brown, a former academic who studies women and culture, writes in the gap left by a certain peculiar vision in hopes that whoever reads it will see something they have never seen before. She put down roots in Asheville, North Carolina, almost twenty years ago and has called Asheville home ever since. Having spent much of her childhood in southwest Louisiana, she often attempts to capture the pleasures and insights of that rapidly changing space in her thoughts and writing—what it was for her as a child and how it reads now.