National Geographic : 1971 Feb
New Orleans and Her River who had spent more than 70 years in the delta. His son Warren was building a house to replace the one Isedore had known for 45 years, destroyed by Camille. "All a man had to do," Isedore said, "was walk out yonder with a gun, or stick a net in the water and he got all he wanted. Drift wood would bring you a house, bit by bit, when the river came up in the spring. I used to walk for miles through cut grass, flag grass, and three-cornered grass, but that's all gone. "When I was 18, I shot over 100 ducks every day for 14 days in a row and sold them to New Orleans restaurants. Come November, we'd get to trapping otter and mink and muskrat and coon. And a seven-foot alligator would bring you $3.00. You had to make sure you kept his eyes in the water, because if they came out, he'd fight. You had to hold his mouth shut and raise him up fast and give him a good lick with a hatchet. With a pi rogue, a paddle, a pole, there was nothing a man couldn't do. The way it used to be, why, it was country that God invented for himself." Suddenly Mr. Barrois's eyes filled with tears. Warren patted him on the shoulder and said, "Don't you worry, Daddy, it'll come back." It seemed a reassurance springing from affec tion rather than conviction. As Warren and I left the unfinished house, he said: "Now, there's something you ought to know. When Daddy says he used to walk for miles across the bayou, he doesn't mean walking like you and I walk, on the ground. He means walking the way he used to walk, from one bunch of cut grass to another. And when he talks about poling a pirogue-well, you and I need water for a boat but I've seen him moving on a heavy dew." The View From Inside a Rainbow The marshland east of Pilottown, laced with quiet channels named Main Pass, Octave Pass, and Raphael Pass, comprises the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, a 48,800-acre sanctuary established in 1935 to protect the 200,000 ducks, 70,000 geese, and other water fowl that winter there. During three days in that remote marsh land, we got a glimpse of what paradise used to be like-and will be again, I hope. Dennis Good, a New Orleans boat dealer, brought down an airboat that swept us over the grass and in and out of the narrow bayous like a skipping pebble. I will not forget one extraordinary moment. We were sitting silently in the boat shortly after dawn while the sun made a huge rain bow in the deep mist around us. Out of the rainbow a squadron of jacksnipe suddenly banked and veered in perfect formation, their white wing patches flashing. As if on cue, shrill whistles, pipes, booms, flutes, trilling cadenzas broke out as gallinules, coots, rails, woodcocks, and ibises joined a thundering chorus. Then geese, snows and blues, bugled like massed battalions from within the white veil before us. Never have I heard such music as I did then, blind in a blinding rainbow. When the sun finally burned the mist away, the geese got up, and an endless skein thread ed out against the horizon, fluttering blue black clouds streaming toward Breton Sound. "Too bad," Dennis said, "not many out here this morning." Mardi Gras Ignites New Orleans Carnival time brought me back to New Orleans. I called on stockbroker Darwin Fenner, former captain of the School of Design, the organization that sponsors the Rex Pageant. With his silver hair, impeccable manners, and resonant voice, Mr. Fenner is the image of the New Orleans gentleman. "Mardi Gras," he told me, "has been called the greatest free show on earth, free because the public parades are privately financed. All of the parades and balls are paid for by the city's unique carnival societies. They are known as krewes, and most are for men, but there are a few for women. Membership is presumably secret. A visitor to the city during carnival cannot attend the traditional balls except by invitation from a krewe member." I learned that carnival is, in fact, the key stone of social structure.* To be chosen king or queen of one of the older carnival societies is a stupendous social compliment; it is an honor that is remembered for a lifetime (pages 168-9). Family blood and achievement deter mine membership in the krewes; money does not count. The oldest-Comus, Rex, Momus, Proteus, Twelfth Night Revelers, and Atlan teans-are the most prestigious. A banker told me: "A person here is judged by krewe, club, and credit, in that order." In the years since the early krewes were formed, new ones have appeared regularly. *See "Mardi Gras in New Orleans," by Carolyn Ben nett Patterson, GEOGRAPHIC, November 1960.