National Geographic : 2001 Jul
DELACROIX, LOUISIANA The last thing you see in Delacroix, Louisiana, is a wel come sign. First you have to drive southeast of New Orleans along Bayou Road, a cracked two-lane blacktop that skirts ruined sugar plan tations, ancient cemeteries, and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Go through the steel gates of the massive hurricane-protection levee and try to imagine the flood that would close them. After you pass a hundred shrimp boats tied to rickety docks and roughly the same number of houses on stilts, the asphalt plays out at a faded billboard teetering on the edge of the bayou. It reads, "Welcome to the End of the World." The residents aren't apocalyptic-the sign advertises a long-closed bar-but they are keenly aware of their place in the universe. Life for nearly all 300 people who live on this island is dictated by the seasons: the white shrimp season, the brown shrimp season, the mullet season, and, of course, the hurricane season. "When the hurricanes come, everybody fills sandbags and puts them along the road" says Curtis Morales, whose Island Seafood company sits within shotgun range of the sign. "If one person drowns, they all drown." Such community spirit isn't that surprising in a place where everyone seems to be related. The island has earned a bare-knuckled reputation for defending itself from outsiders and the elements. Roughly four miles long and 300 feet wide, Delacroix lies between the coffee-colored water of Bayou Terre aux Boeufs and seemingly endless marsh. It's as much a state of mind as a physical reality-the spiritual homeland for thou sands of descendants of Canary Islanders and other Spaniards sent here between 1778 and 1783 to reinforce Spanish claims. These "Islefios" sur vived by hunting, trapping, fishing, and hunkering down during the big blows. In 1915 and 1965 hurricanes all but razed the island. Countless more have sent islanders fleeing to higher ground. Always they return. AMOUNT OF FISH BAIT SOLD IN ONE YEAR IN ST. BERNARD PARISH (COUNTY): About 146,000 pounds LEAST PALATABLE HOME REMEDY: Slug of whiskey with a roach in it, taken in lieu of a tetanus shot MOST POPULAR ORDER ATTHE JUNCTION FOOD STORE: Ham-and-cheese po'boy FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FAME: Mentioned in Bob Dylan's song "Tangled Up in Blue" MOST POPULAR NICKNAME: Doody (4) Though only 20 miles from New Orleans, Delacroix and nearby bayou commu nities are a world apart.