National Geographic : 1966 Mar
BY CHARLESHARBUTT, MAGNUM, (C) N.G .S . as my ears grew attuned to a humming, buzz ing, droning, splashing cacophony. The sun declined, and one special thin whine mounted steadily. A million salt marsh mosquitoes, ravenous after a day of fasting in their grassy bed, drove me behind the refuge of the camp's screen door. A pirogue ghosted up to the dock, and a stocky fisherman climbed out carrying a long string of fish and a bucket of live crabs. He jumped and almost scattered the crabs into the bayou when I walked up and spoke to him from out of the twilight. "Man, I thought the devil had finally come for me," he said. "Why you walk up so quiet? You should make a big noise when you come up on somebody out here, else you make him jump out of his shoe." Gamble on Gumbo Pays Off After apologies for my tenderfoot behavior, I exchanged introductions with Malon White, who has dwelt in the marsh, as he put it, "since before alligators was invented." "Unless you like a bologna sandwich, you going to eat my cooking," Malon said. "If your insurance ain't paid up, I say take the bologna." "What are you planning to cook?" "A pot of gumbo with some nice young crab in him. Maybe a little fresh mullet to fill 368 out the corners. You skin the fish, I brown the roux, and we both say some prayers the sup per don't kill us." Malon's professionally able movements around the kitchen quieted my fears. The out doorsmen of Acadiana for generations have had to feed themselves during lonely months at fishing and trapping camps, and they have had to learn how to substitute the pleasures of the table for the pleasures of society. Scattering a handful of flour into a pan of hot oil, Malon stirred furiously at the mixture to keep it from burning. "Any time you see some smoke coming from your roux, throw it away, or you be sor ry," he said. "A burned roux look fine, and the bad cook he'll try to sneak it by you, but he just spoil his fish and his crab if he too lazy to make a new one." When the roux was right, Malon turned it out into a soup kettle and pitched in onions, a bay leaf, three dashes of Tabasco, crab meat, fish fillets, a bit of water. He brought the gumbo to a simmer and sat down to talk. "You came to the right place for goose pic tures. We get up an hour before the sun to morrow, and I take you to Hell Hole. There's a strip of sand there maybe 20 feet wide, the only sand around, and the goose comes at sunrise to fill his craw. He needs that sand for chewing, for he don't have no teeth.