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Issue #186, Epic Road Trip, June 8, 2018: Louisiana swamp tour andLonge Vue House, New Orleans

June 8, 2018 My entire head is vibrating and ringing most uncomfortably after a night ensconced in our lovely little air-conditioned Cricket. The air-conditioner is seemingly indispensable, given that temperatures and humidity are hovering at levels unacceptable to normal sleep, and my family seems content with that, but I am having a miserable time dealing with a head that feels like it’s going to explode. The same thing happened yesterday morning - fortunately, by the end of the afternoon, when we had been sitting in kayaks on a peaceful stretch of a bayou, I dissolved into the stillness and serenity of the watery environment.

Our trip to go kayaking began in the late afternoon after we had returned from exploring the Longue Vue house and gardens and having a meal (more about that in a moment).

To get to the kayaking put-in, we had to drive about 30 miles towards Baton Rouge. Unleashed from the Cricket, our Volvo surged ahead with pep and higher mileage. Our main challenge was navigating to the correct exit, because if you missed it, out there on the highway-on-pillars, there was no quick way back. (This section of the highway is built entirely on concrete stilts pounded into the swamp).

We made it just fine, and assembled with a group of folks let by a skinny guide with a lizard earring and small lightning bolts shaved into the hair on the side of his head.

Our guides didn’t seem all that organized - they didn’t even have enough life jackets for everybody; but it wasn’t a problem, as the water was exceedingly still and glassy. I went with Phoenix, and Paige and Orion paddled together. Our bright orange and red kayaks contrasted visually with the green and lush vegetation. The surface of the water was like a mirror, and on the banks loomed tall Cyprus trees dripping with Spanish Moss. The Cyprus trees’ roots poked out of the ground like an army of termite mounds.

Phoenix had been looking forward to seeing alligators, and we saw not just one but a total of about 8, (much smaller than we expected, only a few feet long) floating mostly submerged with only their snouts and part of their tails visible. They disappeared into the murky warm water as soon as we paddled by. White Snowy Egrets also flew up into the canopy of trees, and an unusual spider fell into our boat after I picked up a floating shrub (an invasive species of water hyacinth) for closer inspection.

Our guide gave two brief lectures, one focusing on the vegetation and another on the perils of diminishing bayou land due to the controlling of the Mississippi River and the rising of sea water due to global warming. The latter lecture was delivered once we had wound into a narrow swampy passageway and had floated past an abandoned shack that was mostly submerged, save for it’s twisted metal roof.

Phoenix at first insisted (as did Orion) on paddling by himself, but it was good that they did not have enough kayaks for that, as it required some stamina to paddle about for the entire two + hours. At the end, Phoenix removed his life jacket and lay down on the front of the boat, watching the glassy world peacefully slip by as I propelled the craft.

I had one scare at the end, when I could not find my key to the car that I had carefully secured in a plastic bag in my pocket. It had fallen out on the ground as I was loading my kayak paddle, and another tour participant found it and handed it to me. The day was also sunny and calm so the weather was perfect - if not hot and muggy - and the colors rich and satisfying.

noise of the highway
replaced by insects and birds
alligator sinks

dipping dragonflies
under tupelo cedar
egret flies away

two british women
one that was in last night’s dream
paddle behind us

bayou kayak tour
still water reflects cyprus
roots reaching for air

spiny orb weaver
in secret bamboo garden
delicately fierce

under concrete piers
sunk into the bayou mud
we paddle with friends

spider on kayak
plucked from floating hydrangea
struggles to escape

hydrangea blossom
choking the bayou of life
dead zone underneath

We had a bit of a weird family debate once we started driving back, on whether we should find ‘beignets’ first, then locate dinner, or to eat dinner somewhere and pursue them later. That such crankiness followed a delightful float showed that we were all a bit hungry.

Opting for a beignet search first, we were thwarted by Google, who led us to a closed shop, so we came back to the Cricket to make eggs and bread (we brought our bread machine, and have thus far made two loaves) and then contemplated our next move, which was to go back to the French Quarter on foot in search of those fabled doughnuts, which Paige remembered from a visit she made to New Orleans with her parents, years ago.

So, we headed out again into the French Quarter to find these pastries and to show the kids what the New Orleans night-life scene was like; they were mostly wide-eyed at the debauchery and levels of partying vigor displayed by the visitors and inhabitants alike, energized by the live music coming out of nearly every bar and fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. The scene was bordering on mayhem, an excuse to get as loose and drunk as possible.

We traveled the length of Bourbon Street after reaching it via Toulouse Street, and after exhausting it’s sordid length, headed to ‘Cafe Du Monde’ to eat the powdered-sugar creations; once filled up (and Orion was - at this point - full, in some degree of discomfort) we headed back for more Bourbon-street viewing. I had my good camera with me (up to now, I’ve only taken photos with my iPhone) and got some good street shots. It was fun, and we didn’t get back to the Cricket until nearly 11:00pm.

let the good times roll
a live band in every club
hotel rooms above

hoping for a buck
street performer stands frozen
in slow-motion lunge

searching for beignets
kids wide-eyed on Bourbon street
drunken party reigns

crooked doorway sags
as the old architecture
lives another day

I do want to recount our tour of the Longue View House earlier in the day. I found it by surfing about the web, and it was a lovely -and huge - 22,000 sq. foot villa with beautiful live oak trees and lovely gardens at the edge of a country club.

We briefly explored some of the gardens before being taken on a tour with an 80-year old gal named Sue, who carefully took us through each of the rooms, describing the eccentricities that the wealthy inheritors of Sears and Roebuck plus cotton fortunes had secured their legacy with.

Diversions like clocks on every wall, controlled by a central source, curved doors to fit curved rooms, hand-stenciled wallpaper, a modern art room and beautiful chandeliers conveyed the sense of wealth and opulence. In the ’drawing room’ where Pablo Casals played cello, Orion was invited to play the piano, and he did so beautifully.

Phoenix nearly knocked a priceless modern art sculpture off of it’s perch by bending down to examine it’s structure, unaware that the bill of his hat was pressing against it’s surface.

morning reverie
displaced by highway traffic
and lawnmower crew

church like a warehouse
as we pass through biloxi
group indoctrination

solo/group kukai
jonathan machen