Upon viewing a map of Louisiana, the land forming the vast delta below New Orleans flows away from that city to the west and south simulating a lacey, sea fan pattern into the Gulf of Mexico. The forces of erosion, time and the evolutionary process are fully evident. It isn’t news to report that since Katrina, the emphasis of reconstruction or the lack thereof focuses on New Orleans. After two years of return travel through that region, we have observed first hand the vast swath of the storm and the pain that it has inflicted near and far from New Orleans. This year, our path took us through New Orleans for a quick assessment of current conditions then we continued south from New Orleans, following route 1 from Riceland to Grand Isle in order to learn a little about life in that area.
Driving west into New Orleans on Route I-10 we gasped at the still vast neighborhoods in the same state of disrepair as we found them the January after Katrina, flattened concrete slabs that once held strip malls, service stations, banks and restaurants and apartment buildings and homes reminiscent of a war zone; skeletons of former buildings, debris still strewn around or sometimes piled into great pyres of destroyed lives. The color blue in the form of great plastic sheets covers damaged roofs providing some color in the otherwise bleak landscape but proving there is no relief in re-building these neighborhoods. The lasting state of disrepair is hotly blamed on governmental graft and corruption—what else is new in this world? Yes, acres of stored Formaldehyde-laden FEMA trailers are in full view.
We left behind the evidence of lives held in suspension; happy to leave the heavy traffic on route I-10 to discover what life is like on the fringes of the delta land toward Grand Isle. As expected, we were as students on a journey. The drive is long and slow, winding through many towns and villages along the intercoastal waterway. The scenery; rustic, rough, random and chaotic. These folks are not interested in aesthetic beauty or organization and order. They are interested in eking out a living in the two large industries of the area, oil and fishing (shrimping). They are serious and hard working as evidenced by our several return trips north in our tow car to observe more closely the way of life. Actually we saw few people, they were in school, at work and not out and about. The largest groups of people we could see were in the shipyards working on repairs—standing precariously on non-OSHA sanctioned scaffolding (see photo).
The support businesses specialize to serve the needs of this community. Billboards advertised helicopter leasing, off-shore catering, offshore delivery services, headache and other pain relief, addiction counseling and chiropractic services, work-injury aid, fishing net repair, long-term parking for off shore workers, as well as ‘ we are hiring” signs.
We had short encounters with people. They are very warm and welcoming focused on their own worlds. Paul’s desire to buy fresh shrimp became an adventure in driving, navigating and patience. It is off-season, but fresh shrimp could be purchased. We tracked a couple of dead-end routes wishing for an amphibious vehicle to actually reach the tiny shack on the dock’s end that advertised being open and having stock to sell. After three or four false end-points, he did indeed fill his quest for shrimp and for stone crab claws and enjoyed them very much. (I won’t express my opinion, being a veggie). The photo shows the large scale the local fisherman used to weigh one pound of shrimp. I guess they are used to selling amounts much more vast than one pound—the cost–$3.75. The man himself was a crusty character, his speech difficult to understand but he reflected the aura of the region.
The port towns are marked with long, singular rows of shrimping boats lined up parallel to the road, colorful against the otherwise bleak landscape of houses and land. There were no boats out on the water. Driving through the towns was slow enough, but every third or forth street seemed to host a school with 20 mph limits. Education of the young is not forgotten in this area.
This area has suffered devastation from many storms, beyond Katrina, but residents understand their vulnerability in the eyes of Mother Nature. Most stay; generation after generation, knowing of course that life is not easy, continuing to work in the industries that employed their parents. Technology affects and changes their lives and jobs come and go. Tourists arrive and build vacation homes on stilts but there is no dimension of booming growth and change as we have seen in other water-front areas. The restaurants and bars are rustic and simple. Life goes on. In the words of one store clerk, “life passes by slowly and that’s how we want to keep it.”