Life can be isolated in my Louisiana, in the state’s better, lower half. Fields of rice, soybean and sugar cane stretch for miles through moist, lumbering air that lifts off the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are swamps, marshes, rivers, bayous and lakes circulating in every direction, and one can also find forests of oak and pine and magnolia. The eye meets far fewer Protestant steeples but a heavenly host of Madonna statues. Folks can be seen fishing and crabbing in the canals, ditches and bayous alongside many of the roads. Sure, some people protest the heat and humidity but after the first sweat breaks, the good earth and a human being’s connection to it come alive.
What I’m saying is that the splendor of hanging orange sunsets, long and lazy summer days, the lakes, rivers and the Gulf, crawfish, crabs, shrimp, redfish, gumbo, bottled sodas and draft beer, jazz and Zydeco, country and coonass and rock music settle into your mind and soul so that you connect humidity and sweat and winter’s brief respite with the glory of the experience.
That is my Louisiana and the Louisiana of my father, who, despite a few pointed quips, absolutely loved the people of Louisiana, the blacks, the whites and especially the Cajuns.
If a wise Cajun scribe were to shuck open the shell of his mind to a complete stranger, even to an arid West Texan so opposite in experience, the Cajun would share the mysteries he understands – that in Louisiana men become part of the earth and part of creation, and that women become more sensual in the steamy mist of life that medicates their skin. The Cajun scribe, he’d be saying things with a smile: Have you not seen the belles of Louisiana and been captured by their fiery eyes, mon ami? Have you not seen the strong hands of men who hammer the nails, carry the briefcases, rein in the nets, throw the rice sacks at the port and turn the valves in the oilfields and refineries? We are alive, my friend! We are alive! And we are proud that the disdain of others is not our shame but a badge of their own ignorance for all the glory they’ve never seen, never heard, never tasted and never felt in the souls that the Lord himself gave them.
Indeed, Louisiana’s beauty is both primordial and humanly gritty if you know where to look – and one you usually can’t see or taste it from Interstate 10. No, my friend, you must go deeper.