Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Louisiana Bayous

Photo by George Monette

Today, I was going to write a post about Louisiana bayous, since it is the main theme for my blog and for my book, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island. I found instead this wonderful article in USA Today and decided to share it.

Facts about Louisiana Bayous
By Lee Morgan, Demand Media (from USA Today Travel Tips http://traveltips.usatoday.com/louisiana-bayous-59733.html)

Located primarily in the southern reaches of Louisiana, the bayou is a defining feature of this unique part of America. The bayou is home to many people living in the Pelican State as well as to an abundance of wildlife. Unlike the rest of Louisiana, bayou life has its own pace and culture. The swamps and the gators might not be for everyone, but the people of the bayou feel right at home. This often-misunderstood area remains a mystery to many Americans.

Photo by George Monette
The Bayou Name

The name "bayou" is even native to Louisiana. According to the Famous Wonders website, the term "bayou" is believed to have originated from "bayuk," a word meaning "small stream" in a local Native American tongue. The word was first used in Louisiana and has come to mean the braided streams that are fed by the Mississippi River in the low-lying areas of Southern Louisiana. These marshes or wetland areas move very slowly and make ideal homes for creatures like alligators, crawfish and catfish -- all of which are popular bayou foods.

Bayou Culture

The bayou culture is actually more diverse than many may think. There is no doubt that the most closely associated culture to the bayou is the Cajun culture. The Cajuns were French-speaking settlers relocated from Nova Scotia. They were actually known as "Acadians," but the local dialect eventually led to the word becoming "Cajun." In South Louisiana's bayous the culture is as diverse as the ingredients found in the local gumbo. In addition to the French Canadians that were the foundation of much of the bayou culture, there are also significant influences from Spanish, German, African and Irish settlers as well as Native Americans. In modern Cajun culture on the bayou, the people are a blend of all these cultures. In the Southern Louisiana bayous today, you can often find people who consider themselves "Cajuns" who primarily speak French, but have last names like Smith, McGee or Manuel as well as the French surnames common in the region.


Photo by George Monette
Disappearing Bayous

The bayous are disappearing. Since the 1930s, the coast of Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of marshes and coastal wetlands. This is an area the size of Delaware that has been swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico. Despite recent efforts to reduce the erosion of the bayou, Louisiana still loses about an acre of land every 33 minutes. That results in a loss of 25 square miles per year. Levees have funneled marsh-building sediment into the ocean; engineers have cut 8,000 miles of canals through the bayous to help the petroleum industry, all of which contribute to the faster erosion of the bayous.

Bayou As Protector

Many people do not understand the importance of the bayou, not only as a natural habitat for many species of animals, but also as a protector of inland areas. Cities like New Orleans are under an increasing threat from hurricanes as a result of coastal erosion. When the bayous shrink, it means the storm surge from tropical storms and hurricanes can reach further inland. These storm surges can result in greater flooding. An example of this effect was apparent when the levees were overrun by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge in 2005.

About the Author


Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dinner on the Bayou with guest, Linda Benson

Today, I'm cooking up some Cajun chicken and sausage gumbo with my guest author, Linda Benson.
 
Welcome to the Bayou, Linda.  We'll be serving up dinner in a little while, but first, tell us a little about how important setting is in your writing.

Just as setting plays a big part in your book, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, many of my books have been inspired by setting, also. I am a country girl, surrounded by forest and farm land, and because this is such a large part of who I am, elements of nature and the land sneak into to everything that I write.
Your wonderful book, Six Degrees of Lost, is on sale right now for an amazing price.  Tell us something about it.
A Lost Dog,  A First Love, A Journey
Six Degrees of Lost, set in the Pacific Northwest where I live, tells the story of two teenagers who are both looking for their place in life. If you love animals, plots with twists and turns, and stories told in two voices, you’ll enjoy this richly-layered novel, available as an E-Book. Get it now until May 15...for only 99 cents at AMAZON.


Thirteen-year-old Olive, with nowhere else to go, is uprooted from sunny California and dumped in rainy Washington State like a stray. That's exactly what she feels like surrounded by her aunt’s collection of homeless dogs, cats, and horses.

Fourteen-year-old David’s future is already carved in stone. From a military family with two brothers serving overseas, he’s been pointed towards the Air Force Academy his entire life - but a rafting trip gone awry might ruin his chances.
When a runaway dog is almost hit by a car, the search for its owner leads Olive and David, two teens from entirely different backgrounds, to an unlikely bond. Will their growing attraction to each other be enough to keep Olive from a foolhardy journey to find her mother? Will David risk his family’s plans to save her?

Here’s a short excerpt:
“So what’s with all those dogs barking in the back yard?”

“They’re foster dogs. My aunt takes them in when they get too crowded at the animal shelter. Some of them aren’t adoptable, and would be put to sleep otherwise.”

“Really?” I gulp.

“We’ve also got six cats in the house, plus the horses out back. Come on, I’ll show you.” The yellow dog jumps up and down, begging for the stick. Olive flings it down the driveway. I see a small shelter out back, with sagging fences. Olive is already headed that way, taking short barefoot steps on the gravel, so I follow.

A sway-backed pinto horse, with a mouth full of hay, sticks his head out from the shelter and then turns and goes back to his breakfast. It looks kind of bony. “Wow,” I say. “Skinny.”

“Yeah, that’s Paintball.” She grins. “Well, that’s what I call him. He was found wandering loose up in the National Forest. Aunt Trudy says somebody just dumped him there.”

“Why would anybody do that?”

Olive shrugs. “I know. Hard to believe, huh? I guess they couldn’t afford to feed him, but still, that’s just mean.”

A huge brown horse wanders over to the fence. “Who’s this one?” I reach between the strands of wire and pat his head. He’s just as skinny as the first one.

“My aunt says he’s ancient, and we’ll probably never get his weight back on. They found him tied to a tree in front of the animal shelter, but they don’t really have any facilities for horses there, so he came here instead. He’s sweet, huh?”

“Yeah, he seems nice.” The old horse pushes his head underneath my hand, clearly enjoying the attention.

“I call him Shakespeare. ‘Cause he looks so noble and elegant.”

Elegant? I think. That’s a stretch. “Can you ride them?”

“I don’t know. Aunt Trudy says we don’t really know that much about them. Anyway, it’s been too hot, and she’s always busy. She’s a clerk at the animal shelter thrift shop, and she takes turns working down at the shelter, besides feeding all these animals here at home.”

Olive talks so fast she makes my head swim. She barely takes a breath, and rattles on. “So besides the ones she takes in from the shelter, my aunt is always finding animals, too. She says there must be an invisible sign at the bottom of the driveway that says: Lost Animals Stop Here.”

“Is that how you found this dog?” I stroke the big lab’s ears, and he presses against me.

“He was standing in the middle of the road,” she says, “and almost got hit by a car.” She smiles. “Maybe he was reading the sign.”

About the author:

Linda Benson is the author of several middle grade and young adult books, including Walking the Dog, Six Degrees of Lost, The Girl Who Remembered Horses, Finding Chance, and The Horse Jar (which has been translated into Spanish.)

Her passion for nature and animals often finds its way into her writing. She has been a veterinary assistant, zoo keeper, race track groom, realtor, children’s librarian, and owned both a native plant nursery and a saddle shop.

Ms. Benson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a variety of animals, all of them adopted. When she's not petting a dog, cat, horse, or donkey, traipsing through the woods, or gardening with native plants, she's most likely working on her next book.


Linda, I've read and really enjoyed Six Degrees of Lost, and can't wait to read the others. How can our visitors find more about you?

You can reach me at:  http://www.lindabenson.net

Now for dinner!!!
Cajun Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
    Ingredients:
8 chicken thighs (I much prefer dark meat in a gumbo)
1 1/2 lbs richard's smoked sausage, sliced (or your favorite smoked sausage)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
salt and cayenne pepper
green onion, chopped
parsley, chopped

Directions:

1. Brown chicken thighs and sausage in a cast iron dutch oven. Remove from pot and let cool.
2. Add oil to the pot. With wire whisk, blend in flour. Continue stirring constantly, until flour is the color of chocolate syrup. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO CONSTANTLY STIR THIS! Once the flour has browned to this point, quickly add onions, bell pepper and celery. Cook until onions are transparent. Add enough water to fill the pot about half way. Simmer.
3. Meanwhile, debone chicken. Add chicken and sausage. If needed, add more water to cover the chicken.
4. Add minced garlic, salt, and cayenne.
5. Let simmer for about an hour.
6. With a large spoon, skim as much fat as possible from the top.
7. Serve in a soup plate, over hot cooked rice.
8. Sprinkle green onions, parsley, and file in the bowls.

 

 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Nutria

What is a nutria anyway?

Also known as Coypu, the nutria (sometimes called nutria rat) is a rodent. They average ten pounds and look like a cross between a beaver and a rat. They have large rear webbed feet, which makes them good swimmers. They are native to Argentina, but found their way to the states in the 1930s.

They are cute, but I don't think they would make good pets because those large front teeth are three inches long and can penetrate your hand very quickly.

My dad, who was a trapper in the 1940s, said he was trapping for beaver when he caught one of these for the first time. They were rare in Louisiana back then, and their thick hides were worth a "pretty penny." By the 1960's they had become so plentiful in the state, the wetlands began to suffer under their ravenous appetite and wasteful eating habits, along with their high rate of breeding.

 
Nutria have large incisors that are yellow to orange-red on the outer surface.   (Photo from U.S. Geological Survey.)

How did they get so plentiful so fast?

Science Daily says: The biology of the nutria species allows it to reproduce at rapid speed, making it an unwieldy animal to control if released into the wild. A female nutria averages about five young per litter, but can birth as many as 13 at a time. A female can breed again within two days after giving birth, meaning one nutria can have up to three litters per year.

To get a sense of their productivity, 20 nutria brought to Louisiana in the 1930s bred an estimated 20 million animals within two decades, according to a wildlife group in Maryland that tracks nutria data, quoted in a recent report by Louisiana journalist Chris Kirkham.

Although nutria were brought to all parts of the country, said Kirkham's report , warm weather in Louisiana has boosted their numbers. Already under pressure from saltwater intrusion, the marshes also have to deal with the nutria and their voracious appetite for the vital marsh roots that keep wetlands intact.

Did Mr. McIlhenny of Tabasco fame bring them to Louisiana?

For many years, Tabasco sauce magnate E.A. McIlhenny received most of the blame for introducing the rodents from South America to Avery Island in the 1930s. McIlhenny wanted to expand the fur trade in Louisiana at that time, so he brought nutria from South America to his home on Avery Island, the story went. But a hurricane blew down the nutria pen, releasing them into the wild.
The myth held for decades, sometimes perpetuated by family members themselves. Five years ago, a historian hired by the family found records that McIlhenny actually bought the nutria from a St. Bernard Parish fur dealer in 1938. He did eventually set the nutria loose, but not because of hurricane damage, said McIlhenny historian and curator Shane Bernard, quoted in reporter Kirkham's recent newspaper interview.

"I'm confident that all the myth has been stripped away," he said. "Anybody who knows oral history or folklore knows how stories can change when they're passed down from one generation to the next."
(Science Daily)

Nutria rat in the water eating. (Credit: iStockphoto/Per Jørgensen)

What do they sound like?

It is said that after Hurricane Audrey, in 1957, during which many young children were swept away into the marshlands, the cries of the nutria were mistaken for lost babies, crying "mom."

In my book, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, set in Louisiana in the 1950s, there is mention of the eerie sounds these animals make.




What are the Louisiana People doing to save the Marshes from this over-abundant critter?

Check out Nutria Documentary.