Miracles on the Mandalay

Mandalay Swamp

For the past four days, I’ve been working with a good friend on her documentary, and it’s been a great experience.  She first found me in 2008 when doing research for her award-winning short documentary, “Tide of Tears”, about the collapse of the Cajun Coast. That was the first time I had ever taken out a film producer and film crew, and it was great experience.  We became friends and have remained so ever since.    

This weekend was a follow-up to the short documentary, featuring some of the same characters, areas, and issues which were addressed in her original film.  This time, she’s working on a full-length documentary, and I can’t wait to see the final product.  Of course, I regret that I’m not at liberty to give any more details than these about the film, which is slated to be released by April 2015.

My job was to tote around all the boxes of camera gear for Guy, the photographer, in my boat.  To take Guy out into the marsh to photograph their “subject”, I had to enlist another shallow-draft mudboat.  Since my mudboat is broken, I asked one of Termite’s friends if he could help us out.  Turns out Termite’s friend, J.B. had been restoring his grandfather’s old mudboat to its previous glory and was ready to be of assistance.  

The first morning, our two boats left from the Falgout Canal Marina in Theriot, headed up Minor’s Canal, to meet up with a third boat which had launched at Canon’s Landing in Houma, LA.  As we turned into Minor’s Canal, fog enveloped us almost immediately.  The farther north we went, the thicker the fog became.  It was just safe enough to navigate through, and we did so with great caution.  

Stephanie fretted a little that the fog would cause them to lose valuable filming time, a big concern for her.  But as we approached the first cypress of the Mandalay Swamp, the fog just vanished, even though we could still see it looming over the water behind us.  We call that Miracle Number One. 

Since the third boat had not arrived yet, we bowed up to the bank and waited.  While we waited, I asked J.B. if he knew Mr. Vernon, the man they would be filming that day. He thought a minute before answering in the negative.  Shortly afterward, I heard a mudboat coming from the north.  It was Mr. Vernon (our subject for the day) in his mudboat and Guy, the photographer.

As they got close to us, a big smile spread across J.B.’s face, as he yelled out to Mr. Vernon, “Hey Yap!  How you doing?”  

Mr. Vernon shouted back, “Man!  I’d know that old mudboat anywhere.  I hunted out of that boat with your grandpa many a day.  And I haven’t seen you since you were just a little boy!”

Turns out that Yap (Mr. Vernon) and J.B.’s grandpa were big buddies back in the day and had spent years hunting and fishing together.  I don’t know who was happier about that serendipitous reunion, but I do know that it made for a memorable day for those two.

What makes this story even more heart-warming and significant is that Mr. Vernon’s youngest son passed away last year, and J.B.’s grandfather passed away a couple years ago. Fate used Stephanie, her film, and me to bring these two men together in such an amazing way, and J.B. couldn’t wait to get back home and tell his daddy who he got to hang out with all day long.  We call that Miracle Number Two.

Mandalay Swamp

Just so happens this was a big day for Guy, because this trip was the maiden launch of his new “video drone”.  Although he had practiced with it a couple of times, he was confident that he would get some fantastic footage with it.  He flew it out over the swamp, controlling it remotely, when one of the propellers hit a clump of Spanish moss, causing it to drop straight down into the water below.  What do you think Guy did?  

As if he had been raised in the swamp, he stripped down to this birthday suit, slipped in the water and retrieved the drone.  Back at Camp Dularge, he put the little memory card into his laptop and we watched some of the most amazing aerial footage.  Then, he took apart the drone, dried it out overnight, and the next morning it powered up.  Amazing!  We call this Miracle Number Three.

The only bad part is that the little GoPro camera attached to the drone wasn’t so lucky. Before you say (as I did) that they make waterproof casings for those tiny cameras, this camera was mounted to a gimbal, which cannot accommodate the waterproof housing.  

Mandalay Swamp

Y’all know I love being on the water, and while my services weren’t needed much of the time, being on standby gave me the opportunity to do what I really love; which is hang out in the swamp, listen to the sounds, observe the bugs, plant life, and birds and photograph them and think about the stories I would share with you.  One of those photos is of the “Dancing Egret” above.

Mandalay Swamp

Another is this photo of a dedicated yellow-crowned night heron.  Mr. Vernon pointed out a pair of them on a branch.  One of them skittered away when we approached, but this one, I’m assuming the mother, would not leave the nest.  Even though I got rather close to get this shot, she was NOT leaving her post.

Mandalay Swamp

Above is a photo of the freshwater marsh out in the Mandalay area.  Mr. Vernon helps to keep this marsh free of pesky nutria during the hunting season.  Rumor has it that he really did his part for marsh protection this past season by taking out thousands of the destructive rodents.  As you may know, they eat the roots of the marsh grass and have caused hundreds of thousands of acres of wetland loss since they escaped Mr. McIlhenny’s cages back in the 1940s. (Yes, that’s the Tabasco family name.)

I took lots of other photos I’d like to share with you, but the best of those will have to wait for another day and another post.

Thanks for coming along with me on this chapter in the life of BW.  It was great working Stephanie and Guy and watching them work their film magic together.  I will be sure and let you know when the documentary is released and all the awards it wins!  I’m happy to have played a small part in its production.

For the marsh,


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