My olfactory nerves were on overload as the smell of boiled eggs emanated from the rich, brown soup that swirled around the canoe. It’s not a smell altogether offensive, not reeking solely of death and decomposition, but a dark earthy scent exuding both life and death. Some folks would say the water is just stagnant; but far from it, these waters are ever-changing. With each paddle stroke, a new aromatic bubble bursts; releasing airborne memories of dropped cypress needles, fish bones, and dirt from a farm a thousand miles up the mighty river that formed this delta. My own memories of how I came to be here, a young woman striking out on her own, invade the peace of mind of mindless paddling.
Rewind the tape about thirty years. Eyes wide with anticipation of the adventure and the excitement of the unknown, I left things familiar and headed south to a new world, amazingly still in the same state. Today I wish I could send back to that young woman some of the worldly wisdom so hard-earned, and at the same time wish she could fast forward to me some of her unknowing innocence from the untapped reserves. Life would be not be living if that were possible, though. These wetlands are where I now call home, not the abode in which I live, but the places holding things yet unseen—a feather, an egg, a strange plant, or a spider that eats minnows.
Phase one of the adventure lasted about three years, before normal life—that of becoming a wife and a mother—took precedence. You don’t have to tell me that there are women who do it all; but spread too thin, I’m like a homemade jelly that didn’t set—good for nothing. Those first three years were just the introductory paragraph to the essay that got shelved, while writing the research paper on real life. The introductory paragraph held in it elements that would come together so many years later and shape the post-child-bearing person who types this now.
The quaint town of Thibodaux, Louisiana, friends who had moved there, and a new two-year program in petroleum technology are where the adventure began. Part of me wants to just skip over the part about with whom I made the move, but neither my spirit nor my obsessive attention to detail will allow that. My first husband and I were on the verge of divorce, and my desire to leave him (like an old apartment) in better shape than I had found him, I convinced him to enter the petroleum technology program. Surely, the program would improve his station and advance him well in the offshore ranks, since he was already working for a major exploration and drilling company in the Gulf of Mexico, (not to mention my conscience would be guilt free for divorcing a man I had no business eloping with the day of my last college final). It pains me even now, to admit my frailties and mistakes in stark black and white, especially to my children; but like boards forming a framework that hold the house together, these things are necessary, and the bad must be told with the good.
My husband agreed to enroll in the program with one stipulation: I must do it, too. Designed for men who worked odd schedules, often called “seven and seven” (meaning seven days on the job, seven days off), the petroleum technology program required enrollees to be doing just that. What did I know about working in the oilfield other than having a few friends who did so? It mattered not, because one completed college application and a few pulled strings later, I was off to a bayou town called Dulac to work my first “hitch” as a roustabout.