Recently while driving along the highway, an old memory surfaced, prompting me to perk up and pay attention. The memory goes like this . . .
It was 1979, and I had been living down in south Louisiana for about a year. I was sitting on the back steps where I lived, looking at a a dark pink flower hanging from a banana plant, neither of which I’d ever before seen.
I photographed the tropical banana flower with my Yashica 35 mm camera and don’t recall how the photo came out; but what I do remember are the very vivid thoughts I had while sitting there gazing upon that banana flower:
“One day, I would like to take picturesque photos of everything I see on the bayou and publish one of those fancy coffee table books. I will call it, ‘Through the Eyes of the Bayou’.”
I was 24 years old at the time, single, and working as a crew-boat deckhand, seven days on, seven days off. Without a care in the world other than supporting myself, I now wonder what kept me from following through on that desire.
Now, 35 years later, I still really don’t know the answer, but by the time I married in 1981 and bore my first child in 1982, the stay-at-home-mom die had been cast, and I was happy and fulfilled in that role. However, through the years of rearing children, I lived vicariously through the lives of and was influenced by an array of female authors.
Author Mary Alice Fontenot
The first of those Louisiana authors was Mary Alice Fontenot, whose Clovis Crawfish series captured all my children starting with my first-born, DoVi. Back in the 1960s when Fontenot’s books were first released, they were simply typed with black and white line drawings. By the time I had discovered them for my children, the books had been republished in hard cover and enhanced with full-color illustrations. As I read these books over and over to my children, I thought. “I can write a book like this, and one day I will!”. (It was from Fontenot’s books that I borrowed the idea of using local French/Indian language for key words in my first children’s picture book, Before the Saltwater Came, about 30 years of wetlands loss in coastal Louisiana.)
Author Gladys Taber
My Grandmother Vi loved to read, and after Mother passed away in 1991, I chose a couple of Grandmother’s books, adding them to my growing personal library. Among those books, I discovered Gladys Taber, who wrote for Lady’s Home Journal. She authored Stillmeadow Sampler, which takes the reader through a year of her life at Stillmeadow with her sister, Jill. The stories of their co-existence in a vintage (read: drafty) 1690s Connecticut farmhouse with their Cocker Spaniels entertained me to no end. She wrote about how she and her sister entertained well-known authors of the time in their old farmhouse, which really intrigued me. Later she wrote The Stillmeadow Cookbook, and both books are just about due for another dusting off.
Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Some time around 1996, I discovered author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote during the same time period as Taber. She was a high-spirited woman who left Rochester, New York and moved to an orange grove in the hammock of Florida, where she took up residence and wrote about her adventures there. You might know her for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Yearling. I did not know she authored that book until after I had read several of her others, like South Moon Under and Cross Creek. All her writings were directly influenced by her life in the hammock. Like the Taber sisters, she also entertained other authors in her home, which is now part of an historic state park, which I would like to visit this year, if possible.
Author Julia Sims
Some time after that, around 2000, I discovered Manchac Swamp by Julia Sims, a photographer living in Pontchatoula, La. Her breath-taking photos lured me in and held me for hours. Her photos of the dying cypress trees made a huge and lasting impression on me, especially since those images were very familiar to me in real life down the bayou. Her book also came to have a big influence on the writing of my first book.
Author Linda Greenlaw
After I met my friend Kim Muller (the jewelry maker) in 2004,
she asked if I had ever heard of Linda Greenlaw. You might know her as the lady captain featured in the film The Perfect Storm. She retired from the dangerous work of running a sword-fishing boat to work her father’s lobster boat in Maine. My favorite among her books are All Fishermen are Liars and The Lobster Chronicles.
There are many others, but these were the most influential. So, why am I thinking about all of this?
Just last week, a reporter from the Houma Courier interviewed me for a human-interest piece, and she asked me how I came to write the book, and eventually this blog. My response did not include a reference to these women, but from now on when asked that question, I will reach all the way back and give credit to these women authors.
Many times since my move back to the bayou in 1996, I have often wondered if anyone would ever care to read about life on the bayou, with all its colorful characters–human, plant, and animal. Since 2007 and the beginning of this blog, I think your responses to this blog have given me my answer. One day, maybe I will follow in the footsteps of these successful authors and write a book about my life in these Louisiana wetlands.
With that, I will close with these words from one of the most powerful women in our time, Margaret Thatcher,
“Watch your thoughts for they become words.
Watch your words for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
And watch your character for it becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.”
Your Bayou Bookworm,
PS I’m curious to know if any of you are familiar with any of these authors, read their books, or were influenced by them in any way in your own lives.
PS again. I’m really excited because my first full-length piece for Country Roads Magazine came out in the February edition. It’s about one of my favorite things–the bald cypress tree. If you care to read it, here’s the link. Enjoy!