Bayou Water Runs in Our Veins

You know I love the saying “A picture paints a thousand words”, so if a picture does that, then what does a video do?  But first, a little back story; you KNOW how I love stories!

After Hurricane RitaIn 2005, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept across our bayou communities hitting us first with damaging winds and then with saltwater storm surges, a small group of people banned together down on Bayou Petit Caillou to receive and distribute disaster relief by the truckloads.  Eventually, those folks organized what is now called Bayou Grace Community Services.  

Around 2006, I crossed paths with co-founder, Courtney Pellegrin Howell, and because of my book and wetland education endeavors, she asked me to speak to thousands of disaster relief volunteers from across the nation at weekly community dinners held at the local recreation center over in Chauvin. Those selfless, caring, generous folks were quite interested in our plight, with many volunteers returning time and time again.  

After GustaveAs Fate would have it, no sooner had the group picked a name and incorporated as a non-profit in 2007, than our five bayou communities were ravaged by double hurricanes–Gustave and Ike in 2008. Once again, what the wind left behind after Gustave, the flood waters of Ike then inundated. And once again, volunteers flooded to help through Bayou Grace.

Since their beginnings in distributing disaster relief aid and organizing volunteer work crews, Bayou Grace has slowly moved their focus toward education and coastal restoration.  

Volunteer Marsh PlantersIn the summer of 2009, I worked for Bayou Grace. During that time, I set up a partnership with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to involve volunteers in future marsh plantings on restoration projects

That partnership exists today, and the end result still brings me great satisfaction in knowing that I played a small part in making that happen.

Dead Cypress by Diane Huhn
Dead Cypress – Diane Huhn

During my association with Bayou Grace, I worked with their Volunteer Coordinator at the time, Diane Huhn. Together we did some pretty good work. She has since moved on, but the years she spent working for pennies, and the things she accomplished will be remembered and appreciated for years to come. Diane is now an award-winning photographer, and I like to think I’m the one who taught her the difference between a heron and an egret during our fishing trips together. Before she moved back to her home in Michigan, however, she took one last ride on my boat and brought New Orleans artist, Michel Varisco, with her. 

Five Bayous Hand IllustrationBayou Grace had partnered with Varisco to produce a short, poignant film educating folks about how the Five Bayou Communities came to be in this predicament and what we stand to lose as our communities slowly slip into the Gulf.  Again, I’m very thankful that Diane asked me to participate and for Bayou Grace’s continued work in the Five Bayou Communities, shown in this image designed for me by Rocky McKeon.

Mary Gueniot-Biegler, current director of Bayou Grace, recently sent me a link to the finished short film, and I’m very excited to share that with you today. Please watch it, learn something new and see in images what I’ve been writing about here for seven years. Oh, and enjoy the original Cajun music by Zachary Richard!

[weaver_vimeo 112311627]

As always . . . for the wetlands


Appearing in this video:

Mike Pellegrin, retired shrimper, Chauvin on Bayou Petit Caillou 
Kerry St. Pe`, retired director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP)
Capt. Wendy Wilson Billiot, yours truly, Theriot on Bayou Dularge
Kirby Verret, Methodist pastor, Dulac on Bayou Grand Caillou
Kevin Goodman, Volunteer, Episcopal priest, Chicago
Joey Sylvester, Volunteer from Chicago
Jamie Billiot, past director of Dulac Community Center on Bayou Grand Caillou
Bea Prosperie, retired director of Chauvin Recreation Center, Bayou Petit Caillou

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing the Bayou Grace documentary. Your love for our coast is inspiring. Speaking for all of us (past and present) at Bayou Grace – thank you for all you do to advocate and educate for our area.

    1. I’m assuming you heard something new, Cammy? What I love about this one is that it’s real, everyday people–bayou residents–not scientists from Baton Rouge or New Orleans who don’t live it.

    1. Well, now, nothing surprises me. Now you can tell her you’ve seen her video AND spent hours on my boat as well! I’m glad you told me before the end of the trip that Rhea Gary is your sister. I discovered her work while doing research for my book back in 2004. Let me explain for our readers: CC Lockwood (famous La. photog) traveled through the marshes of south la. on a houseboat for a year taking photos, and Rhea turned some of those photos into paintings, and at the end of it all, their works were presented all over the state, culminating in a book called Marsh Mission, displaying their images. I know you prefer black and white photos, while Rhea prefers brilliant colors in her paintings, but has she ever painted from any of your stunning images?

      1. Let me share one more anecdotal story of how small a world it is down here. I’ve been working with a close friend on a new documentary for the past year. We were having lunch recently, and she was talking to the film editor about “the road sign of the boot”. When I visited Will Widmer’s (photog who recently rode on my boat) website, he listed an article “Louisiana Loses its Boot” as one he shot photos for. If you visit that long article, scroll down, and you will see an image of two road signs . . . one with the La. boot intact, and the other showing only solid ground. Shocking image! Stunning image! The connection is, Will took those photos, and while he was on my boat, my close friend was paying for the rights to use the image in her film. Crazy coincidence, right? I guess it’s really not so crazy when you consider that the folks who move in wetland loss circles . . .it’s not a very big circle . . .and eventually we all will meet . . . .

      2. Wendy, I am honored to say my sister Rhea Gary has painted from a few of my photographs. She actually did not paint from CC’s photographs. She either painted on site in the marsh or from her own photographs. Check out this blog about a visit she made to see me when we had our second home in Chauvin.

        1. Thank you for the clarification, it was 10 years ago! Somewhere I got the impression she had painted some of his photos, maybe because they are side by side in the book; and I did know she spent some time on the houseboat! I will check that out right away!

          1. I remember reading her journal entries in 2004 and being so envious of the marsh mission, but their book is listed among those that inspired me to do what I do. in 2004, i wrote the book, went to captain’s school and got my license, bought my pontoon boat, and set out to explore the area, learn all I could about the flora and fauna and charted the course for my official ‘wetland tours’! I used to go shrimping in Lake Boudreaux way back in 1981 with my father-in-law. we have so much in common, I’m surprised, both knowing Etta, that we didn’t cross paths sooner!

  2. No time to watch the video right now. Will view in a few days. Got to go to Ms. to drain the pipes, etc. I HATE COLD WEATHER!

    1. I tried to move all my Cajun hibiscus at the camp a while ago in the rain . . . hopefully they won’t freeze tonight. Don’t envy you going all the way to MS to drain the pipes. Ah, the joy of camp ownership!! The video will be here when you get back.

    1. I hope the weather is nicer where you are. It’s been raining all day and never got above 41 degrees down here. Supposed to freeze tonight . . . I hate cold weather. And the video will still be here when you return. One of the best short films, using local people, I’ve ever seen.

  3. As usual I read everything my dear friend writes. Wendy you really are an inspiration to all of us who live on the coast. Keep on writing about our coast so people can see what we go through to keep something we love. It was great having Dede and all her friends taking those beautiful pictures in Cocodrie and Dularge. They also love the coast and show it through the pictures they take. Stay warm and hopefully this crazy cold weather will leave us–I need sunshine——

    1. Well, I think we are way past due for some Etta/Wendy time, aren’t we? Thank you for suggesting Dede contact me. The sun is shining today, and it has warmed up from 34 this morning to 47 already! It’s a beautiful day in spite of the cold temps. See you soon, I hope! BTW, my youngest now lives up the bayou from you on Bayouside Drive. Yep, he lives on the banks on Bayou Petit Caillou now . . . .

  4. It’s a wonderful video. I’ve already shared it in a couple of places. I still pull up that other Bayou Grace video from time to time, just for a little cheerfulness and inspiration.

    One of the places where I offered a link to your video was on Gallivanta’s blog about Tarawa, a small Pacific atoll that is in danger of disappearing. The reasons are perhaps more complex and difficult to understand than your wetland loss. Who can’t see those canals? But the nature of the struggle, to hold to that which is dear, is the same. The point you made in the video applies in both places: when a place disappears, more than geography goes with it. Cultures and people are displaced, too.

    It was such fun to recognize so many places, and to even have my own photos of them. We need to get this cold snap over, and have some more lovely on-the-water weather before full winter sets in.

  5. Linda, thank you for sharing the blog post about Tarawa Atoll, and these words are so haunting ‘citizens of nowhere’. My mind races in fast forward to the time when the only shrimp will come from farms, maybe oysters, too, the commercial fishermen having been forced to become citizens of nowhere; because if they are not here fishing, they might as well be citizens of nowhere. Man, that makes me sad, but tenacity must overcome sadness. Sadness paralyzes. Tenacity mobilizes. Yes, you did recognize many of those places, because much of the background footage was taken from my boat, much of it in the swamp where you visited. And yes, I will vote for more lovely on-the-water weather before full winter sets in.

    1. I’m not sure how Bayou Grace intends to distribute this, other than via Youtube, but I agree with you. It’s need national exposure!

  6. If everyone shares a link to at least one social network they use – or a few mates via email, it’ll soon travel even further! As folks say, “Boost the signal”…I find firing off a cannon or two always helps get folks attention.

  7. Thanks, Kirby Verret, for sharing this with me…I still remember our conversations during the 2004-2006 years…

    1. I doubt Kirby will see your comments here, but thank you for leaving your thoughts. Are you any relation to the late Dr. Shea Penland? A brilliant coastal scientist, who is sorely missed. please come back any time, Dr. Penland.

  8. Oh, i feel a story coming on. Maybe Wednesday I will have time to write it up and share it with y’all. Hey, know what? It’s dog gone cold down here!! 32 this morning. My poor, poor Cajun Hibiscus . . . I don’t think a sheet over them will help. The pots are too heavy for me to move, so there’s not much else I can do. Termite grew up and flew the coop, so I no longer have his help around here 🙁

  9. If 32 is the lowest, you are lucky. We have had temps in the low 20s!!
    I am so grateful for the new insulation we just had put on here.