Busy, busy, busy, I have been. But any time I’m on the water, it’s a good busy! This story is definitely a two-parter, and this morning I’m struggling with which images to share with you. I took close to one hundred images on Monday’s tour with an amazing young photo artist named Christy Speakman, who is definitely going places with her artistic abilities.
We covered some territory that is not typically on my wetland tour route, so it was an adventure for me also. After visiting my favorite place, the swamp that is part of my wetland tour, we embarked on a longer boat ride up into the Mandalay Wildlife Refuge . . .
where we saw some amazingly beautiful cypress trees on the eastern border of Minor’s Canal, which is an older navigational route from southwest Houma down to Lake Decade.
On the western border, off in the distance, we caught glimpses of a beautiful freshwater marsh. If you look closely at the photo, you can see some white dots floating on the water, which are what some folks call water lilies. We were wishing we could boat our way into that gorgeous scene . . .
but decided we better not go any further once we came upon this sign. I would surely hate to be stopped by Wildlife and Fisheries two weeks in a row!
And then this nearby sign . . .
had me wondering if someone had fed the alligators something that made them go elsewhere, because on that long boat ride, we didn’t see one alligator up in that pristine swamp and marsh. Strange, indeed, unless alligators really are smarter than we think and decided to hang out in the cool shady waters that day.
Mother Nature pretty much thumbed her nose at that sign for us, as she provided us with a very closeup and personal view of those “water lilies” in open water.
Most folks just call this a lily pad, and really don’t think much about it, but they have an amazing beauty all their own, especially when they are cupped like this one, holding rainwater, becoming a natural watering hole for swamp creatures, or maybe even a bird bath. Yes, I have a vivid imagination. Some of these pads are as big as a foot across and remind me of a song my kids used to sing,
“Froggie sitting on a lily pad, looking at the sky. Lily pad broke, frog fell in, got water in his eye. Ohhhhh, it ain’t gonna rain no more, no more. It ain’t gonna rain no more.
How in the heck can I wash my neck if it ain’t gonna rain no more?”
So, if you’re not impressed with a common, everyday lily pad, maybe you’ll be impressed by the flowers that keep them company.
Better known was the American Lotus flower, the one above is just a bloom, not yet opened.
If the blossom didn’t impress you, maybe the full-out flower will. They are at least eight inches across, and just look at the center! What a marvelous yellow-green color. Impressed yet?
If not, then hold on to your bloomers, because the best is yet to come.
As the center grows to full maturity and the flower petals die off, it turns a darker green in color, indicating full ripeness. Ripeness? Yes, because inside these pods are a delicacy known to the bayou-dwelling Native Americans for many years. The seeds are harvested green from these pods and can be eaten just like peanuts–raw, boiled, fried, and after Cajuns were introduced to these tasty morsels, they threw them in a stew, as Cajuns are known to do. Furthermore, the seeds are said to be an aphrodisiac, but I can’t vouch for that fact.
If the pods are not picked, they mature on the stem, eventually dry out, turn brown, and as the casing shrinks up, the seeds are squeezed out into the surrounding waters, thereby propagating a new crop of this multi-faceted water plant, known around here not as water lilies, but as Graine a Voler, (grahn uh voh LAY), which when translated literally means “seeds that fly” in reference to the action of the seeds being cast naturally from the pods into the water. Graine a Voler refers to the plant and all its parts, not just the seeds, and a marsh pond covered in these plants while in full bloom is a sight to behold. In a strong wind, the pads (leaves) flap in the breeze like big wings. (Yes, I have seen this with my own bayou woman eyes!).
And then there was this curiosity commonly called water lettuce or water cabbage.
It’s been floating in these freshwater bayous and ponds for so long, that it is considered a native aquatic plant, but some scientists insist that it was brought here hundreds of years ago in the bilges of foreign ships.
No matter, it is not a plant you would want to chop up and stick in your salad, as it contains some chemicals that will burn that heck out of your lips and throat. However, when times got tough for the bayou dwellers, they found that if they boiled it long enough, most of the burning could be cooked out, and I guess sort of like boiled cabbage, it would do in a pinch. If I ever try it, I’ll be sure I have a nice big chunk of salt meat to smother it down with!
We got so wrapped up in what we were seeing and photographing, like . . .
this chunk of floating marsh (flottant) drifting down the canal and . . .
and this great egret with a crawfish stuck in its throat, that before we knew it, we were north of the Intracoastal Waterway and on the edge of a southwest Houma waterfront neighborhood. Oops, time to turn around and go back.
It was a great photographic adventure and one I hope will produce astounding images for Christy and her husband’s collaborative project. Sorry to be so secretive, but once it’s ready for public viewing, you’ll be among the first to know!
Stay tuned for Part 2 with a local, prize-winning photographer and environmentalist!