The Alaskan Sisters and Lagniappe

For a couple of weeks, a persistent young woman from Homer, Alaska continued to email me about giving her younger sister a wetland tour for her birthday.  They were already down here and would be for about three weeks before heading to other states impacted by the oil spill.

What would be interesting about an oil spill to a young woman in her mid twenties?  Documenting the stories of the children.  Founder and project director of “Children of the Spills”, Katie G. was about three years old when the Exxon Valdez spilled the black mess into the waterways near their fishing community in coastal Alaska.

While she was too young to totally understand the full impact of the oil spill upon her father’s commercial fishing business, she knew that something bad and black was threatening life as they knew it.  Having spent the first ten years of their life in a small cabin without electricity, this family was no stranger to hardship.  Their lives parallel those of the commercial fishermen who inhabit the Louisiana coast.  The similarities she found between her coastal communities and ours were striking.

After college, Katie worked with children in ecology-based educational camps in California.  After that, she decided it was time to return home and begin documenting the stories of the victims of the oil spill; namely, the children.  She started the anthologies back in Alaska, where she interviewed young adults who were small children at the time of the Valdez spill.  She found that many of them were very willing to talk about what they remembered.

Katie’s younger sister, Erica, who spends her summers working on a commercial salmon fishing boat, was excited at the prospect of being on a boat in our strange waters.  Her biggest desire was to see an alligator, and even though I hate to dampen a customer’s spirits, an education in alligator behaviors was in order–mainly how they hibernate (brumate) in the winter.  But as we entered a small little bayou, leading up into the swamp, she spied the head of a gator floating nearby, proving me wrong.  Albeit a brief encounter, she almost jumped with the excitement of seeing those eyes before they submerged.  As I took a bite of crow, I expounded on how it’s unusual to see an alligator in February–most of them don’t come out of brumation until some time in March, depending on how cold the temperatures are.

The sisters were enthralled with the cypress trees, the cypress knees, the Spanish moss, and the dark-bottomed water.  Even though the swamp reflected the dull colors of winter, the beauty and intrigue still called out to them as we sat listening to the sounds of the swamp.

As we regretfully headed back to the landing, I asked them if they knew what the world lagniappe meant.  Of course they did:  something extra.  Entering a narrow, curvy bayou I explained that this was their lagniappe.  My intention was to show them the beauty of this untouched portion of brackish marsh and the sadness of a dead oak ridge.  Much to our delight, Mother Nature provided a little something extra for us.

Meet Lagniappe, the early riser!  He must have been a little sluggish from getting caught on the bank when the afternoon temps dropped.  He was very well mannered, striking several poses for the Alaskan Sisters before sliding off into the frigid February waters.

We were able to get within about six feet of the bank, and I thought these girls would giggle with glee until the gators came home!

And then he was gone.  Sometimes it’s the last-minute change of plans that just puts the icing on the tour, ya know?

Erica and Katie are real treasures, and I’m very glad to have made their acquaintance.  It is my hope that all the oral history, written stories, and artwork gathering go well for Erica, and that she is able to put together a documentary that reflects the impact the oil spill has had on even the youngest of lives and the tenacity of the coastal people.

You can see more about the project at her Web site: and make a donation there if you are so moved.  If you know of a young person who would like to be part of this project, feel free to email her from the site or you can let me know via contact box or comment here on this blog.

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  1. Do you think the alligators are awake early because of the warm winter you’ve had? You realize you’re going to have to make that trip to Alaska sometime. I really think you’d enjoy a summer trip there.

    1. Yes, they are absolutely awake due to the warm weather we’ve had, but we only saw those two. They said July or August would be best AND I’m going salmon fishing!!!!!

  2. Great insight for folk, mate – and salutes to those ladies for their work!
    Yer lagniappe, though normally surprising in the chill waters o’ February, is simply a sign the Bayou spirits are smiling on ye more than usual…as the Chinese mark this as the Year Of The Dragon (specifically this year is the Black Water Dragon), the Pyrates have declared it Year O’ The Gator! After all, what else would ye think is a “Black Water Dragon” but our favourite ancients o’ the Bayou?

    Lagniappe, indeed!

  3. Wisdom from a young First Nations Alaskan (Teacon Simeonoff) to folk on the Gulf Coast; “…try not to hold the anger in. To really talk about it and keep the communication going between others in their community and in other communities. And to have patience that they would eventually see the lifestyle come back .. . and keep talking about it in a healthy manner. And just have hope in the future that everything will eventually come back to the way it used to be.”

    1. Wisdom shared and received. Thank ye, kind sir. One more thing . . . I watched a small boat pilot the Pinta out of the harbor this afternoon, and off she motored westward on the GIWW toward Texas.

      Shoreacres—coming at you!

  4. Do you know (if the documentary is made), if there will be a comparable between Alaska and the Gulf states?

    We had Spokane relatives down in Dec.of ’99 for my daughter’s wedding, and the minute they stepped off the airplane…alligator talk! After the wedding, we took them on a boat tour of Blind River. We managed to find 1 5 footer on a log, and quite a few nutria along the banks. Hubby’s cousin just about jumped out of the boat when we disturbed one. BTW, They ate their fill of Fried Gator in the 2 weeks they were here.

    1. I just don’t know, Steffi! She’s a good ways off from production . . . and will be seeking more funding as the time goes on. Right now, she’s gathering the stories, photos, essays, and artwork.

      1. Good morning… i just wanted to tell you about a website that you can pass on to your friends from Alaska…The web site is called “” … is an online funding campaign that people can make donations to support your cause. The only way I even know about this is because my mom lives in Hawaii and her and her sister are starting a dairy farm to make homemade and flavored cheeses, butter, and yogert. The name of their dairy is called “naked cow dairy” and here is the link…
        Hope you get a few mins to check out the video….(Thats my mom at the beginning) anyway maybe this can help out our friends from Alaska!!!!!! Have a wonderful day!!!!!!!!

        Here is a litle bio about…

        We founded IndieGoGo in 2008 because there are so many people in this world, with great ideas and big dreams, who are looking for the opportunity to get funding. IndieGoGo offers anyone with an idea – creative, cause-related, or entrepreneurial – the tools to effectively build a campaign and raise money.

        We operate IndieGoGo based on the principles of opportunity, transparency, and action. We provide the tools for you to build your campaign but you need to put in some legwork crafting your story and doing community building and outreach to get it all started. We provide integrated social media tools, and the more you use them (it’s what we like to call DIWO, or Do-It-With-Others) the sooner you will land you on our homepage, in the blog, or in our social media outreach and press.

        1. Good share, Jamie…might I also recommend Kickstarter ( – we’ve a few mates who were successful in their Kickstarter campaigns – even collecting a bit above and beyond their goals.
          One difference I will point out is the Kickstarter model seems to attract more folk for the simple reason that if the project is not fully funded by the set date, then no money is collected (indigogo lets you keep any amount collected minus their fee).
          This seems to provide people with more faith in the project funding on Kickstarter (in that if enough people believe in it and the goal is reasonable, ye should be successful).

          1. I think this is such a grand idea. Putting folks with ideas and goals together with those you can help fund and want to help. I guess it might be time for a “new adage”, “Those you can, DO, those you can’t, FUND!” Thanks for sharing!

        2. Thanks for this, Jamie. I will be sure and share with her! What a great idea. And your mom sounds really cool! I love her braid, and I’m wondering how in the heck a “St. Martin” ended up in Oahu!!! I wish them all the best, and it’s just a really great story! Here is a direct link to her video

  5. It is only through oral histories and interviews and merging art and science that a message can be conveyed to a larger audience about the true ongoing damage suffered by coastal communties every where.

    By allowing people to speak and be heard, the first act in the very long process of healing and recovery begins.

      1. Did not get an email from you but computer crashed and and hubby is waiting to get it back from shop. If you need to contact me why don’t you go through the friend who tld me about Don Dubuc show and your website.

        1. Wanna hear a coincidence? I was actually talking to her on the phone, asking her if she referred you to me, RIGHT when your comment came through!!!! So, let me know when you get your computer up and running so I can find that email and send it again!

      1. Right now a click just takes you to the live feed. No need to do that until the day of the next show, unless you just want to listen to whatever is on at the moment! I haven’t listed the link for the archived shows, because it’s not listed yet. So, no hurry. No worries!

  6. Wonderful project, wonderful post. Interesting that she’s from Homer. There are several Alaska people on the Weather Underground blogs, including Levi Cowan, who’s from Homer. He’s studying physic at UofAK in Fairbanks now, but he’s also one of the crack TROPICAL weather guys I know. When storm season comes around, Levi’s my go-to guy for when to get out of town.

    As for the gator – spring is coming early everywhere this year. The Indian Hawthorne is in full bloom here, and you can just see a flush of pink on the redbuds. And the doves are doing their thing. I do believe everything’s going to get pushed up this year.

    Well, except for the BP trial, which just got put off for another week. The judge is hoping all the parties will make nice and get the settlements done and make everyone happy… Zzzzzzzzzzz…..Wake me when it’s over.

    1. It is definitely an early spring here. Saw a redbud in floom (my term for full bloom) yesterday!!! Oh yes, the generous judge gives them another week to figure out the least amount they could possibly get away with settling for. Right?

    1. Man, that was classic!!! I’m don’t plan on singing on the radio, though. Just want to make that clear right up front! And I won’t be preaching, neither! : )

  7. Good read. So far spring hasn’t shown up earlier up here.
    I’d like it to though….

    And good old late departed riverboat running John Hartford video featuring the home units. God fearing mono systems. One sound source so your 2 ears can figure out from where it is coming. The technology I embrace.

    Got my mason bee houses up. Itching to garden. Can’t hardly find a Sac or a bream. Got a line on a new red blumobile, actually a 2010.

    I see a cystectomy in my future before any real southern adventures.
    Paddlepalooza is coming.

    1. Mason bee houses? Where you getting bees from? Send a link so I can see what they look like. Yeah, Palooza is coming but a little TMI on the ectomy thingie. No need to expound, thank you.

        1. Did you know I used to keep bees? LilSis and her husband gave us our first colony back in early 2000’s. I watched a swarm outside my porch a week ago–descendants from the bees I used to keep. There is also a big colony living in the wall of our old house. Gonna be fun to watch the bulldozer driver when he hits that wall to knock it down, lol!!! Hurricane Rita officially drowned all my boxes and put me into retirement. Guess I haven’t told any of those stories yet. I had not heard of the box named you used. I always wanted one of the English garden boxes, just because they were so different.

          1. These ain’t those nambie pambie coddle and steal their honey type bees these are the workhorse bees that do 99% of pollination. Unlike what Jacobsen sez. Your bees have been mentioned in passing.

            I am going to look up maple camps in a couple hour drive tonight.

            I may wander to water today. Tornados in news here today and a bit of wind.

        2. I’ve already got bees, Blu! I’ve never heard of Mason bees. I thought it was something like an English Garden colony box, which I always thought were so attractive.

  8. Wonderful story BW. Loved the pics of the alligator! Here in Alabama we are calling this year “the year winter forgot to arrive”. But I would not be surprised if we had snow in March.
    Please keep us posted on her documentary, sounds very interesting.
    And if you do get to Alaska Homer is the most wonderful place in the world. I would move there in a heartbeat!

    1. This has been the strangest winter I remember in a long time. Fog, very little rain until recently, blind mosquitoes, and more blind mosquitoes, wind like crazy and it’s not even March yet. I remember when Termite was born 16 years ago, it got very cold the night he was born, March 8th. So, we may still have some winter left yet! So, you like Homer, huh? What took you there?

      1. We took an Alaskan Cruise (we are SO not cruise people) and decided to go back a few years later and see Alaska NOT on a boat. We flew into Anchorage, rented a car, stopped by the grocery store for supplies and off we went. We stayed in a Roadhouse, and B & B’s. Flew into a closed mining town for a night and our next to the last stop was Homer. We did not want to leave. We hired a guide and went Salmon fishing. Caught 2 15 pounders! Homer is the ONLY place my husband has said “I wonder how much real estate is up here?” I do hope you get to visit. WHEN I get to come visit you I’ll tell you about the beer distributor (orignally from Houma, LA) we met who ended up in Homer.

  9. I almost cried when reading your description of my daughters “giggling with glee til the gators come home”. Thank you for providing Katie and Erika with an unforgettable birthday treat served with warm friendship, and with providing us a peek into their bayou adventures through outside eyes. Their Dad and I want you to know that our home in Homer is always open to visitors, especially those who have shown such kindness to our daughters. Thanks again for the great story and photos.

    1. Ginny, your kind words are much appreciated, and your daughters enriched my life by just having met them, spending some time with them, and hearing a little of their story. You and their dad have done a fantastic job of rearing these two young women, and I would love nothing better than to make a visit to y’all up in Homer! So, I sure hope you mean that generous offer!!! Well, it’s on my “bucket list” anyway! BW