Maybe I should give you a little background information on the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association before I post the third in the series about our 70th annual conference. LOWA is the official professional organization for outdoor journalists in our state and the keeper of the official state Fish Records. Arthur Van Pelt may have been a charter member, and the organization created an award in his honor based on his lifetime of outdoor conservation. The award isn’t given annually; only when a member is deserving. This year, the award rightfully went to Glynn Harris, writer and radio show host in Ruston, LA.
Additionally, in order to encourage young would-be outdoor journalists, LOWA sponsors several awards for youth. They are the Youth Journalism Contest for children ages 8-18, divided into two age groups. The two categories are essay and photography. The next is the Youth Hunter of the Year award, wherein a male and female youth submit an essay about a memorable hunt. The newest award, and one I helped introduce this year, is the Youth Angler of the Year award, wherein a male and female youth submit an essay about a memorable fishing trip. The prizes are over the top and well worth it for Louisiana’s outdoor young people who have a penchant for writing and/or photography.
At 70 years old, it certainly isn’t a young organization, and I think I can safely say it might be one of the original “good ole boys’ clubs”! Historically, most outdoor journalists were men, right?
It started with the Youth Journalism Contest . . . .
My introduction to LOWA was back in 2005, when somehow, somewhere, I read about the Youth Journalism Contest, and I encouraged Termite, who was nine at the time, to write an essay about living on the bayou. He couldn’t yet type, and he hated to write, so he dictated it to me, and I typed it up for him, improper grammar and all, so it would be in his “voice”. The judges chose it as the third-place winner, and he was invited to attend the annual awards banquet. Conveniently, the awards banquet took place nearby Houma that year, making it easy for us to attend. The banquet was a BIG deal and we had a great time. How had I never heard of this organization before?
Little did I know, that before the night was over, I would be approached about membership because of my book, Before the Saltwater Came. Who me? You want ME as a member? I was taken aback and a wee bit flattered, but mostly, I didn’t feel worthy as I watched major players in outdoor journalism like Don Dubuc, Joe Macaluso, Deb Burst, Andy Crawford, Todd Masson, John Flores, Lyle Johnson, and Mike Lane walk forward to receive awards for excellence in their crafts. Their combined journalistic prowess showed in all areas of TV and radio broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online publications. All I had to my credit was a children’s picture book, written from my passion for the area in which I live.
Eventually, I accepted the invitation to join, and a new door opened to me, which I walked through with some fear and trepidation. As a new member, and one of only a few females in the group, I decided that if I were going to ever walk up to that podium and get handed an award for excellence, then I had better step up my game. So I purchased a copy of the La. Sportsman Magazine and began reading pieces by award-winning LOWA members.
The year was 2006, and in one issue of the Sportsman, I read a little blip of a piece about two men going kayak fishing–something not so common at that time. As I sat reading on the porch of our old house, I glanced out at the bayou and thought, “Now THAT is something I’d like to try.” After a string of serendipitous events, I got in touch with the only kayak fishing charter around and got myself invited to go kayak fishing with them, as well their island and dolphin-watching boat tour around Grand Isle.
Capt. Danny Wray, Kristen Wray, and Capt. Mark Brassett of then, Calmwater Charters, treated me to a marvelous trip, getting up close and personal with the dolphins. We started off the trip catching speckled trout and red fish from Wilderness Ride kayaks. On our tour, saw oodles of pelicans on Queen Bess Island, and as a bonus, Capt. Mark took me wade fishing, and all told, I was in Heaven. With a mindful of information and vivid memories and a full SD card in my camera, I came back home and churned out my first ever feature article for the La. Sposrtsman titled “Cajun Sleigh Rides”, resulting in my first paycheck as a professional outdoor writer.
Having that piece accepted and published in our state’s most popular outdoor magazine for hunters and fishers gave me the confidence to query the editor to see if he’d be interested in a piece about coastal land loss, my passion. The article, “Terrebonne’s Defenses Nearly Gone” was accepted, published, and garnered me my first, 1st Place Excellence in Craft award in 2007. The awards banquet was in Shreveport that year, my old stomping grounds, and LilSis was with me that night. When my name was called, you could have knocked me over with a feather, and I believe she will vouch for that. I was truly shocked, honored, humbled, and giddy as a school girl all at the same time. I felt I had arrived!
The members of this organization, although often working for competitors in the outdoor journalism world, are comrades in the trade, encouraging and helpful to newbies like myself. By and by, the good ole boys accepted me as one of their own, and now I am good friends with many of them. They have helped me tremendously, and the annual conference workshops help us improve our skills as writers, photographers, and broadcast journalists. Now I even get to fish with them!
LOWA membership opens more new doors
Being a member of LOWA has opened other doors for me and challenged my skills as an outdoor writer and photographer. Late in 2011, Don Dubuc chose me as one of three guest hosts to join him in a new round-table discussion radio show called “Hunt Fish Talk“, broadcast from New Orleans. In our first year, one of our show segments earned an Excellence in Craft award from LOWA. Now in my fourth year doing the radio show, I dearly love it and am very grateful to Don for giving me this opportunity and for allowing me this time to try my wings in his industry.
A couple of years ago, while searching for a book online, I came across this book, “Louisiana Women”. On a whim, I ordered it through Amazon and had totally forgotten about it until the package arrived. I dove into the book and read about famous Louisiana women, some familiar to me, but most not. In my favorite chapter, I learned about a Louisiana native named Mary Land, and you’ll never guess what she was. Yep, she was an avid fisher woman and one of the first female outdoor journalists in our state. And guess what else? She was a member of LOWA and eventually became President of the organization. She even published a cookbook, and as soon as I read that, I was back on Amazon looking for a copy. Further, she and Arthur Van Pelt were colleagues in New Orleans way back when. That I could somehow reach back and be connected with these legends in outdoor journalism really excited me.
Now, the proud owner of her original cookbook, and an avid fan, I continue to be inspired by Mary Land’s legacy. I plan to do a post entirely about her when the time is right; but for now, I am certain that discovering Mary Land was no accident and another significant bread crumb on the trail of this path of outdoor journalism letting me know that I am, indeed, on the right one.
I started out today to share with you our trip into the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, which was the start of Day 2 of our LOWA conference; but as sometimes happens with this blog, the writer in me had other things in mind. With the photos edited and ready to plug into a post about the Teche NWR, my fingers did the walking and led us down this historical road, instead.
In retrospect, I realize this piece is more about my history with LOWA than about actual LOWA history. Well, heck, I’m sorry about that. I started reminiscing and got carried away.
But as the kids say, I hope “it’s all good”.
“to be continued . . . . yet again”