We were up at 6:30 to check out of the Creole Inn and get on the road for our 9:30 swamp tour with Cajun Encounters Tour Company. Breakfast was leftovers from The Skipper’s dinner at Luk and the rest of my biscuit from Elizabeth’s.
Driving out of the city on I-10 east, we got a better sense of the land – flat, exposed, surrounded by water. But, after seeing how the neighborhoods in New Orleans really felt like a community, I could understand why it would be difficult to think about evacuating your home. Better to weather whatever with friends and neighbors than to have to go out among strangers. I’m not sure what I would choose.
At the Pearl River Wildlife Management area Captain Scott loaded us on a flat-bottom boat with 18 other tourists, and we set out with marshmallows, a cooler of hot dogs, a stick, and a bucket of corn. Turns out swamp tours involve watching Captain Scott feed alligators close to the boat, but there was a lot more to see if you looked. The Pearl River was running high and a little muddy with rain, and as we went upstream and deeper into the cypress swamp, it became clear that there was not a lot of land between the trees and ground cover. It’s all water.
Alligators nosed quietly between cypress knees and into the current, long scaly shadows floating just under the water. They are old, old, old. I feel soft and pink and squishable. Captain Scott flung corn to the wild pigs and skimmed marshmallows to a raccoon, but mainly he leaned over the rail and slapped the water until the gators were close enough to eat a hot dog from the stick. He’s a Cajun Barry White with his “C’mon gatuh, c’mon,” and he told us about when Big Al ate a wild pig. We saw turtles on logs, ducks, a white heron, and a snake attacking a catfish. The trees looked like saplings, but they were 90 years old, covered in Spanish moss. Captain Scott says they were originally cut down to build the French Quarter. The air is still. The river runs quiet and fast to the Gulf.