Sunday, April 13, 2008

Swamp Buggy Badass

I just heard the phrase "swamp buggy badass" recently, and now it's stuck in my head. I mean, what badass could be badder than a badass driving a swamp buggy?

One of my cousins, years ago, was married to a guy who owned not one but
two swamp buggies. They lived in a double wide at the edge of a swamp in some unincorporated area in southern Florida. There was a gravel road leading up to the place, and a pond in front. My cousin is a good decorator, and it was a cute home. Her husband had a Belgian last name and bright red hair. He worked for his family's landscaping company, and as I remember from the wedding, his grandmother didn't speak any English. He had a few chickens I think, and maybe a pig, and he liked to hunt and fish. He always had a few snake skins hanging over the railing of his back porch.

He had a pit bull who was really friendly. The dog liked to swing, by his jaws, from a rope swing that hung over the pond. He was going to take me boar hunting but we never got to go.

Things got rocky with their marriage, and he started quoting scripture. A short time later his dog went belly up in the pond, snakebit. They divorced a little while after that. My cousin is now happily remarried with two beautiful children. Long story short, I never got to drive that swamp buggy.


On our first day in New Orleans we left town and drove up to the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. As part of my ongoing narcozoology research I wanted to head into the gum and cypress swamps of Louisiana. We headed for the outskirts of Slidell and met up with the good folks at Honey Island Swamp Tours. They'd gotten us close to alligators before, and I hoped we'd get close again.

I've visited two kinds of swamp, mangrove and cypress. Mangrove swamps cover much of the Gulf coast of Florida, and the Keys. The mangrove swamp is a beautiful but scary environment, and I can't imagine living in one.

Cypress swamps, on the other hand, are, to me, some of the most wonderful places on earth. Beautiful submerged forests.

We set out on the Pearl River, and headed back into the bayou. It was a glorious morning, sunny, breezy and about 70 degrees. You can see the plucky and intrepid MizBubs sitting up toward the bow, unafraid of nutria rats, or alligators, or snakes falling from trees, or giant catfish leaping out of the water and whacking her in the head.

We headed up one of the bayous into the swamp. Here's what the swamp looked like going in:

Within minutes we were face to face with this fellow:

This gator was about 15 feet long, and is one of the older gators in that part of the swamp. He had just emerged within the past couple of weeks, according to our guide. He regarded us in the cold, dead-eyed way that alligators do. Sensing that there wasn't a single steroid user or crackhead on board, though, he soon went on about his business.

As we headed further into the swamp, the water turned darker, and we were enveloped by the smell of the swamp: dark smells of mud, thousands of years of muck and death and new growth, tides rising and falling, a hint of brine, wet leaves and bright floral scents emerging from it all, just long enough for you to notice the sweet fragrance before it wafted away. I love the way a swamp smells. It moves me.

Along the way we saw more alligators, small ones only 4 or 5 feet long, basking on logs:

Did I mention snakes? We saw a few of those, too, but I only got a blurry snapshot of this non-venomous water snake, also out for his George Hamilton moment in the morning sun:

We saw some beautiful birds, egrets and herons, and the majestic bald eagle.

I remembered at some point to look up and take in the trees:

Did you know that Spanish Moss was used at one time to stuff cushions, and as building insulation?

We emerged from the swamp, shook the snakes out of our hair and clothing, and cruised up the river past some of the fishing camps. The picture that graces the top of this blog was taken on a trip up this river in 2004. Sadly, Katrina sent a strong surge up the Pearl River, and a lot of these camps were destroyed. I could not find the place you see pictured above, and I think it was a casualty. We did see some other future compound sites though:

After a couple of hours the tour ended, and we returned to the dock. On our drive out, we passed the Saigon Noodle Soup, advertising French-Cajun Seafood Platter. I know this may surprise you, but I don't stop at every single restaurant I see. I regret not stopping here to check it out.


Next stop: the greatest roadside attraction east of the Mississippi, the UCM Museum!

And now, enjoy a little swamp buggy badass, courtesy of New Orleans' own Quintron and Miss Pussycat:


Freida Bee said...

Very nice music. I like it.

Erik Donald France said...

Wild stuff. That second paragraph especially is a real gem in terms of language and style.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a great trip. Miz Bubs is indeed brave. The last thing I'd want is to have (a?)nutria land on me.

lulu said...

People keep telling me that I need to write a book about my experiences; I think YOU need to write a book about your extended family.

'Bubbles' said...

Great post! You made me want to go and see! Love the story about family, too!