Day 81, August 18
Measurements: turbidity at Cow Island: 37cm. Nitrate at same location: 2ppm. Miles today: 27.
I woke very early again, before 6am, and tried to force myself to sleep some more. There is a real external limit on how early I feel like I can get up and get moving, and it is when the mosquitoes go hide themselves. Unfortunately, my body wasn't on board with this, and I had to brave the swarm to go to the bathroom. Not great!
Eventually they quieted down and I was able to leave the tent and make breakfast. Hot oatmeal again, because again the stove was still set up from last night. I didn't see my alligator neighbor at all this morning, for good or ill. I was out on the water by around 8:30am.
It looked for a moment in the morning like this might have been an overcast day, but the sun came out not long after I got on the water. I again hugged the left bank for some time, eking out what shade I could.
Lots more alligator sightings, including some that seem really huge, like over ten feet long, and others that are quite small, maybe only four feet, total. I'm also continuing to see a lot of wading birds, many of which are white, some of which look like (for me) the 'standard' heron, sort of a grayish blue, and some of which are much smaller than that heron, and much brighter blue.
The trees along the shore have become remarkably diverse. So much of this journey has been one or maybe two species dominating the shore, but here it's a big mix. Lots of the kind of tree that has root fibers hanging down from a good ways up the trunk. Some of what look like cottonwoods or aspens, some clearly coniferous trees. I don't think I've seen a cypress, yet, however.
In midmorning, I came across two guys in a flat-bottomed motorboat, tied up to an Army Corps buoy (a green can, if you're curious), fishing. They offered me a cold beer, of course, though it was like 10 in the morning. I accepted. We chatted a bit, all as one of the guys wrestled with something he'd hooked. It turned out to be a SHARK. Not a huge one, but still, a shark! They said they never used to come this far upriver, but the water is maybe getting more brackish, and the sharks are adapting. I asked to take a picture, and they said sure. As the guy reeled the shark in and it fought at the surface, he said "don't go swimmin'." I laughed and said I hadn't been tempted, what with the alligators and all. The other guy told me that where I'd stayed last night is on Bayou Chene, and his family used to own a lot of the land over there, and still owns a fair bit. His brother has written a book about it, called Bayou Chene. I tried to get the brother's name, but with our difference in accents I don't think I understood it very well. He had a very, very thick cajun accent: definitely southern, definitely also French-inflected. Pretty cool.
I continued on, hugging the left bank for shade until I gave up and put on my long sleeved shirt. Not long after that, the storm that had been looming behind me started to reach me. The first thing I felt was the wind, which was very strong and from my back left quarter, whcih tended to push me towards the right bank. So I crossed over and hugged the right bank, getting a nice strong push for at least half an hour.
Then the rain hit. It was not a subtle little rain, but a heavy downpour. I paused for a little while, but it felt safe to continue as long as I was so close to shore, and I wanted to maximize the benefit of that tailwind. So I kept going as the rain came in waves, including a few that were interestingly sparse but heavy: huge raindrops, but not that many of them.
The rain faded away as I reached an area where there are a bunch of islands. I stayed to the left of them, out in the main channel. A couple of tows, each pushing two barges, went past me downstream. I also saw a broken-off mat of shoreline plants, which again reminded me of the marshes of northern Minnesota. To be honest, so much down here is reminding me of that, and of the Boundary Waters. I really think it must just be that I'm looking at a natural shoreline, not articulated concrete mattress or piles of rock.
It was only midafternoon, but I was feeling pretty beat already. And I'm really in no hurry, here. I'm meeting Sam in New Orleans on the 27th. If it takes me one more day to get to Morgan City, that's maybe even kind of a good thing at this point. So when I saw a sandbar across Yellow Bayou, I decided to stop there for the night. This was literally the first sandbar I'd seen since leaving the one I slept on last night. Something about the hydrology and biology down here leads to very few sandbars.
On the near side of that crossing, though, I saw a few interesting things. I saw my first living cypresses, I'm pretty sure, covered in Spanish moss. These trees have a very noticeable low trunk shape - it sort of fans out into their roots, almost like a triangle. The other thing I saw was a huge alligator slowly slide into the water from the shore right ahead of me (and I'm pretty sure because of me). It floated in the water where I could see its eyes for a moment, then submerged. Maybe it's just me, but they certainly seem to be giving me the side-eye a lot of the time. Like: who the hell is this fool, and why is he messing with my spot?
After I made the crossing, got out, and set everything up, I couldn't help but notice a huge front moving towards me. That's today's picture - that front coming in. A curved and distinct line of cloud, with much darker skies behind it. I made dinner - rice and packaged Indian spinach and lentil curry, not great - and put the rain fly on the tent, in preparation. I got everything buttoned up in time to sit out and watch the cloud coming in while smoking my pipe (for the first time in quite some time). It was quite lovely, actually. Then I retreated into the tent at around 6, when it really started to rain.
The other thing that happened at dusk is that the mosquitoes came out. I'd had an inkling they'd be bad here, because I noticed a large, still pond on the other side of this sandbar, covered in scum. But oh, my, it was incredible. I was safe in the tent, but still couldn't help feeling a bit skeeved out. The number of mosquitoes between the tent and the rain fly was incomprehensible. Nightmarish. If I had not been inside something that kept me separated from them, I think I would've lost my mind, along with half the blood in my body. How did earlier people who lived here, both indigenous and colonist, deal with this? Without screens and the capacity to completely seal off a sleeping area - how did they live with this?
I fell asleep very, very early, around 9pm. Tomorrow, the idea is to get to Morgan City, get a motel room, and prep for the trip to the gulf the next day.