Memories From Under the Mimosa Tree
1.) Under the Mimosa Tree
Louisiana is a state full of secret swamps, lying beyond thick underbrush, covered with newly fallen pecans. These swamps move, through the dark moss, Hanging Willow, and Mimosa Trees, slowly and methodically.
Swamps that house the American Egret, the Snowy Egret, the Muskrat, the Badger, and the Alligator.
I arrived in Shreveport in the middle of May to drive deep into the swamps to visit some friends of mine who lived in Natchitoches.
My friend John had just graduated from Northwestern University, located in Natchitoches, with a premedical degree.
2.) A Walk Under Mimosa
After two days of listening to John explain the rich tapestry of culture and tradition present in Nachitoches, we journeyed into the southern woods. These woods were located across the street from John’s trailer, a small tract of land that Northwestern University set aside.
We began our travels at the trailhead. John’s dog Bijou, led the way with a wag of her tail, her muzzle on the ground immersed in scents only dogs can smell.
When John was not yelling at Bijou to stay out of the mud, he would tell me the life stories of insects found under decomposing trees. Stories of large Black Beetles that fed on decomposing matter. Most of these insects spend their lives in a continous search for food.
My mind drifted off as I daydreamed about the town of Natchitoches. I pictured the cobblestone streets of Main as we walked to the richly decorative Catholic Cathedrals that bore original stones dating back to the 1800’s.
This town had a history not disturbed by distribution or marketing of chain food stores or strip malls. It held to the old with a stubbornness only known in the South.
3.) Finding a Place
He told me he found a stable place to plant seeds and reflect on parenthood here in Natchitoches. The locals had won his heart with their battle against the fire of change that scalds most of small America.
We walked farther into the woods. John begun to tell me stories of trips he had taken into the rain forests of South America to examine ruins of the Olmec and Mayan.
He stopped his story to point out a cocoon that hung calmly in front of our path. He held the cocoon delicately between his thumb and forefinger.
Biologists, John explained, can give the composition of the cocoon. They can follow the path taken by the caterpillar to build their new homes but science still has no answers to the reasons behind these transformations.
Most of small town America goes through similar transformations. A sudden influx of population thrusts many small towns into a cocoon of internal construction and growth.
4.) A Silent Observer
Sometimes these transformations turn small towns into an establishment no longer recognizable by its residents.
Natchitoches had different reasons to form a cocoon. This town’s cocoon protected it against the external and used it as a way of survival. The occupants of the town realized that when the day came to emerge from their cocoon, they would still be able to identify with who they were and where they belonged.
They transform into a butterfly hidden in the swamp and safe from the net of progress.
Earlier, Betty, John’s wife, and I, walked along the old levees that kept the water from flooding the town. Underneath the levees, where the excess rainwater pumped from the lake, a family fished for catfish.
They fished not far from where Tony and I saw an alligator in the river and spotted a badger den.
5.) Only a Few Miles North
The culture of Natchitoches and all of Louisiana seem to be an oasis not willing to change. A culture not willing to give up its swampland, its language, or the secrets hiding underneath each decaying log.
Only a few miles north of the levees, John and I crawled over a fence, and picked a fresh batch of wild blackberries. John told me that if caught we should drop everything. The owners of the land would be willing to lay down their shotguns if we left them the gift of our labor.
The culture still offers a multitude of dialects that maintain a sense of cultural thread that ties the community together.
It is their land, a land that provides food for locals, and in this part of the swamp many still created Cajun delicacies from the animals they hunt. Most restaurants in Natchitoches use the fresh caught shrimp from the bayou outside Houma, in the delta waters.
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