The river is high and hurricane season is right around the corner here at the end of the Mississippi, where the saltwaters of the Gulf of Mexico kiss the fresh estuaries of the delta. The bald cypresses reflect the sunlight with a vibrant green glow this time of year, reminding us that spring is here and the heat of the summer will soon arrive.
It’s felt a bit like a silent spring in a sense with all the human activities of festival season and spring celebrations all being cancelled; But in all the quiet, I’ve had a chance to notice the migratory neotropical songbirds have been passing through or in some cases they are coming home to breeding habitats for their next generation to be welcomed into the world. Such little creatures with such big voices. We have sooooo many different kinds of birds that pass through here. Ruby throated hummingbirds, northern paroles, anhingas, little blue herons, green herons, yellow-crowned herons, roseate spoonbills (one of my favorites!), indigo buntings and many, many more. One of my favorites the “cajun canary,” aka prothonotary warbler, is a pretty incredible little bird with migration paths up to 5000 miles, traveling from the United States into central and south America and back to their ancestral bottomlands for breeding season. According to the Audubon Society, one fourth of the global population (an estimated 1.6 million) breed in Louisiana; but unfortunately there has been up to a 50% decline since the 1960’s in the region.
John James Audubon spent a lot of time in Louisiana while working on his collection for Birds of America. While looking through the collection I noticed his rendering and notes on the white pelican reminding me of their seasonal migration from as far north as Minnesota to the Gulf coast in the winters, which has got me wondering about all the winged things that may follow the Mississippi River Flyway.
Before the colonizers arrived to successfully rebrand this place Nouvelle Orleans, the Choctaw called this part of the lower Missississippi River, Bvlbancha, “land of many tongues” or “land of many languages.” The Attakapas-Ishak called it Nun Ush, “Big Village.” Although the delta is young on a geological scale as the delta is only about 5000 years old, but people have been meeting here at this crossroads for thousands of years to trade and exchange ideas. After all these centuries post-occupation I believe so called greater New Orleans, Bvlbancha, is still living up to her name.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the records of time. Been wondering about what histories carry authority and why, and questioning what has been erased. So much of Louisiana’s “official” history begins with recorded accounts in Jesuit journals during explorations or while stationed at outposts; But I always wonder what is lost in translations. I’ve been particularly obsessed a with Le Page Du Pratz, a dutchman who came to Louisiana in 1718 and wrote The History of Louisiana, or of the wester parts of Virginia and Carolina. Du Pratz’s illustrations are considered the first visual documentations of the Louisiana territory.
In all the darkness of our times, I have been inspired to see healers and plant keepers and culture bearers rising up out of the earth with mutual aid support and good medicine for our community. The Bvlbancha Collective is one example of intertribal indigenous women and men building community and resources. Also I really admire all the language revitalization work that is being done by the Houma Language project. Our Houma people speak a 17th century French mixed with Muskogee words and sentence structure, but Hali Dardar and Colleen Billiot and others have been attempting to reconstruct the pre-colonization Houma language. I was really looking forward to introducing you to so many special people here and my Houma sister Dr. Tammy Greer is a super special one. She has been tending to a medicine wheel garden up at the University of Southern Mississippi for over a decade and her momma garden helped to seed our baby medicine wheel garden in my community on the banks of the bayou Terre aux Boeufs. I will send you some medicinal plants from our territory so you can smell and feel and seed some for yourself to see if they might grow in your territory too.
On April 20th, 2020, we mourned the 10 year anniversary of the BP Drilling Disaster. On August 29th, 2020 we will mourn the 15 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Life during the times of Covid19 have been so incredibly confusing and strangely familiar of past disasters, reminding us of what is really important, what are we going to eat, do we have enough water, will we have a safe place to live, who is our community we can count on. Feels a bit like I’ve been in training for these times all of my adult life, but I must admit that I have fears about what might be on the horizon and I have been grateful for my grandmother’s land where I can put seeds in the ground to grown my own food and medicine and provide a safe habitat for the winged and 4 and 6 and 8 legged ones who also call the banks of the Bayou Terre aux Boeufs home.