I live in a state that ranks first in a lot of areas, mainly the undesirable ones. We have high poverty, illiteracy and obesity yet our culture is one that embraces the traditions of fun, family, food and revelry so everyone knows how to pass a good time. There are still areas where Cajun French is spoken  and not just back in the swamps. I’ve often heard old timers in public using it as a sort of secret language that allows them to express their heritage and keep outsiders from eavesdropping. The language and dialect are like music to my ears and in my mind I can almost hear those old accordions and fiddles playing the ballads of a time long ago.

I grew up fishing and crabbing the waters around here on the weekends with my family so this past weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to take the kids out and make our own memories. Tropical Storm Lee had just passed through and left sunshine and cooler temperatures so Mother Nature seemed to be calling us to the Cajun Riviera. I guess my upcoming birthday was also on my mind and the idea of reliving my youth and the nostalgia such a trip would provide sounded enticing. On a whim, we grabbed our towels, binoculars and bucket for collecting shells and headed for the coast. Against my better judgement, I also phoned my mom just to let her know where we would be heading for the day and received a barrage of nervous chatter about my clunker of a car, bridges and AAA Emergency Road Services. I assured her that we would be fine and would indeed call if something happened. I also promised to stay in the car if we broke down and not sit on the side of the road like alligator bait.

Louisiana is known as The Sportman’s Paradise and the Creole Nature Trail is refered to as Louisiana’s Outback. I remembered visiting the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge as a kid and thought my own little ones would enjoy walking out to the wooden lookouts and spotting all of the beautiful flora and fauna native to our area. A day spent exploring and appreciating in the great outdoors was set to provide the refuge I needed from the TV, internet, and irritating video games the kids are obsessed with. In the spirit of full disclosure, we do not all live off the land like what you see on The History Channel’s Swamp People though the folks around here do not need subtitles to understand what’s being said like the rest of the country does. I’ve been to bars around here that are indeed only accessible by boat like The Prop Stop – home of The Worm Bucket – but that’s the exception to the rule and girls like me typically like to go out without the windblown hair and eau de swampwater smell.

As we cruised south with our windows cracked, I tried to spot gators sunning themselves near the road, but I had no help from the backseat. I could hear the reason why; that damn Mario and his friends, Luigi, Peach and Toad has joined us for this journey. I resisted the urge to throw the shiny little hand-held devices through the open windows and into the marsh and simply drove a little faster to our destination. The kids were excited and ready to see the alligators… UNTIL the youngest realized that we were indeed in the wild and that any alligators present would not be contained in cages.

It appears HE was the one disturbed and determined NOT to be food for the gators

We spotted several tourists but not a single alligator much to our disappointment, so we headed for the refuge our car, picked up steam and headed towards The Gulf of Mexico. A few minutes later we arrived and drove straight out onto the sand. We kicked off our shoes and grabbed the bucket  for the shells and bread for the birds and THANKFULLY the Nintendo DSs stayed behind as well. The water isn’t blue here and the sand isn’t white, but my kids love it and I reminded them of how lucky we are to live so close to the coast; Not just ANYBODY can go look for alligators and wade in the waves on merely a whim! I watched as the kids enthusiastically gathered shells of every size and color though what we took was merely a drop in the bucket. They soon realized that they couldn’t take EVERY cool shell and became more selective with their treasures. I promised them that we would keep some of the shells in a bowl at the apartment just like the one I left back at the house for them to enjoy with their dad. Hot damn! I even think I’ll let the little artists use HOT GLUE and create picture frames to display memories from this impromptu coastal excursion. There are plenty of smiling shots to choose from, but perhaps the biggest grin was from Sis when she explained to Bubba about all the sea life that had probably peed in the exact same where he had chosen to soak.

We tossed bread to the seagulls and named one of them Scuttle after the bird in The Little Mermaid. I watched lovingly as my daughter sculpted a mermaid in the sand and shells as she sang songs. She seemed to be channeling some inspiration. She had a milestone of her own approaching; auditions for the musical, The Little Mermaid, were just days away and MY little mermaid had gathered the courage and confidence to audition with all of the older girls for a singing speaking part. Though she’s the youngest of the cast, she chose to audition for the two lead parts because as she has explained to people who’ve inquired, “How would I EVER get my dream role if I don’t even TRY?!” The pride I feel when I see and hear her make such simple yet profound statements makes my heart jump out of my chest and flip and roll like the waves that tumble ashore. That’s MY girl, and I’ll be the lunatic fan in the audience that claps and cheers for her with whatever lines she utters.

The Little Mermaid

As the sun set, we set back out for home and a bite to eat. Much to my son’s dismay, I bypassed the fast food for some sit-down seafood, and he declared that he would SEE the food but not EAT it. Someday he’ll appreciate it though, and the smell will bring him back to a time when we went scavenging for shells on sand. He claims to appreciate what we have here but that doesn’t mean he wants to eat alligator OR be eaten BY an alligator so I let him get his “cajun” chicken strips and promised to cross the street and let him see the alligators that were fenced into a special CONFINED habitat. After all of the lecturing I had done throughout the day on appreciating our natural resources and native species of animals, plants and birds, a stranger came to us and helped put it all into perspective. While searching for the alligators behind the safety of the chain link fence, a nice tourist from out-of-state kindly pointed out the baby gator floating amid the algae. He quipped about how odd it must be for the alligator to smell the fried seafood wafting across the road yet it smelled so delicious that he and his family may just wander into Steamboat Bill’s for a bite. He explained that they had just driven past the beautiful old homes along the lakefront and how fortunate those people were to live there. His family had stopped here and checked out the area on their way back onto the interstate. I don’t think he just HAPPENED to stop there though after driving around the lake and the home where I was raised. Something brought that man to exactly where we were at exactly the right time so that my children could hear from someone who had just discovered the treasures of our area.

In other areas of the world, they don’t have the same sounds and smells and sights that we have here. I want to see these places and experience their cultures and appreciate their differences, but this is where I want to ultimately be. New people, places & things are exciting and valuable, but they don’t whisk me back to simpler times when my Sunday nights were spent sunburned and smelling of saltwater while complaining about Monday morning school. This place and this land makes me proud just as my children do even if we aren’t always on the “right” lists. It’s a place to be cherished and preserved, and visiting here should be on everyone’s Bucket List but I don’t have to tell that to anyone around here. I’d just be singing another old Cajun ballad to the choir.

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