All of us would undo the damage past generations have done to the environment if we could. Greg Guirard, teacher, writer, speaker, fisherman, woodsman, historian, activist skips the “if” and is doing something about it, one tree at a time. That is, 40,000 of them in his own sphere of control. He planted them himself, over a 30 year span, converting cane fields to trees.
He was working on this crawfish trap when we drove up to his house. Its made from plastic coated chicken wire. “Not good this year,” he said. He is working with the Atchafalaya BASINKEEPER, an organization dedicated to saving the River Of Trees, and saving a way of swamp life for man, fish and birds. They have a website: www.basinkeeper.org.
While building a new house out of reclaimed cypress wood, he remembered seeing some old discarded cypress full of holes from a fungus. Replaned, it made a beauiful cover for this wall. His cupboards, walls, ceilings and some furniture are made of cypress. Only the floors are oak.
Next to an art piece of cypress framing stained glass, stands a broom, unsupported by the wall. It stands by itself. Greg is hoping to reach a record time. This one has been maintaining its upright balance in the corner for five months now. (Its a natural phenomena in various places in nature.)
Cypress forests were completely logged off years ago. Luckily, cypress deteriorates slowly. During logging operations, some logs sunk into the muddy waters. When the water gets low, woodworkers remove the “sinkers”, replane them and find new uses for this beautiful wood. A form of recycling and preservation.
Greg not only preserves wood, he has preserved the stories of old time Cajun Fishermen and women in his books, Cajun Families of the Atchafalaya. Psycho Therapy For Cajuns , a humorous take on Cajun Culture surviving in a crazy world. He wrote the fiction story, taken from real life, much of it his own, The Land of Dead Giants. His newest book, in conjunction with C.Ray Brassieur is a broader look at the past and future of the Atchafalaya Basin, and the folklife of the people who lived there, entitled Inherit The Atchafalaya. It provides a unique view, of a way of living, fading into obscurity and which few could write about with the insight and clarity as the Cajun, Greg Guirard.
Meet Wilmer Blanchard who typifies Cajun fishermen: “I have eleven children, three boys. I would take my boys in the woods as soon as they could walk enough…”
Women fished to, and when Yolande Bonin had a stroke, her husband, Cezaire, carried her into the boat each day. Her contribution to fishing was limited to opening the right can as she saw a gar, a catfish, or whatever come out of the net. Cezaire says, “When I raise them nets, you ought to see her smile when they got fish in ’em.”
Myrtle Bigler claimed, “All kind of work gets me tired. But I’m not sick…” This when she was in her eighties. She and her husband, Harold, lived off the swamp all their married lives. He died at age 90, and she died at 95. The lessons of simplicity are there for all of us to learn from, as are Greg’s books.
To contact Greg Guirard: Paroona9@yahoo.com or phone him at 337-394-4631. ATT is supposed to fix his website which is not currently working at http://www.gregguirard.com.
A sure sign of a real Cajun is this outboard motor hanging from an oak tree in Greg’s driveway. He gave a slide show for Elder Hostel and his photographs of the basin and people are superb and available on cards.
We spent the rest of the day with Michele, our erstwhile “guide.” She took us to see the legendary wedding bower of the pre-Civil War sugar plantation Durand. Durand imported spiders into a young planting of pine, magnolia and oak trees lining his quarter mile driveway. The day of his daughter’s wedding, the spider webs were sprinkled with the glitter of gold and silver dust. The bower is now know as Pine Alley and is all that remains of the once successful plantation.
Evening closed with friends and family “hanging out” around the bonfire and eating Michele’s great jambalaya washed down with good beer. Life is good.