The Poetic City: "Higher Ground" by Folwell Dunbar
From the Honey Island Swamp and Vermillion Bay
To the Atchafalaya Basin and Jean Lafitte’s hideaway,
From the Sabine River pass all the way to Cocodrie
Our wetlands stretch as far as the eye can see.
Created by the Mississippi over thousands of years
Before Indians, explorers and pioneers,
The meandering Big Muddy made land from silt
Diluted in the water that was seasonally spilt.
You find estuaries, bogs, ponds and sloughs
And enormous salt domes with breathtaking views.
With its marshes, swamps, bayous and cheniers
It seems to be designed for Venetian gondoliers.
There’s tupelo, wax myrtle, and sycamore trees
Duckweed, cattail, and cypress knees.
In the rich, loamy soil, almost anything can be grown
There’s even a parish called “Terrebonne.”
It’s home to alligators, crawfish, and osprey
Pelicans, mosquitos, black bear and sac-a-lait,
And migratory birds from as far away as Peru
Louisiana’s wetlands are a veritable zoo!
They’ve also attracted people from across the seven seas
Cajuns and Isleños, Dalmations and Vietnamese
Who became trappers, fishermen, roughnecks, and privateers
And developed distinct cultures over the years.
Louisiana’s wetlands provide resources galore
From timber and fisheries to petroleum offshore.
There’s shrimp, salt and Spanish moss
And peppers for making Tabasco sauce.
They also protect us from hurricanes
Absorbing tidal surge, blistering winds and rains.
And barrier islands are truly our first line of defense
Without them tropical storms would be far more intense.
But as settlers moved in and the faubourgs spread,
Our wetlands dried up like stale French bread.
People felled cypress and put in a drain
To build waterproof homes and plant sweet sugarcane.
Then in 1927, there was a terrible flood
That inundated the delta with water and mud.
Thousands and thousands could not stay
As Randy Newman laments, “They’re tryin’ to wash us away.”
After The Great Flood, the Army Corps of Engineers
Tried to curtail landowners’ fears.
With levees and jetties, locks and spillways
They tamed the Mississippi in a myriad of ways.
But by holding back the river with cement and earth
They denied the delta much of its worth.
Without silt from the Midwest, the land began to sink
And our state’s vast wetlands started to shrink.
To make matters worse, canals were dug
Like so many lines on a Persian rug.
Accelerating erosion and salt water intrusion,
The consequences were sadly a foregone conclusion.
Invasive species have also taken a toll
The harm that they do is out of control.
Nutria, hogs, hyacinth and tallows
Are pushing native species toward the gallows.
Along Cancer Alley, down past Port Fourchon,
Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Exxon
Have turned our gulf into a toxic roux
They are most certainly culpable too!
And now the planet is beginning to warm,
Greenhouse gasses are gathering like an impending storm.
Ice sheets are melting and the seas are on the rise
It may just lead to our ultimate demise...
While our wetlands still stretch far and wide
They are under assault from a rising tide.
Unless we act fast, our coast will be lost
And future generations will pay a terrible cost!
Government and industry must both intervene
Before we sink into the gulf like a submarine.
We must divert the river to save our coast
And defend its wetlands like a military post.
We also need to teach conservation in class
Collect Christmas trees, and plant sturdy marsh grass,
Wear Righteous Fur and eat zebra muscle stew
There are lots of little things all of us can do.
So, this holiday season, keep our wetlands in mind,
Their future and ours are deeply intertwined.
We have to find a way to keep them around,
And deliver our children onto higher ground…
From the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and The Nature Conservancy to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Voice of the Wetlands, there are a number of groups and organizations fighting to protect our coast. Do what you can to help! As for me, I’ll be planting a few bayou Christmas trees, a.k.a., bald cypress.
Folwell Dunbar is an educator, artist and wetland supporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Folwell Dunbar is a New Orleans educator, artist and survivor of many things, from roaches to German U-boats and heartbreak. He is putting together a collection of these short stories and survival tales called He Falls Well (his name is pronounced “fall well”). NolaVie is honored to preview some of those stories here. Email him at email@example.com.