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The Poetic City: "Higher Ground" by Folwell Dunbar

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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 fldunbar@icloud.com

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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 fldunbar@me.com.