OUTDOOR CORNER: ‘This used to be paradise’

Lyle Johnson

Last Saturday night, I was sitting in the balcony of a 150 year old barn from Kentucky that’s been relocated to Spring, Texas listening to one of the most memorable performances ever. Louisiana native Marsha Ball was onstage at Dosey Doe Coffee House bringing it down when she slowed things down and sang a new song.

“My granddaddy was a fisherman

Lived on the water more than the land…

The Atchafalaya Basin was his front yard

I can hear him saying with a tear in his eye

This used to be paradise

This used to be paradise”

The first two lines brought on a flood of memories. Both my grandfathers were fishermen and I could see them in my mind; one with a fly rod and the other with a casting rod. Then I thought about my children and their grandfathers; both great fishermen as well.

I’m now a grandfather to three of my children’s children and I’ve introduced two of them to the fine art of fishing (the other one’s only 8 months) and enjoying the outdoors as well. Man, that’s a song we from south Louisiana could all sing.

As the song goes along, Ball addresses the changes to the Atchafalaya Basin and changed it has. My first memories of the Spillway were fishing out of a homemade flat boat that was powered by a 7.5 hp Evinrude. Usually two of the six boys in our family were in the boat fishing with daddy. Oh yeah, we had to paddle.

A normal day in the spring included a line at the boat launch that usually backed up down the highway. In the mix of boats and trailers were commercial fishermen that plied the bountiful waters for crawfish, catfish and crabs. Recreational anglers clogged up the landing as well looking to stock their ice chests with bream, sac-a-lait, goggle-eye and bass. The activity was incredible.

“Then one day the oilman came

He gave us jobs and everything changed

We still run our boast and we drag our nets

But everyday we get less and less”

This part of the song deals with part of the problem in the Basin. All those dead end canals that were dredged for oil and gas exploration became part of the bounty of fish that we as “sport” anglers enjoyed for years. But those canals changed the natural flow of the water that comes from the Mississippi River, cutting it off in many places. The same thing happened along our coastline. These same kinds of canals allow saltwater intrusion to happen as well as water flow changes.

Near the end of the show, Marcia Ball did her goose-bump producing rendition of Randy Newman’s, Louisiana 1927. As floodwaters were nearing New Orleans, about 30 tons of dynamite was set off on the levee at Caernarvon, trying to keep New Orleans from flooding. The line of the song that we’ll never forget is, “Louisiana, Louisiana, they’re trying to wash us away, they’re trying to wash us away.”

This whole levee system designed by the Army Corp of Engineers, in my opinion was one of the worst decisions our government has ever made. The intention might have been good, but it turned out to be a quick fix (although it took a long time to complete) that has caused untold damage to our marshes with coastal erosion instead of land creation.

My prayer is that the oil spill, as bad as it was, has brought the national and international attention that our coastline needed. I’m cautiously optimistic that the attention will cause some actions that will begin the proper solutions.

Humans, industry and government are not the only culprits in the changes that have taken place and are often overlooked. Nature itself is responsible for many changes as well. Heck, the Mississippi River is trying to change its course down the Atchafalaya River.

The problems we’ve created over time are our responsibility to fix to the best of our ability. It won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap, it will probably take more time than we may have and we won’t ever get it back exactly the way it was.

But, we’ll try.

Marcia Ball; she loves Louisiana, she loves Louisiana people and she puts her money where her mouth is. Three bucks from every CD purchased on her Web site goes to NOLA Relief. The new CD titled “Roadside Attractions” will be released in March and “This Used To Be Paradise” is on it. I promise you, it’s worth the buy. She’ll also be performing at Jazz Fest in New Orleans on Saturday, May 7.

The song ends with, “They’re just hanging on—It’s a damned shame to make and old man cry—This used to be paradise.” Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.