A few years ago the St. Martin Parish School Board promised us that it would try to get more land around school. This request for additional property was one of our most important long range needs because of increasing enrollment. Also we felt that there might not be any vacant property around school later on judging by the way people were buying and selling and building homes around school.
CATAHOULA LAKE was once so deep that its bottom was beyond the reach of even the most accomplished Indian divers. No wonder they thought it was bottomless. The lake was a body of water unlike any other they’d known. Who could blame them for believing it was a portal to eternity?
I DREAMED it was a sunny afternoon and there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. I was torn. I wanted to go skiing with Luke, but I also wanted to stay exactly where I was, fast asleep on the sofa.
TEN THOUGHTS on the last day of my forty-second year on Earth: 1) Scolding or shouting at a person never helps your cause and rarely changes anyone’s mind. In fact, it often accomplishes the opposite. If you want to express your opinion and have it truly be heard, add humor, humility or kindness to your message, and it will be well received. Better yet, embody the virtues you wish to see in the world, and let that be your message instead.
EVERY NIGHT I put out what I’ll be wearing the following day, including underwear, socks and shoes — and a belt if I’m wearing a belt. I started this daily ritual the night before I took my seventh grade school picture and I’ve kept it up ever since.
NOW THAT WE LIVE in a different neighborhood, I have a new commute into the city. It’s a cool ride. I bike from our apartment near Memorial Park, all along Buffalo Bayou, into downtown Houston — and I never have to stop at a stop sign or a traffic light. The bike trails go over and under the surface streets.
HE DOESN’T SEEM to talk much, but then he doesn’t have to. When you’ve fathered almost an entire town, words are unnecessary. “Pop” Joe Courville celebrates his 87th birthday today on the banks of Catahoula Lake. According to his oldest daughter, Mrs. J. B. (Yola) Laviolette, almost everyone in the town will attend.
I HAD NO IDEA how it would end when it began. All I knew is that I’d discovered a trove of great material, and that I wanted to create a book befitting that material, as elegant and as surprising as the photographs I’d unearthed. When I began, I was just groping in the dark. But if I shuffled the images around enough, I suspected, grouping and regrouping them, eventually a story might come into view.
TO ALL OF YOU who are dreaming of the springtime, flowers, birds, fishing and picnicking— we extend a cordial invitation to attend our Mardi Gras Celebration at Catahoula Lake. It’s a “Fisherman’s Dream of Paradise” that we have in store for you.
WHEN I SAT DOWN to write the screenplay for the commercial one afternoon in late June, the little gravel road that crosses over the levee near Red’s sprang to mind. It’s the area of Catahoula that struck me as having the most cinematic potential. It’s the only elevated landscape in Catahoula, and in the right light, I imagined, with a vehicle driving down it, the little gravel road would generate a cool cloud of glittering dust. I could see it so clearly in my mind’s eye — an old pickup truck driving on the levee road. I wrote The Golden Age of Catahoula at the top of a blank page.
WHEN MY NECK got kind of crampy on the long flight home today, I reached into my backpack for the naproxen I bought yesterday — scratch that — for the FEMINAX I bought yesterday, and I have to say, my first impulse was to be embarrassed, what with FEMINAX FEMINAX FEMINAX written like a hundred times across the back of the blister pack. I reached in for naproxen. That’s what I take when my joints ache. So when I pulled out FEMINAX it caught me by surprise, even though FEMINAX is just another name for naproxen.
PICTURE CATAHOULA is an on-line archive of photographs taken in Catahoula during its golden age — 1928-1978. Thirty-six Catahoula families have contributed to the archive so far, and as of September 2015 I’ve scanned almost 4000 photographs.
NUN WITH APPLE breath, fast asleep beside me, collapsed on a folded-out tray in dreamland on an airplane bound for Denver, how appalled you would be to learn that in the sweet amnesia of your slumber, you nudged my laptop sideways with your elbow as you sprawled onto my workspace, your brown habit spilling around you.
CATAHOULA LAKE, some say Lake Catahoula, is a small mysterious lake in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, at the western edge of the Atchafalaya Basin. Not to be confused with the much larger lake by the same name in the northern half of the state, the narrow and picturesque lake has long been regarded as sacred, and a legend of its violent birth has attached to it.
THIS IS THE ONLY surviving photograph of the exterior of Catahoulas first chapel, as far as I know. Originally located on the western shore of the lake near where Harold Granger later had his store, the chapel was moved in the 1920’s to a triangular piece of property at the heart of Catahoula. In 1951 the worn-out chapel was replaced with the building that would become St. Rita Catholic Church.
MANY OF THE PATIENTS I treat were injured on the job, or through the negligence of others, so I end up participating in three or four depositions a year. The first few times, even though I understood intellectually that the deposition wasn’t about me, that it wasn’t me who was on trial, that I’m merely providing information, it still felt like I was on trial. The clipping of the mic on your shirt edge, the so-help-you-god oath, the videographer, the transcriptionist, the stacks of folders on the table — it’s hard not to be at least a little afraid, particularly when you realize that every word you speak is going to be precisely recorded. But now that I have quite a few depositions under my belt, I’m not so awed by them anymore. I used to dread them. Now I kind of look forward.
MY SECOND DISASTROUS vocal audition — magnitudes of order more disastrous than my high school show choir audition — was for a student-organized musical at Rice. Sid Rich College was staging Man of La Mancha and Karen and I went to the tryouts together one evening after dinner.
TIED THE PIROGUE to a ropy muscadine vine growing along the haunted oak tree, clambered up the moss-carpeted roots and onto its curving trunk, using the same vine as a kind of ladder to make my way up the face of the steep bank.
LOADED THE PIROGUE into the truck early this morning and drove it to the landing at the park. Paddled down to the forks, the sun still peeking through the treeline. Plucked wild muscadine for breakfast and waited for daylight to come streaming through the vine leaves.
TRUE STORY. My audition for high school show choir was so disastrous that later in the semester when Bobby Gillette had to drop out, the director of the choir invited me to take Bobby’s spot, but only on the condition that I lip-sync instead of sing. I would merely be a place filler, in other words, a means of preserving the symmetry of the choreography. Under no circumstances could I actually produce any noises with my mouth. Of course I said yes. The cummerbunds were red, and so were the bow-ties. The music was Andrew Lloyd Webber. And there was a very symmetric starburst at the finale of the medley thanks to my pair of jazz hands.
THE SHOT: A wide shot of the levee road on a sunny blue summer day. An old pickup truck enters the frame and winds down the levee road, leaving a cloud of dust behind it. It turns onto Highway 96 by Red’s Levee Bar and heads toward the Catahoula bridge.
THE CATAHOULA LAKE SCHOOL opened at its present site on September 19, 1936. Hugh Daspit, as principal, along with five other teachers taught grades one through seven. The six room structure was of cement blocks but without modern conveniences.
THE SKULL contains the brain, but it doesn’t contain the mind. We walk around thinking our minds are in our heads, but the mind is only an inner space of the body metaphorically. Eyeballs aren’t peepholes brains peek through. Movies aren’t projected in some cinema between our ears. It’s pitch black inside there every second of every day. Even in full sun, our brains are always dark. Our heads are light-tight, even when our eyes are open.
I FOUND HIM near the nurse’s station in his wheelchair, receiving a cup of pills in his hands. His right leg, badly mangled in the accident, had been screwed and pinned back together and wrapped up in a soft cast. He couldn’t bend it at the knee, so when I wheeled him around and down the hallway to his room in the locked unit, I was mindful of the large sweep his outstretched right leg made as we rounded the corners.
BRAINGLOW is the visual adornment of a cartoon brain — usually represented as a disembodied organ — with an outward-radiating illumination-of-sorts. Brainglow doesn’t exist in nature, of course. Brains don’t literally glow blue-green. But you’d never know it from the pictures of brains you’re likely to encounter walking through a bookstore or surfing the internet these days. You see brainglow everywhere — dust jackets, glossy conference brochures, websites promising heightened brain power.
I’M SO PROUD of my tea assistant, Mr. Blank. He’s been a patient of mine for almost three years, arriving at our rehabilitation center in the summer of 2012. He stayed with us for four months before returning to his home state on the east coast, but ended up in jail soon after his discharge for assaulting his ex-wife. Knowing his history, and with sincere interest in his welfare, the authorities agreed to transfer him back to our center where he could receive appropriate treatment for his aggression. He was very fortunate. I’ve no doubt there are many men like him, with similar histories, imprisoned for similar offenses all over this country. In his first twenty-five years of life he’s endured more than most of us ever will — all manner of abuse, traumatic brain injury, incarceration — so ending up where he did after being arrested was a rare stroke of good fortune for him. He’s been my tea assistant for seven months.
THESE OLD PHOTOGRAPHS of Catahoula have led me down many a rabbit hole, none moreso than this pair of undated images — further proof that photographs are ghosts, and that as long as images of you survive, you never really die.
Someone’s going to need to go to the bathroom halfway through and all you can do is let them excuse themselves, even if it means you have to stop what you’re saying and rearrange the furniture so that they can wheel past you.
Someone’s going to keep blurting out the same question you’ve already answered, and you have to either ignore it, and maybe that will be the last time, or else you have to answer it and try redirecting the group’s attention back to the matter at hand, for example, back to the color of the tea they’re drinking.
Someone’s going to fall asleep and snore really loudly, then suddenly wake up and start cranking the adjustable tables, shifting the bamboo placemats and nearly tumbling your Russian glass teacups over.
Someone’s going to have an intense muscular spasm and grimace and gasp for air.
1. Find a female unicorn. Both male and female unicorns have horns, so you’ll have to look between the legs, just in front of the anus, to identify the sex. A male unicorn will be hung like a horse. If you discover a gigantic penis down there — you’ll know it when you see it — keep looking for another unicorn to milk.
ONE HALLOWEEN, I think I was like four, maybe five, I was really little, and I had a hard-core lisp, and I was kind of fat, and my mom was like, she asked me, OK Jordan, what do you want to be for Halloween this year, and I remember thinking about it for a second and the idea came to my mind and to my eyes, and I was like, I want to be a butterfly. And my mom just went with it. She didn’t try to steer me toward something more masculine or say that’s not what boys do. She was just like, OK, you want to be a butterfly, you’re gonna be a butterfly.
THE GHOSTS OF CATAHOULA get laid out in the Madonna Hall, but it’s not a true death, because as soon as they’re buried in Our Lady of the Lake Cemetery, they sprout from a whirlpool at the lake’s deepest point and live life all over again.
FAMOUSLY PICTURESQUE, Catahoula Lake has long felt exotic. What is this snaking waterway agelessly gathering moss on the rim of a swampy wonderland, always out of time, ticking a few beats behind the forward march of civilization?
IT WAS A SPECIFIC DAY in a specific June. A specific statue of Mary was paraded through a specific little village, conveyed on a specific platform, under the direction of a specific priest, by four specific boys, from a specific little church, down a specific winding street, to a very specific cemetery on the shore of a specific lake, where one specific girl in a specific sky blue dress ascended a specific altar created for the occasion and placed a specific crown of flowers on the head of the specific Virgin. It was Charlotte.
I WAS FILLING UP downtown three Februarys ago when he stepped out from under the streetlight. “Hey man,” he said. “Can you help me out with something to eat?” Good sense should have dictated doing the opposite of what I did, but it was cold and he seemed sincere, so I pulled out my wallet and opened it. I would have sworn it was full of singles, but there was only one twenty inside, and all four of our eyes were on it. Two people have never been so sure of the exact contents of a wallet. There was no point in pretending otherwise. I handed him the twenty. What else could I do?“No, man, no,” he said, pointing to the cashier. “I can go and make some change for you.” “Here,” I said, “I want you to have it.” He doubled over in disbelief and let out a sharp howl. “Thank you,” he said, sobbing. “Thank you.”
I’m not telling you this story to let you know that I’m the kind of person who gives twenties to homeless people. Like I said, I don’t recommend it, especially at 5:30 in the morning in the middle of downtown Houston. It’s completely inappropriate. Indeed, the situation at the gas station escalated pretty quickly. We were standing at the pump, and the guy was asking me about Electric Light Orchestra — I was wearing an ELO t-shirt — and we were singing the chorus to Don’t Bring Me Down when this other guy steps out from under the streetlight, offers me a small glass pipe and says, “I think there’s something still in here if you want to hit it.” When a third guy steps out from under the streetlight I high-tail it out of there.
THE YELLOWTOP is one of the earliest blooming wildflowers in southern Louisiana each spring. They’re so early-blooming, in fact, they start blooming in winter. This recently harvested cane field has been yellow since December.
THERE’S A NUN around town. She’s always getting coffee. Perhaps in her sisterly circles she’s renowned for her boundless compassion, but all I can say about her is that she definitely likes her coffee. I might even call her a coffee fiend. Of course, I’m usually getting coffee when I see her, so what does that say about me? I drink so much coffee you’d swear I was a nun.
THESE LAST FEW DAYS have tasted like spring. Branches are budding. Birds are busy building nests. Yesterday was baby blue and one thin layer was enough to keep me warm, so I decided to serve an orange blossom green tea to my Peaceful Habits group, to call attention to and amplify that feeling of spring we were all tasting. I served a jasmine green as well. This year I’ve started using two small teapots instead of one large one, a small ceramic one and a small cast iron one. I received the teapots as gifts for Christmas, and I’m glad I did. Now I can serve two teas simultaneously. Now the group is more like a tea tasting.
THERE’S A CARTOON floating around out there — a despondent Snow White, half-collapsed on the cottage floor, presses a wine bottle to her lips, two tears on her left cheek, three empty bottles beside her, her yellow petticoat forlornly rumpled.
WHEN THE COURVILLES, our next-door neighbors growing up, decided to move from Catahoula to Butte La Rose a few years ago, my parents bought their house and lot. Their initial idea was to sell it and have it moved elsewhere — my dad wanted to have a big garden in its place — but the house was too big to be moved in one piece, and chopping it in half and moving the two pieces elsewhere was too costly relative to what the house was worth. So my dad considered tearing it down and selling it for parts. He really wanted that big sunny garden there.