On the Bayou

Goodbye Joe me gotta go me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne the sweetest one me oh my oh
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
—-Jambalaya (On The Bayou), Hank Williams

Bayou St. John
New Orleans, Louisiana
During the Bayou Boogaloo festival

Bayou St. John, New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John,
New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John, New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John,
New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John, New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John,
New Orleans, La

Wooden Canoe

I am now to the point where everything brings back memories… not even a single memory but a chain of them… separated by great space and greater time – yet linked by a single thing, the inside of my head.

Something as simple as a wooden canoe lying on a grassy bank:

I found a small dugout wooden canoe upside down in a tropical lake, abandoned and rotting in a bank of watery weeds along the shore. I came up under it with a scuba tank on my back, the bubbles catching in its concave interior and I, looking at the long oblong shape against the sun, wondered what it was. There was nobody in miles so I took it for my own.

The wood was soft and I could scrape out the rotten part with a hunting knife. The bow was broken but I fixed it with a piece of plywood and some marine glue. I found some half empty used cans of bilious old paint in a garage closet so I painted it black and gray. I cut a plastic Clorox bottle into a bailer and I was good to go.

I learned to paddle there on that humid lake. Learned to fish from a canoe, learned to navigate in the darkness, saw creatures I never thought existed in fresh water – they had followed ships in through the Gatun locks and most were slowly dying from the lack of salt.

Then I learned to maneuver a rented dented aluminum canoe through the spring flash flowing Ozark rivers on college weekends – the rocky adrenaline thrill of white water and the relaxing lazy languid sluggishness of deep dark green. I learned that a foot of water can be dangerous when it is moving fast under a fallen tree. Also, be careful when you stop in the middle of a ten mile stretch of isolated river for a quick refreshing swim on a gravel bank… don’t leave your car keys behind.

I paddled into the netherworld of Spanish Moss and Bald Cyprus in East Texas Caddo lake. A place out of time where you can find an abandoned church in a place where God has forgotten. I learned to always check the flow of the water before setting out. You are never as strong as you think you are – sometimes it is hard to get back.

Paddling on a lake with two little kids in the boat I learned that you not only have to check the flow of the water, but the strength of the wind. A damned up prairie lake can throw air fast enough to grab the bow and turn it the way you don’t want to go.

There is the sound of small waves banging against aluminum. The feeling of an ill-fitting life jacket while you are trying to work the paddle. The smell of old fish bait. The heat of the sun on the back of your neck. The sight of the little vortexes that spin off your paddle, the little drops of water when you swing it to the other side. There is the ache in your shoulders at the end of a long day and the anticipation when rounding a curve in the river.

Most of all the rhythm of boat, paddle, and water when you get moving across a lake. When it’s all working together and you feel sorry for the folks roaring by spewing oil out of their big outboards (though you do look jealously at that nice little sailboat).

The Dallas Wave

Sunday I hiked the mile or so from the Corinth DART station down through the Trinity River Bottoms on the new Santa Fe Trestle trail. Underneath the new/old bridge is another feature, the contentious Dallas Wave.

You see, in its constant struggle to become… what?… a real city, Dallas decided as part of its plans for developing the Trinity River Bottoms to put in a whitewater feature.

The Dallas Wave with a DART train going by overhead... and the skyline in the background. (click to enlarge)

Before it gets to the artificial rapids of the Dallas Wave the Trinity is a lazy, calm stretch of flat water.

The whitewater of the Dallas Wave with the lighted ball of Reunion Tower in the background.

The water is very high from recent rains - at least four feet above normal. The Standing Wave is almost completely drowned.

BTW, those of you in remote locales who might be wondering what I’m talking about – there’s a very familiar piece of footage I’m sure you have seen. The first few seconds of this introduction features a flyover of the Trinity River Bottoms.

At any rate, the city went ahead and put in their whitewater – basically sticking a couple of concrete dams and walls into the otherwise calm and lazy Trinity. The results don’t bode too well – the rest of the development is stalled for a decade or so because of Federal Regulations promulgated after Katrina. The Standing Wave was constructed and it ended up costing millions of dollars more than planned.

And now, the thing is closed. It turns out that it is too fast and dangerous for canoes to run. The sport kayakers seem happy with the thing, but other folks seem to think it’s a deathtrap.

Now that I’ve seen it in person, I have no opinion. The river was so high the lower wave was completely submerged and the upper wave mostly so. The water looked to be at least four feet deeper than in most of the photographs I’ve seen. It looked like a bunch of fast but navigable rapids to me.

So we’ll see. The lawsuits will fly, the construction will finish, and the water will keep on flowing. The river will always be the same, although with constantly different water.

Trinity River Project’s Standing Wave: Great, Now City Hall’s Trying to Kill Us

The Trinity River’s ‘Standing Wave’ Crashes into Reality

Drowning the Whistleblower on the Doomed Trinity River Wave

Dallas Wave park raises wasteful spending debate

$3.9M Dallas Wave Wipes Out

Dallas Wave whitewater park on the Trinity remains in limbo

Wave goodbye to the Dallas Wave opening

Despite all this, the Kayaking community have been enjoying the Dallas Wave for a year.

Pre-Super Bowl Party on the Dallas Standing Wave

Dallas paddlers get a taste of the Trinity River standing wave

Trinity Park Standing Wave Kayak Course