On our way out of Mississippi we stopped In Jackson to meet with lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center whose work focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline. Our next stop was in Bayou Sorrel, Louisiana where we spent the day with the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Greg Guirard, a local legend who salvages old cypress logs. To finish up our time in the Southeast we ate lunch in New Orleans' French Market and chatted with William Most, a local civil rights lawyer. Enjoy Jon's reflection on our time in the Southeast!
We searched the opaque water for a glimpse of an alligator as we sped through the swampy Atchafalaya Basin with Dean Wilson. After spending a week on the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers and seeing every animal possible except an alligator, tensions were high. All eleven of us fit onto Dean’s boat, and even his dog tagged along, for the ride on a glassy, green channel, which is part of the Atchafalaya River.
Dean drove through a section of branches and vines and secured the boat on a muddy bank. He pointed up to a mighty cypress tree that at first glance resembled a California redwood. The cypress cast a shadow that engulfed the entire boat and a great deal of the surrounding water. Dean guided us to the base of tree, and he explained that a cypress this size is approximately 1500 to 2000 years old. This astounded me because this tree has stood through a majority of the events our history textbooks cover. I can barely imagine all of the stories that it holds.
Dean shared that the cypress trees have endured neglect since before the United States of America to as recent as the year 2000. He said that the logging of these highly sought after trees started as early as 1690 and that the loggers believed that this industry would last forever. Before the logging there was about eight million acres of cypress tress, and today there is only 800,000 acres left. These great trees are the skyscrapers of the Louisiana wetlands, so they cannot be replenished overnight. Dean’s role as the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper means that his job is to protect and restore the ecosystems within the basin. He has spent years taking action in order to prevent the development of the Atchafalaya, and he is extremely proud of his accomplishments. I can see how the beauty of the cypress swamps inspires Dean’s dedication and love for the Atchafalaya.
An overarching theme has been present throughout our adventures in the Southeast; our planet is a limited resource, and it is our duty to preserve it for generations to come. While paddling the Mississippi and exploring the bayous of Louisiana, I have learned the importance of environmental activism and the change it can bring to small communities and the world.