Always going back to the swamp: Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve


Cajun bridal bouquet Black bayou Small Louisiana alligator Louisiana banded water snake

photo by Ryan Sparks
photo by Ryan Sparks

what does duckweed look like Palmetto

I know, I know. Another damn post about the swamp. Every few months I try to get out to Jean Lafitte to snap some new photos and fantasize about fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a park ranger. I can’t stop taking pictures of where I grew up. I even dedicated an entire zine to it (ahem, click here to buy).

Lately I’ve been working seven days a week between two  jobs, which leaves me with little free time. So when I got an unexpected day off from work recently, I called up my good friend Ryan Sparks and we high-tailed it to the West Bank. Just don’t tell maw maw and paw paw I went on “that side of the river” without visiting them. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t swing by their house. Old Cat’lic guilt dies hard, y’all.

Springtime is the perfect time of year to make the trek to Lafitte. March through May hits that sweet spot; the temperature is delightful, plus you can spot gators sprawled out on the banks without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. I’m also that weirdo that gets really, really excited to see snakes. Copperheads are my favorite, but as a former card carrying member of the Gulf Coast Herpetological Society, I appreciate all things scaly. Insects are another story. I want nothing to do with anything that has more than four legs. Banana Spiders, however, do not phase me. Go figure. If you want a reptile free experience, go in the cooler fall and winter months.

A torrential downpour let up right as we ponied up to the Bayou Coquille trailhead, which allowed us to play around with our cameras without worrying about getting our gear soaked. Be warned: I wore my shit kickers and I still almost ate it on the slippery board walk, so make sure to wear sturdy shoes. I do love the swamp after a good rain though. The duckweed turns the color of pea soup and the air shrugs off the tension of humidity. The canals were especially chocked full of vegetation on this trip, which created an illusion of carpeted clearings throughout the swamp. I wonder how many tourists try to step out and land knee deep in mud. I wonder how many of them know better.

Catahoula Zine


Catahoula Zine

Catahoula Zine

I’m excited to announce a project I’ve been working on called Catahoula; the first issue of this quarterly zine features words and photography by yours truly. I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a zine for several years, so I am ecstatic this project has finally come to fruition.

The first issue features “Allons,” a story I wrote this past summer about what it was like to grow up with a swamp for a backyard. I grew up in a typical Westbank subdivision, but my experience was slightly different than my neighbor’s thanks to the proximity of my parent’s house to the levee. Living next to the swamp was fun, but it wasn’t easy. Snakes, armadillos, wasps, and a slew of other animals constantly invaded our home and yard, and the threat of hurricanes was ever present. Growing up in this environment really shaped the person that I am today: someone who yearns for the outdoors and tries not to place too much value on material things since you never know when a storm might take them away. I haven’t lived on “the other side of the river” for 15 years, but I try to make it to Barataria Preserve, the location the essay centers around, at least twice a year. All but one of the photographs (the squirrel photo was shot at Audubon Park) were taken there.

Order a print or digital copy of Catahoula through MagCloud by clicking here. Print copies are $8.00 and digital is $2.00. I’m also giving away two digital copies of Catahoula to two lucky readers. Leave your email in the comments section for a chance to enter. I will pick two winners at random. Winners will be contacted early next week.

Growing up With Hurricanes

Barataria Preserve


“Are you planning on writing anything about Katrina?” My friend Missy posed the question to me during one of our quasi-regular coffee dates two weeks ago. The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up on August 29, and my social media timelines are saturated with links to articles from both local and national news outlets.

I have mixed emotions about “K10”. I acknowledge the importance of commemorating the struggle, the lives lost, the frustrations felt (no matter if you stayed in town or high tailed it out of here), but I find rehashing the experience on a yearly basis exhausting.

I’ve shared snippets of my Katrina story with everyone from friends to total strangers, but I’m not ready to write my entire experience down yet. Instead, I’ll share an excerpt from Allons, a longer essay I wrote this summer. The piece is about growing up in a house that was situated on the cusp of the swamp in an otherwise nondescript WestBank subdivision. This particular part of the essay explores what it was like going through adolescence with the constant threat of hurricanes. If you enjoy it, or even if you hate it, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.



I was eight weeks old when I took my first pirogue ride. The levee was just a glorified dirt mound then, and a storm brought enough rain to flood our house, requiring my parents to bundle me up and float us out. The levee was still inadequate when my brother was born two years later. Whenever Nash Roberts would announce a hurricane was coming, neighbors would join together to fortify the levee with hundreds of sandbags, most likely purchased with their own money. The Army Corps of Engineers finally built the levee up and installed a pumping station that would suck the water out of the streets. However, the levees could only do so much. Whenever Nash predicted a really big hurricane was projected to make landfall, we got the hell out of town. If Nash said it was bad, then it must be bad. Everyone trusted Nash.

My sister was born seven years after my inaugural boat ride and by then me and my brother were evacuation pros. We could each take three toys with us, but no more. Mom would bring photo albums and important documents, such as our birth certificates, to my maternal grandparent’s house, since their house never flooded. Dad would board up the windows with sheets of plywood, which protected the glass panes and blocked light from coming in. We put all of our furniture up on wooden blocks, as if those extra two inches would make a big difference if significant flooding occurred. Anything that could get ruined would go on top of beds, dressers, and closet shelves. I would put my most prized possessions at the highest points, which forced me to assign value to everything I owned. Sometimes I thought about the worst case scenario, imagining our house filled to the roof like an aquarium. I imagined Sac-au-Lait and Redfish doing circles around the wooden dollhouse my paternal paw paw built me. I never worried about my own well being, but worried about my precious belongings, like what would happen to my microscope or my roller skates. Mom and Dad took care of the bigger things that my adolescent mind couldn’t quite comprehend, such as personal safety in the midst of a natural disaster. We also stocked up on canned goods and filled the bathtubs with water just in case water sources became contaminated after the storm. We never needed the water, but once every few years we would have to live without power for a few days and subsist on canned beans and PB&J sandwiches.

Charmed by a Cajun

It’s been a while since I’ve done an interview but I’ve found some new names so get ready to get reacquainted! 

Laurie Rials is the owner of Cajunville, an online store that caters to brides looking for southern belle flourishes as well as jewelry lovers that appreciate icons of the Gulf Coast region. 
Tell us a little bit about where you are from and what you do.

I am a Cajun from south Louisiana. I now live part time in New Orleans in the French Quarter. I design, make, and sell jewelry and other items with a mainly Louisiana theme, primarily working with pewter charms and beads. I began my business in 2001 as “Laurie’s Lagniappe”. Even though I no longer use that name, my philosophy remains the same. In French, Lagniappe means “something extra” and that is what my pieces offer, something extra whether it is for home, for personal use, or for a gift. It is the something extra that makes an occasion special or makes one feel special.

Camping Trailer Pewter Earrings Camping trailer earrings

You are obviously very influenced by Louisiana culture, particularly the Gulf of Mexico. What is it about Louisiana that makes you want to incorporate these elements into your designs?

As I said, I am Cajun and proud of our culture and state.  The Gulf of Mexico is an integral part of our culture and livelihood as is the Fleur de Lis and Mardi Gras.  I want to bring Louisiana and our love of life to other parts of the country and world.

Louisiana Gulf Coast Stem Glass Markers 
Louisiana Gulf Coast wine stem charms

What is your customer typically looking for? I noticed that you cater to wedding parties.

Most customers are looking for Fleur de Lis items.  The Fleur de Lis has long been associated with Louisiana and since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; the Fleur de Lis has been a symbol of hope and rebirth.  The Fleur de Lis is an official symbol of Louisiana and its popularity continues to increase.

One of the items I make is stem glass markers or wine charms and they are perfect for wedding favors.  I also make candle rings that can be used on unity candles.  Cake pulls are becoming popular again and I have various themes.  I customize all these items to the wedding colors and themes.

New Orleans Louisiana Antiqued Fleur de Lis Lily Pin New Orleans antiqued fleur de lis pin

Besides making jewelry what are your other hobbies?

RVing, cooking, dancing and reading are things I enjoy when not making jewelry.  My husband and I are avid RVers and enjoy traveling and experiencing other areas and cultures.  We also enjoy cooking and making dishes Cajun.  We shop farmers markets in areas we visit, purchasing local items and cooking them Cajun.

Gulf Coast Wildlife Charm Bracelet Gulf Coast wildlife charm bracelet

Define southern style.

Southern style is not what you wear; it is how you wear an outfit.  The simplest outfit becomes elegant by adding the finishing touch, whether it is a brooch, scarf, or pendant.  It is the Lagniappe and that is how I look at my pieces.  They are the extras that give an outfit a personal touch, make the wearer feel special and have the grace and charm of the south.

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