I'll admit that before visiting the great state of Louisiana, my vision of the Bayou was largely influenced by two of my greatest childhood sources of entertainment: Discovery Channel and Forrest Gump. I pictured egrets and herons plucking small fish from the deep, wooden houses built on stilts at the edge of the water, and processions of shrimp boats coasting down the canals, their billowing nets filled to the brim with the day's catch.
In late July, my supervisor at the New Orleans Public Defender's Office took me to the Louisiana Bayou for the first time. We were there to find the family members of one of our clients, who needed bail money. Our destination was the small town of Cocodrie in Terrebone Parish. Deriving its name from the Cajun word for alligator, Cocodrie, like many of the neighboring towns, used to be a thriving fishing village. The brackish water was home to everything from crawfish to largemouth bass. But driving into town, it was clear that things had changed. Gas hoses swung from out-of-order pumps, wet slips lay bare in the marina, and not a soul was to be seen.
On September 1, 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall at Cocodrie. 100 mph winds battered the shrimp boats for hours, tearing holes in their hulls, shredding their nets, and blowing them onto shore. For the fisherman who called Cocodrie home, Gustav was a death knell. Deprived of the vessels that made them a living, and exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, the population left in droves, leaving Cocodrie a shell of its former self. Now instead of boats its waterways are clogged with water hyacinths, an exotic invasive plant species that threatens to stall any chance at a potential revival. One can only hope that Cocodrie's future mimics the ebbs and flows of the water itself.