I am originally from a small town in Louisiana located in the southern portion of Lafourche Parish called Golden Meadow. It’s a small bedroom community with about 2,100 residents. By car, it’s an hour and twenty minute drive from New Orleans, but as the crow flies, we’re just over 40 miles from New Orleans. Why does it take almost 90 minutes to go these 40 miles? Between New Orleans and Golden Meadow there are vast undeveloped tracts of swamp, lakes, marsh and the Mississippi River. One must drive out of the way significantly to make the trek. The general area that I’m from, the portion of Lafourche parish that falls south of the Intracoastal Canal, is more widely referred to as “The Bayou.” Since my hometown and this whole area are situated right on Bayou Lafourche, the moniker makes sense.
While I haven’t actually lived in Golden Meadow or on the bayou in general since 1997, I visit quite often. Nearly all of my family still lives on the bayou so Jeremy and I visit monthly or so. When I go back, I get the feeling of nostalgia for my old home. I pass by sights I knew as a child, like the rusty bridges over the bayou, the close quarters of the neighborhood streets, and the tiny business along the front road that have been passed down from generation to generation. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to live back there (I love city life!!), I do appreciate where I am from and what it has to offer. Today I want to share some of that with you.
The sights, sounds, and smells are what I love most. I love the smell of the salty marsh air in the morning. It’s interesting to note that when you’re in Golden Meadow, you’re only never more than a mile away from a levee holding back the vast swamp, lakes and marshlands that make up what’s left of Southern Louisiana. I love the fishing culture and the outdoors culture on the bayou; everyone has a boat, most people have camps. I love the abundance of crabs, crawfish, shrimp and fin-fish. I love how I know how to get my hands on high quality versions of all of those things with just one phone call. I love how simple things seem on the surface there – there isn’t much “out of home” entertainment in the standard form. No malls, no movie theater, no “downtown” for shopping and walking around, hardly any restaurants for dining, and even fewer bars for grabbing a drink. My hometown is very different from my current home, but they are born of similar backgrounds and humble beginnings.
Life on the bayou in some ways is quite similar to other rural communities in the United States. People live fairly simple lives centered on their work, families, and close friends. Most people are quite patriotic and many are fond of country music. Everywhere you turn you see people driving big trucks, Chevy and Ford, not because they like the looks, but because they need the functionality. High school football, SEC college football, and the NFL reign supreme here as the fall’s entertainment of choice. Yes, on the surface life on the bayou is much like it is elsewhere in the rural parts of this country. Unlike everywhere else, those big trucks are likely to be pulling boats for an afternoon of fishing in the marsh. While people are very patriotic, they’re also equally proud of, and equally likely to identify with, their Cajun roots. We’re American with a healthy dose of Cajun at our core.
Historically, Cajuns are known for being hospitable, resilient and for having a deep love of their homes. Today’s Cajuns are known for much of the same. Most people still stay living on the bayou after high school and some even move back after attending college. It’s still common for multiple generations of a family to live in the same street or at least close by. And despite all the hardship that Cajuns endure including being faced with the decimation of their homelands, they persist. They carry on. They’re not going to let anyone stop them.
Life on the bayou is mainly different from most other places: it is defined by the proximity of the water. By and large, most people in this country do not live at the water’s edge. Where I’m from in Southeast Louisiana, we live among the wetlands that were once part of the Mississippi Delta. I grew up not 500 feet from Bayou Lafourche. Our people live their lives on the soft squishy land that’s formed from millions of years of flooding and river movement. While the land these days is starving and disappearing due to man’s interference on multiple levels, our homeland was once a rich and fertile oasis where fishing, trapping, and hunting were a normal part of everyday life.
Today the outdoors sportsman still reigns in the area, but there’s just less “area” to rule. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of square miles of land in the last 50+ years since the oil field came in and cut canals through our once pristine marsh. The modern engineering feats aimed at taming and controlling the Mississippi River have also depleted the area of the sediment that once built it in the first place. My hometown is unique in that it is in transition: the core of Golden Meadow’s character is changing, from the influence of new people coming to work in oil who change the demographics of the community to the changes in the surrounding land which challenge the physical viability of the community.
Despite all of that, life still goes on. For those who like keeping with the traditions of the area, they make time for the simple yet important things in life: family, God, and the outdoors. Peoples’ lives revolve around those things just as life did for many generations of Cajuns who came before them. These central aspects of life can be seen in every crawfish boil, fishing trip, and slow drive down the bayou hugging LA Highway 1. Until the water overtakes us all, people will persist, as they have for 300 years. This could easily be a sad story, but I want to end on a hopeful note. The people and culture and value of this area will live on in the hearts and minds for a very long time. I take comfort in that.
Jeremy took the above video from the back of my brother’s truck. It’s a view of the trek south on LA Highway 1 between my dad’s house and my sister’s house.