Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Hike at Cypress Island Preserve, Louisiana…

While here at Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, La we were looking for a nice place to hike and found the Cypress Island Preserve. We drove about 30 minutes over to the Visitor Center at Cypress Island Preserve located between Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. The preserve is being managed and maintained by the Nature Conservancy of Louisiana.

The Visitor Center is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on weekends year-round and during the week from Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime. We checked out the visitor center and there really isn’t much to see but at at least we were able to obtain a trail map of the preserve.

We were fortunate that the trails were open as the levee tail that we wanted to hike will be closed soon for the alligator nesting season from June through October.  Before making our way over to the levee trail we found a small loop trail on a boardwalk that led out into the beautiful cypress-tupelo swamp. The preserve protects 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat. This area is critical to nesting wading birds that can be seen along Rookery Road.

There are some beautiful cypress and tupelo in the swamp covered with Spanish moss along the boardwalk trail. The swamp is part of a bigger body of water in the preserve, Martin Lake.We also spotted a beautiful male Prothontary Warbler. Other species such as White-Eyed Vireos and Pine Warblers could be heard singing from the treetops.

After enjoying the boardwalk trail we found the entrance to the 2.5 mile levee trail. This distance is one way so we planned to continue the hike back along the Rookery Road making the hike around Lake Martin about 5.5 miles. The trail begins in an area covered with some beautiful old-growth live oaks mostly draped with Spanish moss. The preserve has a goal to restore an additional 20,000-acres of natural cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest. We had just entered the trail when Sharon spotted a majestic Red Fox, a good start to the hike…

Although the rookery season is waning we were still able to see lots of the birds that nest in this preserve. We saw Anhinga, Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Wood Ducks and Great Blue Heron. We also spotted several Red-Eared Turtles making their way across the levee, some as big around as basketballs.

There were lots of scenic views of Lake Martin after the first mile or so and it wasn’t until we could see open water that we started seeing all sizes of American alligators. Since it is nearing their nesting time several of them would slap their tails in the water trying to scare us away. I have to admit it was a bit intimidating especially on the narrower portions of the trail with water on both sides. We really scurried along this levee where the alligators were more common.

We also came upon a Cottonmouth snake. These are identified by their dark olive to black color and their paler belly. They also are called Water Moccasins and they are poisonous. One of their unique behaviors is their ability to "stand their ground." When agitated cottonmouths often coil up and threaten intruders with their wide open mouth exposing their fangs. Mostly visible is the white lining of its mouth when open, so this gave rise to the common name, the cottonmouth. We gave him/her plenty of space and were even more cautious while moving along  the trail until we finally hit Rookery Road.

The walk along the road was less interesting but we did hear lots of Barred Owls hooting their song that birders often describe as sounding like “Who cooks for yoooou… who cooks for you allllll.” We were almost back to the car when it began to rain and by the time we got to the car we were pretty darned wet. Nevertheless this was a great hike with lots of scenery and birds to see. The only recommendation other than bringing water is to bring some mosquito repellant or “Chanel No. 5 Fly” as some Cajuns refer to it…

Friday, May 22, 2015

Louisiana… Home of Cajun Music and Zydeco…

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Betty's RV Park 018Sharon and I love both Zydeco and Cajun Music so I wanted to learn more about their history. The Cajun people of Louisiana are said to have left France to settle Nova Scotia in Canada around 1605. By 1755 the the British ran them off and those seeking asylum found their way to south Louisiana. These exiled French people or Acadians (as they were called) brought with them a musical heritage that likely originated in medieval France. The word Cajun is said to have derived from the word Acadian. The music the Acadians preserved evolved into what is known today as Cajun Music!

Meanwhile another genre of music was developing in Southern Louisiana, Zydeco. The French-speaking Black Creoles of African descent were also evolving their historical music.   It is said that Zydeco began as jure or hand-clapping and foot-stomping mostly used by black field hands. As jure evolved it became known as LaLa or la musique creole. Then in the late 1800’s local stores imported inexpensive accordions and both Creoles and Cajun musicians soon adopted them into their music.

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While the Cajuns were adopting the diatonic or button accordion Zydeco later adopted the piano accordion and the washboard. Cajuns also later added the steel guitar, bass, drums, and and the fiddle. The Cajun music later incorporated the sounds of jazz as well as country and western into their music while Zydeco had adopted more soul and jazz. They both incorporated some elements of the blues as well.

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Culturally speaking the Cajuns and Creoles have borrowed and influenced each others music over the years. Even today their sound is really not that too far apart, yet it remains distinct. I bring this up because if visitors want to immerse in not only the Cajun culture but into the Cajun and Zydeco music of southern Louisiana then Betty’s RV Park is a great place to be.

We have already enjoyed great music at a few classic locations here. The Museum Café in Erath hosts a Cajun Jam every other Saturday right next door to the Acadian Museum in the Le Café du Musée. The café also hosts the "Living Legends" program is a true Road Treat! Not only can one experience great Cajun Music here, but if you happen to be there on the right Saturday you might also witness a living legend become inducted. We were lucky to see both on this last trip as  Lafayette Parish sheriff Don Breaux was inducted and, as you may or may not know, the owner of Betty’s RV Park, Betty Bernard, has also been inducted as a Living Legend!

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Another day we visited Poppa’s on Dat River in Lafayette, La  to enjoy another great Cajun band. Another treat on this day was when the band invited yet another living legend up to sing a few Cajun songs in French, Arconge Touchet, affectionately known as “T Coon. It really was cool listening to this 87 year old Cajun bellowing out his lyrics… One can only wonder at all this fellow has seen during his lifetime here in Southern Louisiana. It's that colorful mix of music, food, language, southern Louisiana culture, friendly and welcoming people that makes visiting here so absolutely delightful…

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