Rural sites, rural sights, and the fragrance of spring . . . Friday, Mar 28 2008 


Our South Louisiana Prairie campus, surrounded mainly by fields, pastures, and open spaces on the outskirts of town, is lovely in spring. 

Walking across the grounds this morning on an errand, the seasonal sensory details were powerful: greening grass and budding trees; yellow pollen emanating from wild flowers and leafing branches; a cropduster droning in the distance; and a commingled set of fragances, odors and aromas. 

Not all of the “aromas” were pleasant.  For instance, would one characterize the smell of livestock manure as an “aroma?”  or a “fragrance?”   Probably not.  Livestock manure is one of those commodities for which we reserve connotative nouns like “smell” or “stench.”

But this morning I enjoyed the livestock smell.  I actually found comfort in blended fragrances.  From my earliest recollection of childhood, growing up in a rural area where dairy farming was a primary concern, the livestock “smell,”  as long as it’s not too ripe, raises homey associations.  I actually slowed the pace of my walk so I could prolong the experience.

But to show the difference a generation or two makes, on the way back across campus after completing the errand, I walked behind a small group of students (18 or 19 year olds).  One of them gasped disdainfully, “Ooohnh!  What stinks like that?” Her peer replied, “I don’t know, but that’s disgusting.”I started to butt in and tell them, “Hey, y’all never smelled cow manure?” 

But I smiled and kept my thoughts to myself.  They wouldn’t get it anyway.   Like George Bernard Shaw once observed, “Ah ,the pity youth is wasted on the young.” 


Sausage Po’Boys: More bad (but fun) poetry Wednesday, Mar 26 2008 

A campus club sold sausage po’ boys for a fundrasier today at lunch, so we donated to the cause and enjoyed our sandwiches. I remembered the olden days when our kids sold po’boys for fundraisers, too, like the Christmas season in ’97 when I composed the poboys.jpgfollowing “commercial” to solicit sales for the church youth group’s project. You can see the toll inflation has taken on the economy–$3.50 then, $5.00 today.

Po-Boys for Thee and Thine
(In Heroic Couplets)
December 1997

When mem’ries of thy Christmas feast grow old,
While stale turkey in the fridge drieth cold
And garlicky stench of left-over food
Belies the truth of what once was good,
What shall ye consume this Yule time of year
To nourish thy soul and make thee good cheer?

A worthy question! A dilemma ’tis!
But I can resolve it: Hark unto this:

‘Tween ‘lev’n and one, December twenty-nine,
Hie thee hence to First Baptist Church with thine,
There to take out, for thy fam’ly, po-boys–
Smoked sausage delights ev’ryone enjoys!
With chips and pickles, no way shalt thou err!
T’is a joyous repast, a bargain fair.
The cost is only three-fifty a meal.
No where in town wilt thou find such a deal.
The tickets have I on sale to reserve
For you this treat which you richly deserve.
And you will to a worthy cause donate,
For the youth group raiseth funds of late
To go on mission with good news to share
Of Christian love for mankind everywhere.

Call me quick, and I’ll to thee deliver
These tickets, for which thy heart doth quiver.

C’est temp pour pacquer des oeufs . . . Sunday, Mar 23 2008 

The Cajun tradition of “pacquing” hardboiled eggs on Easter afternoon is interesting, because even as a native South Louisianian, I never heard of “pacquing” eggs until I started hanging out with the Cajuns (and ultimately marrying among ’em).   (Pacque is the French word for Easter, by the way.)   Pacquing is sort of a round-robin tournament among family members to see who possesses the hardest hard-boiled Easter egg.pacquer-des-oeufs.jpg

A newspiece on pacquing in a Terrebonne Parish newspaper this weekend describes the process of “pacquing” the eggs as kind of a Cajun extension of the Easter egg hunt:

Hardboiled eggs were hidden for children to find, said Simone Camel, 46, a professor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux and a doctoral student at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss. Once found, the eggs were used for a game called Pacqué, in which opponents knocked eggs until one broke. The person with the unbroken egg wins, she said, adding that the type of egg can make a difference.

Interestingly, the other article I found on Pacquing came from  Avoyelles Parish.  The geographical diversity of the reports, then, supports the notion that Pacquing eggs is  common  in Cajun folklore, since Avoyelles Parish in Central Louisiana,  the Terrebonne Parish region below New Orleans, and the southwest Prairie Cajun region where my family lives  represent three uniquely different historical, cultural, and linguistic manifestations of  the Cajun experience in Louisiana.  But they all pacque!

The picture I provide with this post shows mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (a Texan who has learned to Pacque) carrying on the tradition this afternoon.

When I am Five and Eighty . . . Friday, Mar 21 2008 

As a carpenter and builder in his prime, Daddy really was a resourceful craftsman. He built houses out of driftwood fished out of the Mississippi River and raised church buildings and houses from the foundation up. He specialized in salvaging old materials like timbers and windows and cabinetry, scraping off layers of age and mildew and coats of paint, and crafting beauty by either creating something new or by restoring something old.

Now at eighty-five, the craftsman’s skills are understandably diminished. But the resourcefulness is not. The greenhouse is his latest project; he boasted to me yesterday that it hasn’t cost him a cent. He salvaged all of the materials, including the windows, from a junk pile.


And the jumbled storeroom where the tools, supplies, and paraphernalia of six or seven decades of accumulation lends testimony to that old school dogma, “Waste not, want not,” except in Daddy’s case, perhaps carried to an extreme.shed.jpg

Will I be like that when I reach 85? It’s hard to say, because I’m not the craftsman and builder that Daddy is. But with a little imagination, and a parody on A. E. Houseman’s poem “When I Was One and Twenty,” here’s how I might view the situation at “Five and Eighty”:

When I Am Five and Eighty

When I am five and eighty
A wise man to me will say,
“Save boards and windows and nails
To craft a greenhouse gay;
Save wanton junk and bounty
And hold your money tight.”
Yes, when I be five and eighty
Like my Daddy, I just might.

The Vernal Equi-nox on the door of spring. . . Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

At long last, the end of winter . . . On March 20 we observe the first day of240px-earth-lighting-equinox_en.png spring with the vernal equinox–one of two days in the year in which night and day are of equal  duration (we have a mirror autumnal equinox in the fall, of course).

Why the fancy with astronomy?  Dunno.  I couldn’t think of anything else to post, so I idly glanced at the calendar on the wall in the computer room and there it was.   So I typed in a key word search, checked out the topic at Wikipedia, and voici.

You can click here to see a cool QuickTime movie about the equinox phenomenon that I found on the web in my exploration.

What else could I add about spring?  I think it’s my favorite season  in this part of the world.  Spring and autumn are supposed to be mirror seasons, but fall on the Gulf Coast feels more like left-over summer (Indian Summer, we call it–and it’s nasty!) while spring on the Gulf Coast feels more like left-over winter.  Since our winters are milder than our brutal summers, the left-over winter is considerably more moderate.  Plus, all the budding plants and trees turn that incomparable shade of spring-green.

So spring it is.  And that’s OK with me.  May it last throughout the summer.

Etymology of “Kalamazoo” Sunday, Mar 16 2008 

kalamazoo-river-bridge.jpg So Kalamazoo really is.  I’ve been there and done it. I even learned how the town got its name. Not surprisingly, it’s an Indian word.  Algonquin Indian, to be exact.  The term means “boiling cauldron” or swirling or something like that.  I had time to walk the mile or so

to the River this afternoon, and I saw those agitated eddies in the current that support the Indians’ name.  The River’s rippled surface reminded me somewhat of Louisiana’s Bogue Chitto River, except the Kalamazoo appears to be deeper, the water a darker color, almost black.   

While the visit has been good, these Yankee folks pleasant and agreeable, and the food tolerable (although it’s not Louisiana! ), it sure will be nice to head south.  “There’s no place like home” is hardly an empty cliché!

How lovely the snow! Friday, Mar 14 2008 


Outside the airport at Kalamazoo, here is a snapshot of my first glimpse of snow in years!   A veritable, enchanting winter wonder land!

Kalamazoo . . . there really is such a place! Thursday, Mar 13 2008 

When I was a kid (like 50 or so years ago? Ouch!), I remember I’d ask my Daddy where he was going if he appeared to be loading up or packing up or gathering up to go somewhere. I remember how he would tease me by quipping “To Kalamazoo and Timbuctu!” 250px-kalamazoo.jpg

Since I’m bound for Kalamazoo tomorrow morning, I had called Mama and Daddy last night to let them know that at long last, after fifty-five years of life on earth, Timbuctu may still have to wait a while longer, but at last, Kalamazoo is on the itinerary. I reminded Daddy how I remembered his using that little expression in those days.

But then came a bonus: Daddy helped me remember another detail about Kalamazoo that I had forgotten from that time when I must have been four or five years old. And I was a little amazed and at the same time a little touched, because he remembered the following particulars: When he would tell me “Kalamazoo and Timbuctu,” I would argue with him that there was no such place and that he was just making that up, and we’d have this silly argument–all good natured, of course.

Why did he remember that? Why didn’t I remember that? But after he related the story, I DID remember the exchange. Maybe I’m making more out of an innocent sentimentality than I should, but I just thought it was kind of neat that the 85 year old great-grandparent whose mental sharpness is dulled by the years still remembers the details of a little boy’s childish incredulity more 50 or so years ago.

And don’t you know, that after all these years, turns out he was right and I was wrong about the existence of Kalamazoo.

Snowmelt . . . Monday, Mar 10 2008 

snow-melt.jpgSince I’m bound for Kalamazoo, Michigan later this week, I started checking the next-weekend weather forecast’s for that part of the world.   They’ve had some frightful winter weather lately with considerable heaps of snow accumulation.  Since snow is such a rarity along the Gulf Coast, the prospect of seeing snow is exciting. 

Yesterday at church, in fact, I visited with a fellow from Ohio visiting family here in Louisiana.  He told me the drifts they’ve hauled off of streets and roads lately is piled as high as the light standards around the perimeters of the parking lots. 

Gosh.  That sounds like more snow than I’ve seen in my life. 

So I was getting excited about seeing snow, and lots of it.  But then this morning, I saw a graphic on the Weather Channel warning about river and stream flooding from snow melt later this week across central and southern Michigan and northern Illinois as temperatures warm into the balmy forties and fifties in the region.   Since the Kalamazoo River runs right through Kalamazoo, a few blocks from the hotel where I’ll be holed up, I am wondering what this warning means.   Will the drifts of snow be gone?  Will the spectacular heaps be reduced to puddles and dingy mounds of encrusted ice sitting in slushy mud in shadowy places where the sun never penetrates?   And, if there’s all this flooding, should I bring rubber boots?  hip waders?  A pirogue with paddle, perhaps?   

Gosh, I just don’t know what to expect.  One way or the other, the experience is likely to be rare in my sum total of  experiences.  Perhaps more on this potentially fruitful subject later . . .

Remembering Emerson: Word Natures Thursday, Mar 6 2008 

I got on a Ralph Waldo Emerson kick in grad. school. If he were a contemporary, I think we would be in tune, in terms of epistemology, anyway. I dashed200px-rwemerson2.jpg out this piece in 1995. Rummaging through the portfolio is fun, recalling stuff like this that is a mixture of eloquence, audacity, and bad diction, those qualities not necessarily in equal measure. May the reader judge the work for its merits, or lack thereof. But, since it’s my blog, here goes . . .

Word Natures
(Celebrating the poet as the namer of existence!)
January 1995

Emerson said
words are actions
actions are words,
which means to me
that meaning is
like Logos,
who mysteriously meant everything
in the beginning
when there was nothing to mean anything;
and now,
after eons of man’s achievements,
the main thing I understand is that
meaning doesn’t just live
in words
in actions
in thoughts
in books
on hard drives
in all the things that man knows.
All meaning is too much for any man,
God only knows.
But like God,
meaning is.

God grant me
to perceive it
and authority
to name it

and courage
to teach it
through actions and words
originally and meaningfully
like a prophet
of truth.

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