This rural Louisiana highway would speak Cajun French if it could talk.

This rural Louisiana highway would speak Cajun French if it could talk.

I finished a Christmas shopping jaunt in Lafayette yesterday and hopped off Interstate 10 first chance I got on the western edge of town. I really prefer the back roads (as long as they’re paved). With Pandora tuned to the Iry Lejeune classic Cajun channel, the volume twisted hard right, the Tunda was rockin’ as much as it was rollin’ to one waltz or two-step after the other along the almost 40 miles of secondary state highways that make up the route.

The longest lap of the trip follows State Highway 365, a road listed by the Dept. of Transportation as East/West, but be not deceived: the highway’s numerable twists and turns along the way touch all of the compass points. And it has lots of names. Turning north off of Highway 92, Hwy. 365 is Osage Trail; turning west a few miles north, the road name becomes Mary Alice Road, then a few miles later after another directional twist you find yourself driving on Choppy’s Lane until the last leg turns to Branch Highway after crossing Highway 98 in the Higginbotham community.

But apart from the name changes, it’s all Highway 365 across rural Acadia Parish in the deepest heart of the Cajun Prairie. Crossing the flatness of the prairie’s extensive stretches of open fields dotted with farm houses and an occasional patch of woods along a coulee or bayou, the traveler gets a real strong sense of the presence of place, a very Cajun place steeped in some of the richest folk culture in North America.

Interstate 10 crosses the Cajun heartland, too, but it’s too easy to miss the point of Acadiana when you’re driving 70+ mph in a mob of frenetic traffic where everyone seems hell-bent on getting to wheverever they’re going moreso than on enjoying where they are.

Highway 365 (and lots of other secondary highways in the region), on the other hand, is a quaint thoroughfare where you should enjoy where you are without worrying about where you’re going. When I have the time, as I did yesterday, I drive slower just to make the journey take a little longer, just to savor the musical chanky-chank blaring from the speakers, just to drink in the mesmerizing panorama of flat prairie spreading away from either side of the highway, just to feel the sense of place where generations of industrious Cajuns have scratched out livelihoods, often by the hardest, from these fertile patches of earth.

Yes, Highway 365 is a country road where the place you are along its course could be more important than the destination where you’re going, a thoroughfare best for slowing down to drink in the sensory details of creation and to feel that undefinable but incredible sense of place.

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