South Louisiana is not typically known for its dramatic landscapes. We have no mountains, no sweeping vistas, no scenic seashores with white-capped waves crashing on its beaches.
Growing up in a rural, small town in south Louisiana bisected by the chocolate-colored waters of the lazy Teche, all I ever wanted to do was head out for more interesting surroundings.
In my teenage years, I managed to get myself to both the east and west coasts of the U.S. In college, I had the advantage of being able to speak French and profited from several opportunities to live, study and work in France. Later I would volunteer with the Peace Corps and be assigned to Cameroon in Western Africa. In my married life, we had the great fortune of living not only in Namibia but also Rwanda, two vastly different environs although both are located on the African continent.
As I grow older, home has taken on a greater significance for me. Not only is the food unparalleled here, south Louisiana offers a vast network of people who are intricately linked by parentage and shared experiences. We’ve actually made acquaintances in remote locations of Africa because we spotted an LSU sticker on the back of a vehicle and chased the owner down.
I think it was our time in Namibia, though home to one of the world’s oldest deserts, that has come to shape my new perception of the south Louisiana landscape. Spring in Namibia is difficult to perceive; there’s not a whole lot of drama. One has to look carefully to spot the emergence of tiny yellow and purple wildflowers among the savannalike grasses, while the greening of the jacaranda foliage and burgeoning of their lavender blossoms bring some color and life to the subdued browns and tans of the desert palette.
What I once viewed as flat and uninteresting here at home, because of our Namibia experience, I now examine more closely and find the tiny bits of beauty once lost on my casual eye.
On my morning walks at the neighborhood community center, I can now spot the subtle variety in our vegetation. There is even beauty in the coulee that borders the walking track. Populated by copper irises, blue spiderwort and white spider lilies in the spring, it is home to a great snowy egret who spends his mornings delicately tiptoeing through the standing water and thick grasses in search of his morning meal.
With the advent of warmer weather, the irises have given way to waves of bright, yellow butterweed. Mexican primroses decorate the bases of the tall water oaks lining the track. Wafting scents of honeysuckle perfume the atmosphere as well as the telltale smell of fresh clover. Great stands of golden rod are beginning to overtake the lower, ground covering greenery. Soon they too will burst forth with their radiant blossoms and be interspersed with flashes of purple from a weed I haven’t yet been able to identify. Black-eyed Susans will soon wink at me from the perimeter of the nearby roadway.
Fall will bring a different set of plants with its own palette of colors and smells. Because of the mildness of our winters, something in the coulee will always remain green and vibrant while the rest of the Northern Hemisphere sleeps.
In this time of social isolation and uncertainty, I am grateful for having had all these wonderful travel opportunities. Had I never traveled, never left my south Louisiana home in search of the dramatic, I think I would continue to be oblivious to the simple beauty that underscores my everyday existence here. My eyes would have never been opened to the small wonders one can find in the lowliest of places. Thanks to our travels, I am no longer blind to the beauty of my local coulee.
— LaViolette lives in Port Allen