Whether you live east or west of the Atchafalaya Basin, you know you're almost home when you hit the Basin bridge and your wheels chew up the 18 miles of Interstate 10 that span the muddy water.
That's how it was for Angelique Bergeron when she used to make the trek from her teaching job in Texas to her native Pointe Coupee Parish.
So, it was no surprise when Bergeron, the new director of the West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen, chose for her first exhibit to showcase the diverse environment of the Atchafalaya River and its 1.4 million-acre basin.
There's the familiar — alligators, pirogues and cypress trees — and then there's Greg Guirard, a photographer and author who called the Basin home.
It's Guirard's perspective that takes "Water Trails of the Atchafalaya" from tourism ad to an intimate knowledge of the Basin's inhabitants.
Guirard loaned his expertise, his photos and his preserved sinker cypress logs to the show before his sudden death at age 80 from meningitis two weeks before the exhibit opened in mid-June. That's when Rigsby Frederick stepped in and loaned art pieces he crafted from Guirard's sinker cypress.
"I read his (Guirard's) book, 'Land of the Dead Giants' when I was in high school," Bergeron said, "and I couldn't believe that I would be working with him. We've dedicated the exhibit to him."
The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 29, was timed to coincide with the opening of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area's Water Heritage Trail this fall.
The trail will be a self-guided driving trail highlighting more than 50 sites within the 300 miles of the heritage area's 14 parishes. Each site will be located at or near a body of water with a kiosk explaining its significance. Some sites will be next to trails, offering the chance for hiking, boating, photography and other outdoor activities.
The trail provided Bergeron with the impetus for the exhibit, which offers a sampling of life in the Atchafalaya, from Dewey Patin's handmade fishing hoop nets to Lafayette painter Melissa Bonin's dreamlike landscapes.
"Melissa links her painting style to Drysdale's," Bergeron said. "She paddles into the Basin, then goes back to her studio and paints what she saw."
The Basin belongs to the Atchafalaya River, named the "long river," by the Choctaw Indians. It stretches 135 miles from where it branches off the Mississippi and Red rivers, ending at the Gulf of Mexico.
The Basin is a growing delta and has the largest contiguous bottom land hardwood forest in North America. More than half of America’s migratory waterfowl spend winter there.
"The Basin may be a last refuge for endangered species," Bergeron said. "That includes the peregrine falcon, Bachman’s warbler and the ivory-billed woodpecker. It also includes Louisiana black bear and the Florida panther."
The show also features C.C. Lockwood's photography and Justin Patin's drone photos taken at night. Then there's Shane Seneca's sculptures made from silverware, each representing a creature in the Basin.
In addition to the art it inspires, the Basin provides many people with their livelihood, and the show also explores this aspect, from fishing to alligator hunting.
"The basin is unique to Louisiana," Bergeron said. "And for me, it's home."
Water Trails of the Atchafalaya
An exploration of the diverse environment of the Atchafalaya River, Basin and Swamp
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through Oct. 29.
WHERE: West Baton Rouge Museum, 845 N. Jefferson Ave., Port Allen.
ADMISSION: $4; $2 for ages 62 and older, students, AAA members and active military; free for West Baton Rouge Parish residents and members of the West Baton Rouge Historical Association
INFORMATION: (225) 336-2422 or westbatonrougemuseum.org