Cajun Encounters – Where Spice and Adventure Meet in Louisiana

Peter A. Boese

What do you get when you combine a 60 pound sack of live crawfish with a 16 foot Alligator in Southern Louisiana? Answer: An exciting party! Well, that is exactly what we experienced at Cajun Encounters last Thursday evening. We had a corporate outing planned at their timber and wrought iron constructed Cajun Pavilion on Honey Island near Slidell, LA. When we arrived, the cooks where boiling water, adding Cajun seasoning, chopping ingredients as they prepared for the party. This gave us time to jump in a few of their custom tour boats and venture up-river through thousands of acres of old Cyprus forest.

The surroundings changed right-away and in no time we were venturing through narrow passages with tremendous sounds of birds, frogs and other swamp creatures that my ears could not identify. Our boat captain and guide explained that this area is known as a prime habitat for some really big alligators and it was our mission to see one of these while we still had enough daylight. We were told that these alligators don’t venture far from where they were hatched and a 16 foot alligator is probably over 70 years-old!

We continued to cruise deeper into the swamp and came across and group of wild feral hogs that were feeding at the edge of the water. The guide commented that none of the hogs were getting close to the water. I asked if that was due to our boat getting closer? He replied that it was most likely due to the fact that we were in an area known for “big gators.” We moved into deeper water close to a channel that ran through an unnamed slough, when all of a sudden a pair of eyes and large nostrils appeared just above the water line. It was the big one, the gator we had been looking for. I have always had respect, and yes – fear for these prehistoric reptiles. I had worked in Africa years ago and knew better than to take a cool “dip” in the nearby river, even though the temperature was over 100 degrees. Those were crocs back then, while these in Louisiana are “gators,” – even so, they both demand the respect and caution of anyone who comes close. From the safety of the boat, we got a really good look at this monster reptile, and so it was time to head back to the pavilion and the Cajun Feast that was waiting for us in big steel pots!

Upon arrival back at the pavilion, a father and son duo where playing tunes on their guitar and accordion while singing lively lyrics in an old Cajun French dialect that was foreign to my ear. I pulled an ice cold Bayou Teche Beer out of a tin wash-basin and took a swig, with a smile, I sensed I was in for a unique experience with these hosts! Just then a very big man came over to welcome me to the party, he called himself “KP” and his handshake was strong, typical for a work-boat captain . KP explained “crawfish season” and the traditions of preparing, peeling and eating these delicious little crustaceans.

I sat a picnic table covered with brown butcher paper with the others as we anticipated this Cajun Feast. I commented that they might serve the food like they do at a Hawaiian Luau – give us a serving tray and ask us to form a line to be served. Boy was I wrong! KP and one of his buddies arrived at our table with what what looked like a small canoe and set it in the middle of the group. He explained that this was a Pirogue (Cajun canoe) and offered to demonstrate how to eat the crawfish served steaming hot with corn, Cajun sausage, potatoes, onions, garlic and a secret blend of spices. We all ate what we thought was a large serving, but KP explained, “a local will eat double what you ate and in half the time!”

After dinner we learned some of the old Cajun dance steps and enjoyed the music that blended-in nicely with the sound of the surrounding swamp. It really gave me an appreciation of the unique culture that the Cajuns have in Southern Louisiana. I am fortunate to have traveled all over the World and have experienced a wide range of cultures; this part of America, with its Cajun culture, culinary traditions, wonderful people and impressive wildlife was a special box to check-off on my bucket-list.

I recommend you try this the next time you visit New Orleans!

West Pearl – Pristine River in Jeopardy

Peter A. Boese

As the communities up-river in Mississippi continue to forge ahead for the construction of a dam they don’t need, I contemplate the possibility of the loss of the Pearl River System down-stream in the state of Louisiana. I am proud to state that I work for a company that operates an award- winning eco-tourism business – taking people from throughout the nation and beyond into the pristine Honey Island Swamp. Earlier this season, the company hosted a Japanese film crew on a tour, and they advised that this experience was the highlight of their tour of the South. This unique eco-system has something for everyone; I expected the film crew to comment on the alligators, but it was the abundance of beautiful birds that caught the eye of the cameraman. The National Audubon Society ranks this ecosystem one of the best in the South for observing a wide range of bird species.
Let’s also consider the people who work on the river. It is not just the local fisherman, but several businesses in the tourism industry operate eco-friendly tours showing an authentic old growth cypress forest to interested visitors from throughout the globe! Many local residents have made careers supporting this important eco-tourism industry that is vital to the preservation of this endangered eco-system. In my opinion, the Pearl River System is priceless and needs to be protected!

Whitetail Deer

Deedee Garcia

Student
Whitetail deer are found in North, Central, and South America. They typically live in wooded areas. When whitetail deer find a place where there is plenty of food, they tend to stay in that area and don’t wander too far from it.

The male whitetails weigh between 100 and 300 lbs. and females weigh between 75 and 200 lbs. A male adult is about 6 to 7 feet tall.

Whitetail deer are herbivores. They like to eat grasses and plant foods. They’ll eat up to 600 different types of plants, including fruit, nuts, acorns, leaves, corn, berries, and even tree bark. Whitetails like to forage around for food at dawn and dusk. They have some sharp teeth which help them chew and grind their food. Their stomachs have four different chambers, which allow them to digest tough vegetation. They can even eat many types of mushrooms which are poisonous to humans.

The whitetail deer changes the color of its coat from summer to winter. In the summer, an adult whitetail has a reddish-brown coat. As winter approaches, that coat fades to a dull grayish-brown. The color change usually happens in just 1-2 weeks.
The males, called bucks, grow antlers each year which fall off in the winter. During the spring and summer, the antlers are coated with velvet, which will eventually dry out. After that, the antlers harden. During the mating season, which is called the rut, whitetail bucks will use their antlers to fight and compete.

A whitetail’s sight is better at night than during the day. Their eyes have more rods than cones, and they see in shades of blue and yellow. They can’t see reds and oranges. They see those colors in shades of gray.

The whitetail’s sense of smell is much more sensitive than a human’s. They have nearly six times as many olfactory cells as a human.

The pregnancy (or gestation) period for a whitetail doe is 200 days. The first time she breeds, she will give birth to only one fawn. After that, she will give birth to either two or three fawns at a time (twins and triplets). A whitetail doe will stay with her fawn for over a year, until she gives birth again.

Whitetail deer can run up to 35-40 mph and can jump 6-8 feet high. They are good swimmers too, and can swim as fast as 15 mph.

Armadillos

Caroline Warms

Student
Knock knock.

Who’s There?

Armadillo.

Armadillo who?

It’s an armadillo!

There are no funny armadillo knock knock jokes, but arma-deal with it. Armadillos are small mammals about the size of an opossum or a large house cat. They are born covered with a natural armor made of dermal bone that protects them. In fact, armadillo in Spanish translates to “little armored one.” There are about 21 species of armadillo, but the three-banded armadillo is actually the only one that is able to roll into a ball for protection. Even though they are born with protection, many are killed each year by getting run over by cars. Armadillos are generally unaware of their surroundings but they have an instinct to jump when they feel threatened. They jump when a car hovers them on the road, sadly causing them to end up as road kill.
Armadillos are omnivores, with their diets consisting mainly of insects including beetles and ants, along with some worms. Armadillos have strong claws, allowing them to tear open ant nests, and they also have a specialized tongue designed to eat as many ants as possible. Their long sticky tongue allows them to eat as many as 40,000 ants in one meal. This was no surprise however, when I learned the armadillo’s cousin is an ant-eater. In a dangerous situation, an armadillo can run when it must, but they usually tend to be very slow (Sounds like me). They are also not very social creatures, as they spend most of their time sleeping (Again, sounds like me).

Most armadillos will live for about 12 to 15 years, and they will make a home in warm, swampy, and marshy areas. Female armadillos can give birth to up to 15 pups in a litter, and identical sets are common. Thankfully, the armadillo is one mammal that is not endangered, so we can continue to enjoy their presence.

Owls

Alexis Inguez

Student
Owls have always been my favorite animals, ever since I was in elementary school. So when I saw the Barred Owl, on the list, I knew that it was the one I was meant to write about. And so, here we are, a girl on her bed, at ten at night, on a school night, typing a 300-word essay, on her favorite animal in the world. Anyways, I’ll let you get to the actual facts now. The following is some research on one of many types of owls in the world.
The Barred Owl, or otherwise known as Strix Varia, is large grey and white owls, that tend to live in swamps or forested areas. The owl received its name due to the bars it has on its feathers. And unlike other species, this particular bird has black eyes instead of yellow. Though they may not be at the top of the concerned list, actually according to national geographic they are the least concerned when it comes to endangerment, it is still important to be informed on animals. They are common in Eastern North America and have even expanded into Canada. Their voices and calls are another characteristic that sets them apart from other basic owls. While most species “hoo” in the night, Barred Owls are often heard during the day. And it’s not only the time at which they are heard, it’s the way they sound. Mostly everyone knows how a typical owl sounds, it simply makes a “hoo” and then it’s over. Barred Owls, on the other hand, are much more musical. Instead of the common sound we all know, they let out a rhythmic of hoo’s. It is best known as who-cooks-for- you, who-cooks-for-you-all, hoo. These creatures are truly beautiful, wonderful, and amazingly unique. It is definitely safe to say, that they are not like other owls. And while, this is not a whole lot of information on this owl, I hope that you at least know more about them than what you did at the beginning of this paper.

Swamp Tour Water Lillies

Mikaela Lopez

Student
Water lilies, or Nymphaeaceae, are a family of flowering plants. They live in tropical climates and are rooted in soil in fresh water bodies of water, marshes, and swamps. They are easy to spot with their distinctive leaves and flowers floating on the surface of the water.

Water lilies have stems that are buried under the mud. The stems connect to stalks, and the floating flowers and leaves are at the top. The flowers cannot survive in the cold, so the water lilies will die in the winter. The submerged roots and stems, however, are able to survive winters and therefore the lilies will reemerge in the spring. There are 46 species of water lilies, most having stamens. The most common water lily in North America is the White Water Lily, sometimes called the “pond lily” or the “jewel of the pond.” It boasts reddish leaves and large fragrant flowers.

Water lilies provide pollen for insects as well as food for fish and wildlife. The fruit is usually nutlike or berrylike. By covering the water surface, they shade the water and keep it cooler, which helps control algae that thrives in heat. Water lilies also shelter fish from birds of prey.
Water lilies are attractive, but are considered an invasive weed. When water lilies grow too thickly, covering the water’s surface, they impede the oxygen exchange. They can also trap heat in the water, leading to algae growing out of hand, and causing stagnation in the water, which in turn creates a habitat for mosquitoes. One can thin out water lilies without having to eliminate them.

Water lilies are a beautiful part of nature. They are so beautiful that they inspired a series of paintings by the great French artist, Claude Monet. Over the last 30 years of his life, Monet painted over 250 oil paintings of the plants. These paintings are in museums all over the world and have sold at auctions for millions of dollars.

The Life of A Fox

The Life of a Fox

Student
A small head popped out from behind a tree, its eyes looking over the terrain. It looked over the people that stood a couple of feet away from it, staying behind the tree, its tail wrapped around itself for warmth.

“Mommy, look it’s a fox!” A little girl smiled brightly, pointing over at the small fox that quickly got up. A flash of red rushed by the family, the little fox rushed to its new hiding spot away from any social interactions. The fox sits down, rubbing its head against its paw before a screech rang through the air. This poor fox wasn’t getting any breaks today. The young fox looked up in the air to see a hawk diving towards it. Quickly it began running from its predator, wishing to live another day. It travelled quickly through the swampy terrain, the bird following close behind until the fox hid underneath the steps of a house. The hawk landed on the steps briefly, waiting to see if its prey would emerge from its hiding place. However, eventually it gave up and flew away, leaving the fox to breathe heavily as it calmed down.

This was its life: run from tourists, run from predators, run from a lot of things actually. It lay down, its head resting on its paws as the sun began to rise, going from dawn to full daylight. It closed its eyes before falling asleep.
Hours later, the small fox opened its eyes slightly as daylight had turned to dusk, it slowly rose to begin its journey back to its home. Eyes opened and now fully awake it slowly emerged from behind the steps.

“Honey, get my gun! We got a vermin!” A man yelled, reaching his hand out as a shotgun was tossed his way. He aimed it at the small fox before shooting, the bullet grazing the small fox’s hind leg as it ran away. It slowed down once it was a safe distance away, looking back at tits wound. It whimpered in pain before being picked up.

“Don’t worry little guy, I’ll make sure you get fixed up,” a voice said. “I’ll try and stop these people from killing you.”

The young fox breathed calmly, knowing it was unable to run at this point. He only hoped that he didn’t share the same fate of his brothers and sisters.

Seagulls

Katelyn Bawden

Student
Seagulls are sea birds of the family Laridae in the suborder Lari. They are most closely related to the terns and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders. Most gulls were placed in the genus Larus, but now it is called polyphyletic.

Gulls are typically medium to large sized birds. They are also usually grey or white and sometimes black. They have squawking calls. They have webbed feet and long bills. They are carnivores. They usually eat crab and small fish. They have long jaws so they can get a very good grip on the thing they are eating. Gulls are typically coastal inland species, rarely venturing out to sea.
They live in large, densely packed, and noisy colonies. They usually prefer sound over silence because it gives them peace. They can as a matter of fact live in a swamp. They’re many types of sea gulls. Those include: the European herring gull, black headed gull, great black headed gull, common gull, lesser black gull, yellow legged gull, black legged gull, kelp gull, and the silver gull. There are many more types of seagulls. They’re exactly 51 types. The smallest gull is the little gull and largest the great black beaked gull. They have large bodies and slim necks.

Sea gulls live worldwide. They have been reported to live on every country. The drink salt water, as well as fresh water. Sea gulls are often taking a wide range of prey. They eat alive and dead animals.

Mallard Ducks

Katherine Woytek

Student
Mallard Ducks are one of the many animals that live in the marshes, swamps, rivers, ponds, and grain fields. You can find Mallard Ducks over most of the northern hemisphere, and mostly in freshwater. In the winter Mallards favor swamps and lakes, but in the summer they favor the prairies and grain fields.

Mallard Ducks lay 7-10 eggs and within 26-30 days the eggs will hatch. A day later the Mallard will lead her little ducks to the water and they will be able to fly off on their own. They are completely on their own; they feed and take care of themselves. Mallards are omnivores. The majority of their diet is plant based things. Like seeds, stems, or roots. Pairs start to form in the fall and winter. Displays of a male include: dipping bill in the water and then rearing back up, giving whistle and grunt calls as he settles back on the water. The female while accompanied by the male seeks and chooses the site for the nest. The site may be more than one mile from the water; usually on the ground.
If you get to know them, Mallard Ducks are actually pretty interesting. Their scientific name is Anas platyrhynchos and their group name is a Sord (in flight). Their average lifespan in the wild is about 5 to 10 years. Also their size and weight is 20 to 26 inches and 2 to 3 pounds. The green head and yellow bill of the Mallard is a familiar to sight too many people living in the northern hemisphere. The Mallard is thought to be the most abundant and wide ranging duck on earth.

Mallards prefer calm, shallow sanctuaries, but can be found in almost any body of freshwater. They can also be found in saltwater commonly found in wetlands. The mallards have webbed feet, which they use for paddling beneath the water. Their feet have no nerves or blood vessels, which means they won’t feel the chill of the icy water.

Magnolia

Shivani Kapoor

Student
Named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol, the magnolia is a diverse genus that encompasses over 200 flowering plants. The magnolia is an ancient group of trees, which have been proven to be in existence before even bees were there to help pollinate the plants. In fact, many suspect that the flowers spread their pollen with the help of beetles. On top of being an extremely old genus, magnolia trees live over 100 years.

The magnolia virginiana, also known as the swamp magnolia or sweet bay magnolia, is one species that makes their homes in coastal and swamp areas of the United States. Contrary to its name, the swamp magnolia does not actually require swamp conditions to thrive, and just needs wet soil and plenty of sunlight.
Named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol, the magnolia is a diverse genus that encompasses over 200 flowering plants. The magnolia is an ancient group of trees, which have been proven to be in existence before even bees were there to help pollinate the plants. In fact, many suspect that the flowers spread their pollen with the help of beetles. On top of being an extremely old genus, magnolia trees live over 100 years.

The magnolia virginiana, also known as the swamp magnolia or sweet bay magnolia, is one species that makes their homes in coastal and swamp areas of the United States. Contrary to its name, the swamp magnolia does not actually require swamp conditions to thrive, and just needs wet soil and plenty of sunlight.