Monday, November 14, 2016

The Disappearing of Louisiana, Part 5: The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya

The Atchaflaya River wants to capture the Mississippi River, and the Mississippi River wants to get caught.

But we are doing all we can to stop that union.

Old River Control Structures. Source: Urban Decay. Credit: US Army Corps of Engineers.

Not long after I moved to Louisiana in late 2013, one of my cultural informants, Michel, turned me on to a 1987 article: The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya.

It was written by John McPhee, published in The New Yorker.

The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya is long, but engrossing. It is WELL worth an investment of reading time.

But if you're in a super hurry, here's a fast-food, go-down-so-easy tasty video on the relentless struggle for control between us humans and the alliance of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers  below: Go ahead, watch it. It's only a couple of minutes long.

Why does this all remind me of an old 1960s song:


There's the:
  1. Atchafalaya River
  2. Atchafalaya Basin, aka Atchafalaya Swamp, and 
  3. Atchafalaya Bay, aka Delta

The word "Atchafalaya" comes from the Choctaws, meaning "long river." The river is the 5th largest in North America by "discharge."

If the Mississippi were allowed to flow freely, the Atchafalaya would capture the main flow of the Mississippi, permitting the Mississippi to bypass its current path through Baton Rouge and New Orleans. (Credit: wikipedia)

Below is an archival movie, not about the Atchafalaya, but its favored sister, the Mississippi

The River (1937), still shown in academic venues today, for its historic, environmental, anthropological, economic, and artistic values:
"Shows the importance of the Mississippi River to the United States, and how farming and timber practices had cause topsoil to be swept down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

The narrative is an epic poem. Of beauty, of construction and destruction, of movement, transition, of change.

There is an image sequence of an axe chopping into the side of a living tree; it has the appearance of an assault on flesh. The suspenseful photography, narration, and sound to describe the birth and maturation of a flood builds a thrilling fear into the viewer.

Ah, the ending --> An eloquent manifesto of how we've damaged the Mississippi River Valley. But then, in the tradition of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," the narrator concludes with this foreshadowing of unintended consequences:
"Flood control of the Mississippi means control in the Great Delta ... and the Old River can be controlled .. We had the power to take the Valley apart, we have the power to put it together again. In 1933, we started .... " 

Related posts

Disappearing Louisiana, Part 1: Stumbling on History
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 2: Water Words
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 3: Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 4: Revetments, Rip-rap, and Other Exotica
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 5: The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya

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