St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Saturday Tours

  (Copies of my Sunday Facebook Posts).  

69F, humid, sticky, headed to 80F today in Louisiana. The campground here filled in wall to wall campers -- big ones for the weekend. As far as we can tell, we are the only non-Louisiana, non-local folks in the campsite. 100% white folks; the music highly syncopated accordion Cajun playing in the evening around campfires; the slur of French Cajun around the fire; good old boys and girls (50s -70s) out for a weekend of socializing. 

Everything is absolutely quiet after 9:30 pm, except for the hum of air conditioning units cooling trailers that stretch the full length of the back-in parking spots. 

We spent some time with the two Cajun couples next door showing them photos from Wisconsin winter and maple syruping. One wife admitted to never having seen snow, the others recalling trips to the north or that time back 7 years ago when it got down to 22F, and a sheet of white snow covered the magnolias one morning. 

The big campers are, according to our new friends, just for weekends in the local parks. To get away from work, some from towns, and to visit, listen to good music, make a huge pot of Cajun spiced riced crawfish/oyster/catfish gumbo. 

I took the 2-hour bird/nature walk at the Arboretum Saturday morning. Just 3 folks, a couple of dedicated bird watchers who came in just for the walk and me; and a bright, dedicated young man--the park naturalist. He knew every bird, bug, plant, land or water feature as I pumped him for "what is that tree; bush; hill..."

We saw mostly the same birds we see in the north, just variations of them (i.e. the Carolian Chickadee rather than the black capped one of Wisconsin). A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly; dragonflies, a few native hummingbirds, wood ducks, cardinals, blue jays, robins, flickers, vireos, phoebes, etc. The songs identified the bird, and binoculars pinned them down. 

"Our habitat here in the 6000 acre park is most threatened by feral hogs. Domestic pigs gone wild crossed with Russian boars brought in years ago by sportsmen for hunting." The ground was rooted up quite extensively as the hogs and their multiple litters of young each year tore through the undergrowth looking for food. 

"Hunting, trapping goes a little way towards control, but they just seem to get worse each year. Now they are tearing up the rice fields and other crops and farmers are losing crops from them. Some folks have taken to fencing in their yards to keep them out--have to be a very secure fence to keep them out." 

The local newspaper says that a new bait made of warfarin (coumadin--the blood thinner) is being developed with special bait feeders the hogs have to push up a door to eat. Problem is that bears, raccoons may be able to get at the bait too, and the worry of bits of the feed spilt by greedy hogs might kill birds, squirrels etc. 

Another idea is bounty hunting/trapping. They hogs are big, mean, and rather skittish unless a sow is disturbed with her litter of 8-12 hamlets. The hogs are somewhat thin and not prime eating. "They are a problem at night driving -- run into a big one and it wrecks your car," said my fellow birder. 

The huckleberries (tall blueberry plants) are in bloom, clustered with bees. The wild trilliums (pretty leaf and almost invisible flower) are up; leaves are coming on the bald cyprus; the swamp maple has budded out, and winter mosquitoes have been rejuvenated with the influx of prey into the park. 

Took a tour off the back roads to the east of the park. Flat, flooded, rice, cotton, crawfish and other farming. The farmers level an already flat piece of land, build dikes around it and flood it for rice crop.  I asked one of the campers about rice farming.  

Rice is planted March and April. Rice is grown in about 2 inches of water -- flooded fields with water pumped in. In June, when the rice is a few inches tall, crawfish are "seeded." That means they add live mature crawfish. The crawfish live in burrows under the rice.

In late July the fields are drained and the rice harvested. In late September the fields are flooded again. The mother crawfish come out of their burrows with 200-400 tiny ant-sized crawfish attached to her tail. They detach and feed on the rice stubble and in about 90 days are market size. The mother crawfish may have several broods each season, so as long as there is food and water, they continue to grow. 

Mostly the crawfish harvest is done by June. Although crawfish/rice farmers can grow rice again that spring (called "double cropping) many wait another year and give the crawfish two seasons. 

So which crop, rice or crawfish makes the farmer the most money? I hope to find that out by asking one of them next time.  

Took a drive through the nearby town of "historic" Washington. It was a very quiet, small town, a mixture of beautiful huge live oaks, magnolias, narrow streets and wonderful azaleas in bloom, old empty stores and buildings, some selling antiques, and the other side of the tracks, -- the black poor folks in shacks, their windows lined with aluminized bubble wrap for winter warmth, roofs of rusted tin, poverty in most graphic form. 

LA is one of those states with the lowest income, lowest health, lowest education, near the bottom in nearly every statistic of well being of its folks. At the same time it is immensely energy wealthy with big oil companies, wells, refineries all over as well as huge farms that appear prosperous. 

This is one of those low tax for rich states that tries to make it up by fees and taxes on things poor folks have to do. The state legislature is meeting in emergency session trying to make up the budget shortfall of 360 million for this year, and with Republicans in control of the House -- insisting that Gov Jindall (govenor last 8 years with Republican control), none of the giveaways to oil companies, rich folks and big business in general will be rolled back. A study in how giving to the rich just takes from the poor. Misery and gluttony share the state with the gluttonous having the upper hand, supported by their own personal political party.

In the evening, I heard my neighbors talking about the "bonding" bill in the state legislature -- borrow money to meet the deficit rather than tax or cut spending. I was surprised as I had heard no talk of politics nor any bumper stickers indicating any political preference are on any of the cars, trucks or campers can be seen or heard in the park, not even "Trump" mentioned.    

"You know, whatever they do it all goes to help the rich.  We get poorer and they get richer, and that just the way God want's it, I think or they wouldn't get to run everything."   Then they switched back to Cajun and I couldn't understand anymore -- but it appeared to be about the huge pot of boiling savory gumbo jumbala etouffee, crab, crawfish oyster surprise on the campstove.