Becoming a Naturalist

Stuck in “boue pourrie!”*

It began with a Cat 4 hurricane and ended in the muddiest, newest piece of land on the North American continent. Somewhere in the middle, I sat in a swamp at dusk watching for bats while being attacked by the most blood-thirsty swarm of mosquitoes I have ever experienced in my life.

During the last four months of 2021, I participated in the Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans training class. Signing up for this course was a Lark, literally. An auction item at the New Orleans City Park spring fundraiser, Lark in the Park, the gift certificate to the Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans class seemed like, well, a natural for me. I enjoy the outdoors, love gardening, am fascinated by insects, and have been a toad enthusiast since I was a little girl.

The semester-long course includes biweekly field trips for outdoor education in swamps, marshes, bottomland hardwood forests, and urban nature centers. The goal of the course is to train citizen naturalists who will learn about and protect our ecosystem and who will volunteer to educate others about our environment.

Our all-day orientation on August 27, 2021, was cut short as Hurricane Ida intensified in the Gulf of Mexico and took aim at the Louisiana coast. She came ashore two days later, August 29, at Port Fourchon, the fourth hurricane to hit the Louisiana coast in a period of thirteen months. This event underscored the importance of our studies for the coming semester.

Due to the extent of storm damage in South Louisiana, many of our workshop locations had to be changed or postponed to a later date. In spite of the uncertainty of where a workshop would be and what we would see, or maybe because of that, this experience gave me a new perspective on this habitat I have called home since birth.

Here are some random impressions I took away from the semester-long experience:

  1. Large signs to state parks and wildlife refuges blow away during hurricanes, and my car GPS cannot locate the entrance to the largest urban national wildlife refuge in the country.
  2. Yelling, “SNAKE!” on the first field trip definitely indicated that I needed to take this course. (The beautifully striped ribbon snake was probably more startled than I was.)
  3. Holding and petting a docile black python (native to Central and West Africa) indicates that I am improving my attitude toward legless reptiles.
  4. All male snakes have two penises.
  5. Female bats give birth to one off-spring at a time, its birth weight being 20% of the mother’s weight.
  6. Female feral hogs produce two litters a year, with 10 – 12 offspring per litter.
  7. I’m thankful I am neither a female bat nor a female feral hog.
  8. It took thousands of years for nature to build the Louisiana delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River and a couple of centuries for humans to bring it to the brink of collapse.
  9. This delta, which contains 25% of the coastal wetlands in our country and whose estuaries produce 25% of the nation’s shrimp, is literally washing away…losing a football field of wetlands every 100 minutes.
  10. Non-profits like the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and government organizations such as the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority are working to save the coast. They need our support.

Although numbers 8, 9, and 10 in this list are by far the most important and serious impressions I took away from the course, there are other wonderful, beautiful, amazing stories that have stayed with me. I hope to share them with you in future posts. Until then, enjoy the outdoors and be kind to your planet.

*”Boue pourrie” is Cajun French for “rotten mud.”

4 thoughts

  1. Kathy, You never cease to amaze me! The first paragraph of your piece says it all. You are an intrepid, passionate and remarkable woman . While I would never in a million years have shared that first paragraph experience with you, your devotion to and respect for all living things and their (our) habitat is inspiring, and your courage in subsequently caressing a python (regardless of its docility) is nothing short of extraordinary. Your Number One Fan, Susan

    Sent from my iPad Susan Henning

    >

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  2. Thanks so much, Susan. Having you as my Number One Fan is an honor. You may join me in nature vicariously anytime! And maybe, one day, you will visit a swamp with me when it’s not high mosquito season.

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  3. Wonderful snapshot of your experience! I hope next year to experience my own Boue pourrie but will have to work up to handling snakes! Congratulations on another amazing achievement!

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