Thursday, February 11, 2010


I suspect that the town of Jean Lafitte is the only town in America named for a pirate. Many pirate movies use the type of landscape available in the 20,000 acre Louisiana Barataria Preserve we visited yesterday, just a small part of where Lafitte plied his trade. Lafitte was sort of the Robin Hood of the high seas, commanding and feeding over 1,000 men who escaped the tyranny of the British Government and took to piracy. Lafitte controlled the whole territory of Barataria, a swampland so vast and difficult, no one could dare to catch them. He saw himself as serving an economic need, in a new country, helping to feed and clothe a part of the population the government ignored. He was arrested and his ships taken by the American Authorities who hounded him and then pardoned him three times. He identified with the Americans. He tried to warn them they were about to be attacked by the British. He sided with Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and gained a pardon for his crimes. In his own sense of honor, he left Barataria and quit piracy in the Louisiana area. He didn't consider himself a pirate, but a privateer. He moved his operations to Galveston and founded a new empire there. He was a gentlemanly figure with impeccable manners and felt betrayed by a country that didn't understand his aim. He never attacked an American ship.

Book cover: Jean Lafitte
Book cover: Jean Lafitte "The Corsair"
by E.H. Suydam

Jim and I hiked about 4 miles through the swampland on lovely manicured plank walkways at a time of year without mosquitos, no leaves on the trees and not much of the storied wildlife this area is famous for. We saw birds and squirrels that darted away with lightening speed. Signs that read: Do not feed the alligators. Places where plant life was crushed as though some awakened critter languished on a spare piece of ground. Wintering cardinals were beautiful in this gray bearded environment of Spanish Moss. The day was crisp and cool, the air clean, and we'd like to come back in the spring or summer to see the same place with a different landscape. What we saw will be covered over and invisible at another time of year: amazing fungi, water reflections, bright red lichen, stark cypress ghosts against a blue, blue sky and changing environments of the fecund swampland asleep.

This beautiful white heron stood and posed for us for several minutes
The bright red wintering cardinal showy in the gray of a winter swamp.
A few flowers and berries overwinter and feed busy squirrels.
Cypress knobs poke up their heads among the roots of young trees. Cypress is a soft wood almost logged to extinction because of its resistance to rot. Few huge slow growing cypress are left. Two in the whole preserve.
Interesting fungi, here are only two of many varieties we saw.
Splashy colored lichens, something unnoticeable in summer or spring.

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