Exploring The Swamps in Louisiana
Back in the spring of 2021, I made the drive from Maine to Louisiana to visit my friend Andy Crawford. Andy has lived in Louisiana all his life, and we met through a Facebook page for artists that was hosted by the website company we were both using at the time. Andy liked my work and began telling me I had to come down and see the swamps, so eventually, we made a plan and I spent a week with him, seeing all his favorite locations in his flat-bottomed boat. It was incredible to see the beauty of the swamps up close and personal, and I was able to capture some beautiful photographs there.
Ever since that time, Andy has been on me to come back to see the swamps in the fall, when the cypresses turn a more golden color. This year, I made it a point to come down to photograph. I was a little earlier than I should have been for peak color there, but we made the best of it. This time, Andy had a new wrinkle. While last time we visited Lake Maurepas, Lake Martin, and Grand Lake in the Atchafalaya Basin, all while exploring in his boat, this time, Andy suggested we kayak on Lake Verret, near Napoleonville, Louisiana.
Kayaking was a much different experience. I've been kayaking before, but never photographed from one. That took some getting used to, as having my gear in the boat made me a little nervous, but once I got used to working from the kayak that part of things was smooth. I mixed things up, sometimes hand-holding my camera, if there was enough light, but in the pre-dawn light, I set up my tripod beside the kayak and placed the camera on it. This was a bit nerve-wracking. While I anchored the kayak, it still drifted back and forth a bit, and I was very nervous about dropping the camera in the water. The water was only a few feet deep, but that would be enough to kill the camera. Thankfully, my hands remained steady and the camera was fine.
I never imagined how beautiful the swamp could be. The cypresses growing out of the water and towering above, draped in spanish moss, are awe-inspiring to say the least. The massive trunks, the knees popping out of the water, and then the wildlife to be found all over is just an absolute feast for the eyes, or the camera! While paddling, we came across two bald eagles, some osprey, a roseate spoonbill, several herons, and quite a few snowy egrets. Any bird photographer would have a field day! Unfortunately, in planning the trip, Andy and I discussed that I'd have to choose what my focus was, since I had to cut down my kit a bit to bring in the kayak. This meant that I decided to leave my 100-400mm lens back in the car, which kind of left me out of photographing birds. However, if you look at the lead image in this entry, "Whispers of the Swamp", you can see a snowy egret in the background.
The first morning we went out on the lake, it was pretty cloudy but we decided to paddle out and look around. The light under the trees was really cool and moody, so I began to photograph and see what I could get. I still have a few to edit from that morning. The next morning, sunrise was pretty good. I was able to capture "Bayou Dawn" and "Lumière Louisiane" before the sun broke the horizon, with some really nice color in the sky. As the sun came up further we had some really great light that was fun to work with.
The best thing about being on a kayak was how much a part of the swamp I felt. There's something disconnecting about being in a boat, a few feet above the water. In a kayak, you're just inches above the water and can reach out and touch it. You feel connected to it. At one point, a gator swam by, but he didn't seem very interested in us, turning and leaving as soon as he noticed us.
I brought my drone into the swamp as well, which allowed me to get some cool photos of Andy and I from above, as well as some cool photos of the cypresses from an elevated position. Unfortunately, there was a slight mishap when landing the drone for the second time, but that's been repaired and I'm ready to fly again when the opportunity presents itself.
I had arrived at Andy's on a Wednesday afternoon, and we headed out Thursday and Friday morning. On Friday afternoon, we were heading back to Lake Verret to photograph at sunset when things got sidetracked. We were waiting at an intersection when all of a sudden several police cars came flying up, with one stopping in the intersection we wanted to turn at. There were several cars and trucks sitting in the lane to our left, pulled over to allow the police through. In the next instant, I saw what turned out to be a sugar cane truck - think a huge 18-wheeler with a large cargo trailer- come barreling down the road at high speed. It tried to miss the police car, but clipped a pickup truck and sent it flying. The pickup flipped over and slid into the side of Andy's truck, causing considerable damage.
It turned out the driver of the truck had a warrant out for something he'd done in the past, and was in the process of being pulled over for a traffic infraction when he decided to run. The chase apparently went on for several miles, and Andy and I were "lucky" enough to witness the end. After the semi hit the pickup truck, it hit a dirt road and the cab broke apart and the trailer jackknifed. The driver took off into a sugar cane field. The police eventually apprehended him. Unfortunately, the damage to Andy's truck was severe enough that we felt it best to have it checked out before driving it too much, so that meant getting it looked at Monday, the day I was supposed to leave. That meant the weekend was lost, as we needed his truck to haul the kayaks. Trip over.
It was a shame the trip ended early, but the two mornings spent kayaking in the swamp were fantastic. It was such a great experience, and I'm really looking forward to going back again.