Farm storiesStories by Wilson J. Gaidry, III

10. Grandfather’s cypress swamp

Grandfather’s cypress swamp – Before

In the winter of 1952 my father took me duck hunting on some property we own at the end of Bayou la Butte near the town of Du Lac. The Houma Navigation Canal had not been built and we had to go from Houma through Bayou Pelton to Grand Caillou Bayou and then down Grand Caillou Bayou to Bayou La Butte. Near the intersection of Grand Caillou Bayou and Bayou La Butte is an Indian burial mound; a mound is a ”butte” in French, giving the name to Bayou La Butte. At that time Bayou La Butte was navigable by a small boat with an air cooled engine. Later the oil companies built canals that cut across Bayou La Butte and blocked navigation through the Bayou to our property.

I will never forget how beautiful it was, a lush green cypress swamp with occasional ponds that were full of ducks. There were logging ditches still present from the days when the trees were cut and hauled through the logging ditches to Bayou La Butte then up Bayou Grand Caillou to Houma. My great Uncle R.R. Barrow Jr. had a saw mill that he used to cut timber for construction on his farms. My great-grandfather Adolph Gaidry owned the property and my grandfather Wilson J. Gaidry logged the timber from Bayou La Butte and R.R. Barrow cut it into cypress boards, some of which were used in the construction of the present Volumnia Farm House.

After Cypress swamps in the 1800’s and early 1900’s were very valuable for their timber production much as land is valuable for its mineral production today. Cypress trees cannot tolerate any salt in the water and after the Houma Navigation Canal was built the hydrology of the area was changed to allow saltwater intrusion to occur and the cypress trees began to die; today there are dead skeletons of trees and the beautiful swamp turned into marsh and water. This scenario is occurring throughout Terrebonne Parish. Swamp and wetlands are deteriorating at an alarming rate that is threatening the life of the people in the coastal communities. Dead trees, skeletons of their former magnificence, are a warning to the future of humanity and things to come.

Although the Houma Navigation Canal had a profound effect, global warming and mineral extraction also accelerated the wetland loss in Louisiana. What is most important to realize is that all the factors causing wetland losses are man made but even though we may slow or reverse the processes in play, probably most of the wetland can never be restored. A hurricane protection levee has been built across the parish protecting about the Northern 1/3 of the parish from storm surges and salt water intrusion. Probably at the present rate of wetland loss in about 50 years the 2/3 southern part of the parish will be open water, part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Grandfather's cypress swamp - After