Under normal conditions there are not a whole lot of chances to go kayaking in Louisiana during the summer. Certainly, lakes abound and one can wet their line fishing from a kayak in Grand Isle but most of the inland waterways run low during the summer. Some hardy souls put in to the Mississippi for a good paddle. But, with the present high water comes opportunities to explore areas that are more typically the reserve of four-wheeler bound hunters.
Thompson’s Creek marks the boundary between
East Baton Rouge West Feliciana and East Feliciana parishes. It flows down from the bluffs in that hilly area to empty into the Mississippi about 30 miles north of Baton Rouge. During periods of low water it has sandy banks where people fish and go tubing. Right now the water is so high that you nearly have to duck to clear the main bridge where Highway 61 crosses its slow progress to the sea. The water has spread out into the surrounding fields and forests, turning the lowlands into a slow moving, switch-backed, curling lake.
My friend, James Fox-Smith, had ventured down Thompson’s Creek to an abandoned rail bridge last weekend and brought back stories of a familiar bit of Louisiana cast in an decidedly unfamiliar light. So, in spite of the heat and my general aversion to the water (I’m a lousy swimmer) we packed kayaks onto our vehicles and headed for a slightly fetid, back-water put-in spot just north of the bridge. A few strokes of the paddle and we were out in the main channel of the creek and the smell of the stagnant put-in was forgotten, replaced by flocks of swerving, careening purple martins hunting for mosquitoes and blue herons surveying their fishing opportunities from sodden tree branches.
We paddled a couple of miles down Thompson’s Creek to a rail bridge that formerly serviced the lumber trains headed to the Tembec paper mill near Saint Francisville. Sentinel like power lines crackled and hissed overhead, carrying electricity from the nearby, River Bend, nuclear plant down to Baton Rouge. Water lapped at the bottom of deer stands that would normally be 15 feet or more above the ground. Soda cans and florescent ribbon were tied to trees marking the location of long, many hooked trotlines. The steel structure of the bridge itself was only a few inches from being inundated and water pooled in spaces between the ties, rising from underneath its loose, gravel berm. Swarms of juvenile grasshoppers clacked through the dead grass and off of the rusting rails.
For all the anxiety and damage this high water has brought, it has also given us a glimpse at a transformed world. The rising current has flushed wild hogs and alligators into suburban backyards and sent every living thing scampering from its lowland home to the security of high, dry ground. Floating in my rented kayak, high above the spot where normal time and season would have me, bowed somewhat by the heat and strain, I could not deny the strange splendor of that drowned forest. This flood has reminded us all of the naked power of the river. To feel its pulling and pushing, its inexorable gravity, seeping constantly towards the ocean and other low places, is a strange and amazing thing. And it was a fine way to finish out a Thursday in this green and ever changing state.
You can see the spot we ended up here, on Google Maps.