A Day Fishing on The Bayou

While nursing wounded American soldiers in France during the Great War, Sara met
Paul Dubois, her future husband. It’s a story of her early days on Bayou St John, New
Orleans. Sara came from a family of lock keepers on Dublin’s Grand Canal and loved
. . .As Paul rows his crab boat past small green clumps of mangrove covered in Spanish
moss, the water below seems clear and beautiful. Sara watches as egrets and great white
herons rise ahead of the boat. She understands now why Paul, and all Cajun folk, are so
connected to this part of Louisiana. On mornings like this, it seems the most calm,
glorious place to be in the whole world. Feeling hungry, Sara opens a box filled with crab
meat sandwiches, covered in Paul’s spicy Cajun sauce. Both sip homemade lemonade and
sit side by side in silence, as if just taking in everything around them.
‘Do you miss Ireland?’ Paul asks.
‘Not so much now.’
‘Good, these waters will grow on you.’
‘It’s beautiful.’
‘And changeable. The bayou took eleven men last year, Cherie. Next week we have
our annual memorial Mass for fisher folks who died from hurricanes and waterspouts.’
Food eaten, Paul begins rowing down the sleepy olive-green water. The bayou is two
hundred feet wide and ten feet deep. Paul tells her that the word ‘bayou’ was an old
Choctaw Indian word for ‘slow-moving’ waters. For the most part, those Indian tribes are
long gone from this part of Louisiana, yet the names they gave to places lives on. As the
bayou narrows, Sara sees mangrove trees grow out of grey, arched, branching roots, all
standing in brown muddy water.
‘Mangrove grows all over the bayou, Cherie.’
A slender bird is flying just above the mangroves.
‘It’s a Little Green heron,’ Paul answers her silent question. ‘It nests high up in the
mangroves. Up there, it can spot and catch fish below in the shallows.’
Sara sees untidy piles of sticks that Paul tells her are their nests. As they pass closer, she
sees three small fuzzy heads moving in the nest.
As Paul rows, Sara stares up at four big dark birds, their wings curved like long bows that
appear to hang in the warm air, like calm fish in clear bayou water. They seem to soar so
easily and so freely.
‘What are those birds called, Paul?’
‘Man o’war birds.’
‘They’re so graceful.’
‘Seems to me, Cherie, as if anyone would be real happy just to be up there almost
touching the clouds, hanging and soaring above us all, not a care in the world. Often they
don’t come down here for hours. Man o’ wars only fish off the bayou surface, or steal fish
that other birds have caught. That’s the life to have, just drifting up there above the
waters, mostly letting other birds do the fishing for them.’
‘Why are they called man o’ wars?’
‘Beat me, Cherie. They are real peaceful birds.’
Paul tells Sara that most Cajuns have never left the bayou’s. All make their living by
fishing. Cajuns are seen by white folk as ‘backward’ due to their Old French ways, strange
dialects and poverty. Cajuns prefer to be called French rather than American.
Sara quickly learned within days of arriving in the Louisiana swamps in 1920 that death
is no stranger to this watery world. Death is a given in the bayou and Cajuns totally
accept that, if it is God’s will, then so be it. These waters will be her home for many