I took a bike ride this morning around Bayou Bartholomew, which is not quite as Lance Armstrong as it sounds, a five-mile pedal around a stretch of houses that hug the bayou. Bayous conjure up memories of Roy Orbison crooning about his bleu bayou. It turns out that technically a bayou is a sluggish body of water, a minor river that feeds into another body of water, although they seem to exercise a lot of romantic pull in the popular imagination. In my mind, bayous are a home to alligators, happy to munch on any squirming thing that is foolish enough to get close. I steer clear of water and ride past one house after another, all facing huge lawns and watered regularly by “toad stranglers,” torrential rains that turn windshield wipers into crazed mechanical appliances. However, whenever Mother Nature is uncooperative as has been the case these last several summers of drought, water bills skyrocket as homeowners work to maintain a golf course kind of green. A city dweller for my entire life, I have never seen such attention given to lawns, water sprinklers rotating early morning and late at night; men, women, and children riding aloft “lawn tractors,” the kind that Tom Hanks drove in the movie “Forrest Gump,” capable of cutting a lawn into neat checkerboards. I enjoy the shade along the bike path and admire a short stretch of hickory, oak and cypress trees that are native to the area.
The Upper Ouachita, close to where my bike-riding takes me, use to be a natural floodplain. Much of it was cleared back in the 1960s to grow soybeans. Mollicy Farm was one of those areas. The Conservation Fund tells the story of how a 17-mile levee was constructed around the fields to control the flow of the river. In spite of the levee, the land continued to flood and made farming costly. A decrease in forestland also decreased wildlife habitat and impacted water quality. The Conservation Fund is now working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore natural forests that will increase the land’s ability to store water, decrease downstream flooding, and help to filter excess nutrients from agricultural fertilizers.
It’s too early in the day for the cicadas to start singing. I keep pedaling along the bayou. Behind the trees, there’s so many stories.