Memories of Natchitoches Parish swamp rekindled by Ouchley’s excellent read

I just finished reading an outstanding book, Bayou D’Arbonne Swamp, written by retired wildlife biologist Kelby Ouchley, and it got me thinking about the swamps and woods I grew up around in rural Natchitoches Parish.

The “swamp” that stands out most in my memory couldn’t really qualify as a swamp; it was a little creek that coursed through the woods at the feet of beeches and oaks not far behind our country home. Molido (pronounced Molly-doe) was where I learned to swim. It was the creek where I landed my first bass, killed my first squirrel, was victim to my first and only snake bite, and was the place where I carved my girlfriend’s name (Betty Jean) on one of those silvery beeches.

Ouchley delves deeply into the swamp where he grew up and currently lives by “offering a kaleidoscopic view of Bayou D’Arbonne swamp that reveals its unique past and distinctive flora, fauna and people.”

Five miles or so from where I grew up was a “real” swamp, one I spent untold hours in, hunting, fishing and exploring. Saline swamp – it really is a swamp – is a larger stream into which my Molido empties and eventually makes its way on to the Red River which empties into the Mississippi River — which eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was along a certain stretch of Saline that as a kid, we dunked live crawfish impaled on a hook into the waters where the bottom was a mixture of sand and gravel. It was there where we caught what we called “smallmouth” bass when in fact they were Kentucky or spotted bass.

In his book, Ouchley really triggered my memories when he wrote about catching “smallmouth” bass along Bayou D’Arbonne.

Another favorite activity in spring along Saline was wading out in the backwaters and scooping up the making of some of the best jelly known to man, mayhaws. Ouchley writes about doing the exact same thing in his swamp with a descriptive term that makes my mouth water. He writes,  “Mayhaws are small trees found in forested wetlands of the Southeast that produce a fruit used to make one of the finest jellies ever to grace a buttermilk biscuit.”

Let’s cut to the chase right here. Kelby Ouchley’s writing style, in my opinion, rivals that of any writer anywhere when it comes to his gift of painting pictures with the written word. I have copies of his other books, including the popular Bayou Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, that validate my point of view.

Here’s an example of Ouchley sharing his thoughts after a beautiful indigo bunting had crashed into the window next to his office.

“For tens of thousands of nights I have slept in this place on the edge of the swamp as wild geese flew south and wild geese flew north, wings rustling the pages of my calendar, and now that I have surpassed seven decades of a life that has included many migrations, individuals of all species seem more important. Maybe it’s a softening of my hard science outlook, or perhaps it is because I’ve had a couple of near window strikes myself, that I made the effort to bury the indigo bunting beneath my favorite wild azalea. Purposefully.”           

Kelby Ouchley knows the bayou D’Arbonne swamp so well because he lives on a hill overlooking this place he loves. His background in working with wildlife all his life when coupled with his attachment to the natural world his swamp reveals to him is a gift few enjoy.

To order your own personally inscribed copy of Bayou D’Arbonne Swamp, contact Ouchley at this address – Kelby Ouchley, 106 Heartwood Dr., Farmerville, LA 71241. His e-mail address is Cost of the book including shipping and handling is $34.15. 

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