LAKE PROVIDENCE TO TALLULAH TO MOUND
I woke up early and let Tom sleep in. Linda fixed me a nice breakfast—almost just like home: an egg over easy, toast, half an apple, bacon… and the additional Menonite sausage that I had to try as well as fresh squeezed orange juice I couldn’t turn down. She also packed us some hard boiled eggs and sausage for our travels, allowing Tom to start his run out of town on an empty stomach like he likes. He would dig into the travel breakfast soon enough though!
After a goodbye from Linda and Hal, we drove back down to the Bernard House to launch. Tom ran out of Lake Providence down US 65 and thankfully the heat had finally broken. We’re looking up at skies that threaten rain—overcast and cooler, but still humid.
Today we needed to cover some distance on bike, so I saddled up to ride. Meteorological observation: when the weather is changing, the wind is often blowing. Sometimes very hard. Sometimes straight out of the south. About 3 miles outside of Tallulah, Louisiana, I hopped off the bike and got ready to run. My legs felt sluggish, heavy even, but i trudged ahead. Tom went on to Tallulah and pulled up outside the Hermione Museum.
The Yerger Family—Ed, Margaret and their son David—joined Tom at the Hermione Museum. Along with them was Paul, a friend and fellow cyclist who planned to make the next leg of the journey out to Mound, Louisiana along with us. Before too long, I came running around the corner to join the group.
Charles Finlayson is one of the caretakers of the museum and made it available for us to gather there. As we enjoyed sandwiches provided by Mary Trichell, Charles gave a bit of a history talk, providing the background of the Hermione museum as a repository for the artifacts and genealogy of Madison Parish. He showed us a unique set of glass negatives, photographic images of the town from the early 20th century. Having these physical records gives credence to the stories of the community, Charles says, so they have a true history there—something many communities lack, he feels. Mary has a personal history in Tallulah, but four out of her five children are gone from there. She works at the bank, and is involved in a lot of the funding for local projects.
We also got to meet Anthony Bridgewater who works for USDA soil and water conservation and has been posted in Tallulah and working for issues in Madison Parish for nearly 40 years. While he was born in New Roads, Louisiana and spent time in Lake Charles, Louisiana early in his career, he’s raised his family in the Tallulah community, and his now grown daughter is even going into the same line of work as her father. He’d like to get her home to Tallulah to take over his job at some point, but he’s not sure she’ll bite. Through Anthony’s work at the USDA, he creates plans for land users that focus on conservation practices. The natural state of this land is bottom-land hardwood, he says. The Swamp Buster act of 1985 allowed the government to incentivize land owners to “put land into trees”. Two major programs they facilitate are the Conservation Reserve Program CRP and a Wetlands Reserve Program WRP. CRP is just like a rental program, where the government pays rent to the farmer for his land in order for it to be kept as hardwood forest instead of row crops. WRP is structured slightly differently and puts land into a perpetual easement.
We talked about lots of things as we waited for the rain to pass before heading back out on bike—Paul ,who is retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, shared with us some updates as to dredging work and wing dam repair up and down the river. Margaret, who is on the Mississippi River Parkway Commission for the state of Louisiana, shared her desire to be more involved in those efforts, and we went back and forth swapping ideas based on my knowledge of the organization. David also shared a bit about his experience in Baton Rouge, Louisiana providing relief for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. He also began—only began—to tell the story of deciding to move back to Mound, population 16, and rebuild his grandfather’s home… we would hear more of that, and see the house in progress, a bit later.
The rain did pass, and we all suited up for the bike ride. Anthony was even going to drive our van down to Mound and then be shuttled back to Tallulah by Margaret so Tom and I could ride a first ride together on this trip! However, just before mashing the pedal and pressing start on my watch, Paul noticed my flat tire. Drat! First flat for me out of the trip… I had to reload the bike on the van and wave the guys goodbye, watching Ed, Paul and Tom cycle off in the gray day toward Mound—another 15 miles on bike. Anthony graciously lead me the back way down the highway so I could navigate to the Yerger’s houses in Mound, and as I drove upon the “large white house with cast iron fencing” I knew I had found the place!
Margaret was waiting there for Anthony, but instead got the surprise of meeting me earlier than expected. She and I went into the house and I had to put on long pants for the first time on this trip (lots of firsts!) because the rain had brought in cooler weather, and this Louisiana girl needed to bundle up. I walked over to the “big house”—David’s project—and wandered through room after room of impeccable carpentry until I heard some sounds of toil and labor. I opened the door to the front bedroom and found David and Tony screwing in a door. David was also surprised to see me, but I explained the flat tire, and he left the door to Tony to join me for a tour of the house and their handiwork. Eventually Ed and Tom wandered in, snacks and a beer in hand after their misty ride. Over the course of the next several hours, meeting David’s wife, settling into a dinner of Tamales and salad, Tom and I started to feel like part of the Yerger family. Our second day in Louisiana was proof positive, there’s no place like home.