At first Lake Fausse Pointe seems like a good idea. Our cabin stands partly in the bayou, on stilts. The map shows canoe trails leading through bayous, lakes, creeks and canals. From a wildlife point of view, the prospect also looks bright. A large frog waits absolutely still for David to take its picture the evening we arrive. Before breakfast the next day Richard shoots a close-up of an owl looking solemn after a night’s hunting.
After breakfast, the boys go into town for groceries, and I lay my inflatable kayak out on the porch. It’s long and yellow, the sort of thing you might wear as a life vest if you were a tree. After ten minutes of pumping it occurs to me that alligators live in bayous. I’ll come off as a dumb Yankee if I go and ask at the ranger station and it turns out no one’s seen an alligator around here for fifty years. On the other hand…
“Say, come over here and look at this,” the neighbors from the next cabin call. They are peering into a tree. “See it? See it? Oh, look, it’s moving!” they urge. I put my head all the way back and focus high up in the tree. I’m looking for something bright, like a bluebird or a scarlet tanager, but nothing breaks up the sun-dappled pattern of light and dark gray bark.
“I don’t see it. How high are we looking?”
By now we’ve introduced ourselves. The woman is Sandy, and her husband is Jack. Sandy stands beside me and shows me where to look.
“It’s a snake!” I say.
“See the pattern on it’s back?” says Jack. “Must be a water moccasin.”
“We were just sitting on our porch eating lunch when we noticed it out here on the tree, practically looking in on us while we ate,” says Sandy. We watch the snake tense and stretch as it glides from the trunk onto a branch. “If we’d been outside it might have dropped in for a snack.”
Dumb Yankee or not, I head off to the park office. “Let’s talk about snakes and alligators,” I suggest to the park rangers, a woman and a guy with a ponytail.
“What about them?” they say.
“Is an alligator likely to take a bite out of my rubber kayak if I take it out into the bayou?” I ask.
“Oh, no, they’re not aggressive at all, they won’t bother you,” says the woman. “They usually come up on shore in the evening; you’ll probably see them around your cabin tonight.”
“And what if a snake drops into my boat, what do I do then?”
Ponytail drawls, “Well, you can either grab it and throw it out of the boat, or get out of the boat yourself.”
(Right into the alligator-infested water, I think to myself. Sure.)
“What should I do if I get bitten?”
“You can come up here, we’ve got a snake-bite kit somewhere,” the woman assures me.
“Oh, you have anti-venom right here at park headquarters?”
“No, for that you’d have to go into town.”
“No, I think you’d have to go all the way to Lafayette. Wouldn’t she, Shawn?” Shawn thinks so, but he doesn’t know for sure that the hospital there would have anti-venom.
“What do you do when you get bit by a snake?” I ask. They shake their heads.
“I’ve never heard of anyone around here being bit by a snake,” the woman says. Ponytail nods agreement.
“How do you avoid it?” I ask, puzzled.
“Watch where you put your feet,” advises Ponytail.
On my way back to the cabin (watching where I put my feet), a brightly colored billboard attracts my eye. It identifies in coral, black, orange, chocolate, and yellow, some 40 species of Louisiana snakes. Only 6 are venomous, and only the harmless diamond-backed water snake looks remotely like Sandy and Jack’s lunchtime voyeur.
The feeling of danger I’ve had for the last forty-five minutes begins to subside, and I find myself relaxing in enjoyment of the outdoors. In the water some turtles are basking on a log that looks remarkably like an alligator. Nearby a similar log slowly…opens its eyes. It IS an alligator. My heart stops beating for a fraction of a second. I feel like jumping up and down and yelling “I just saw an alligator! An alligator!” but no one is around to hear me. I set off for the cabin, hoping the boys will be back so I can tell them.
The boys are not in the cabin, but Sandy and Jack are underneath it. They have found a mother snake and 3 or 4 babies curled up under a tree six inches from the post that supports our porch. The snakes are plain gray, unlike any of the poisonous snakes. “Oh, look, one of the little ones is venturing away from its mother,” Sandy coos.
“And look at what else we found,” says Jack. We back away from the snake family and around the corner of the cabin. In a protected curve of the bayou, a very small alligator rests its head on the litter of sticks at the water’s edge. Only its snout and a few ridges of its body appear above the surface of the water.
“It’s a juvenile, says Jack.
“They’re all tail at this stage,” Sandy adds fondly, as if we were discussing the quirks of beloved puppies. But I see her point. The young creature seems to be about 4 inches of head, and 18 inches of tail, without much in between.
David and Richard drive up. I introduce them to Sandy and Jack, and they start snapping pictures of the snakes and alligators. I go up onto the porch and quietly deflate my kayak and put it back in the trunk. I don’t think I’ll need it to make this a perfect day out.
Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in southern Louisiana, offers both campground and cabins. Most of the park’s 6,000 acres are water wilderness, which you can explore by boat (rentals available). Abundant wildlife. Cajun music and food on offer in nearby towns, including St. Martinville, New Iberia and Lafayette.
Address: Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, 5400 Levee Road, St. Martinville, LA 70582.
Web address: www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ilakefaus.aspx.
Writer Bio: Ruth Berson is a freelance writer and writing coach, NOT an experienced kayaker. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org