In the beginning there was mud, bayou mud, molding the ontogeny of the boy. The summer of 1964 was the beginning for him, when he was thirteen and loosed upon the bayou and its swamp for the first time. Rules were minimal. Even the “be home by dark” decree was rescinded by autumn. An intimacy with local geology started with the half-mile barefoot walk from home to the bayou. Descending toward the stream, old sandy-clay soils of the tertiary epoch gave way to new, dark silt-loams of the active floodplain. Alluvial mud comprised of this younger dirt and swamp water was adjacent to and under the bayou, wherever it happened to be in its seasonal wanderings. Extra-sensory when encountered, mud became the pilings upon which the boy constructed his definition of this place.
The odor of summer mud imprints first. It is pungent with a bit of putrid decay, the tell-tale exhaust of the solar-powered, biological engine that runs the swamp. In time the odor became alluring, even haunting. Eventually, it settled onto his first cranial nerve and became a memory aroma. From this point forward for years to come, the odor overwhelmed the man the boy had become with distinct images of adolescent experiences panned across the screen of his mind. They appear most vividly when he approaches the water’s edge after having been away from Louisiana’s bayous for a long time – seining a sandbar on a stormy night, checking trotlines at dawn with great anticipation.
For the man, the tactile experiences of mud fill the bookshelves of his memory only second in volume to odors. Imagine the rough, sunbaked texture of cracked mud in mid-August. Fissures in gray, geometric patterns irritate even the late summer soles of his bare feet. Imagine also on this day, when the humidity is two-thirds a temperature that approaches the century mark, a sensation of cold, silky velvet that envelopes the lower extremities as deep as the boy can bury them by wading out and wiggling his toes mole-like toward the center of the earth.
Bayou mud yet defines his place.