Today, on something of a whim -- I was already on the Gulf, and other plans fell through -- I decided to drive to the end of the highway, as far down the Mississippi River as the pavement allows.
On the Highway 47 bridge over the Gulf Outlet Canal, I had an unexpected view of just how besieged New Orleans is by water; it's rare to see downtown from such an elevation, and from the top of the bridge you catch a quick glimpse of the different threads of water and tenuous bits of land.
In Caernarvon -- where in 1927 the levee was dynamited, flooding out rural farmers and hunters to save New Orleans -- I stopped to see the freshwater diversion. This project of mine has turned me into something of an engineering nerd, it seems. But whenever I go out of the way to see some bit of river engineering, the structure itself is underwhelming. This one, built in 1991 to provide freshwater into an increasingly brackish estuary, has inadvertently proven the land-building capacity of diverting the Mississippi River, helping convince officials to move forward on projects like the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Still, its few pump heads are all but invisible amid the steel skeletons of the surrounding refineries. More interesting was the company: there was a couple there, tossing off-brand Bugles to the gators lounging in the canal. We counted ten, including a 12-footer, though I was told that at least as many were likely out of sight along the banks, and that next week, and through the summer as the heat increases, there would be more and more. (For the record: gators aren't too into off-brand Bugles, but I'm told they do love marshmallows. The couple had just run out.)
At Pointe à la Hache, I missed the ferry by just a few minutes, which meant I had to wait an hour for my next chance to cross the river. So I took shelter in the remains of a beautiful old courthouse (which a quick Google search reveals was burned, in stereotypical Louisiana fashion, to destroy evidence for a pending trial). When the ferry returned, I was so apparently clueless that the man who took my fare (one dollar!) remarked that it must be my first time. Indeed, my friend, indeed.
This morning, I left a nice beachside town in Mississippi that nevertheless must be classified as second tier. (Sorry, Long Beach.) Still, it was a place where I could get a craft beer, or a cold-brewed coffee. Somehow I figured that any town at the end of a highway would be like that, turned at least a little bit into a resort. Oh, what a fool I am. Venice is a cluster of prefab fishing camps surrounded by industry. There is at least a bar and grill, blaring pop country music, where conquering sports fishermen can celebrate their catch.
As I drove down, I contemplated the strangeness of this landscape. It's just a green strip, and you can't see the water for the levees, but somehow the bigness of the sky makes it clear that there is water all around. Indeed, down here I am "between the levees" in a different manner than I was while camping on the expedition: there is the river levee on the one side, and a sea levee on the other; the bit of land that exists, meanwhile, is always sinking downward under its own weight. As far as I know, there is no other landscape like it on earth: no other strange, narrow leveed delta, a tenuous bit of river-built earth surrounded by walls to keep off the sea. But it's here for now. Might as well celebrate with a syrupy margarita in a sytrofoam cup before turning around to drive on home.