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Wise Ones

We are losing the old wise ones. Some of our most erudite naturalists never heard a professor’s lecture or studied in a biology lab that reeked of formalin and moth balls. Still, they know the eddies where giant flathead catfish prowl and the ridge-top trails of foraging coyotes. They possess the skill to weave hoop nets five feet in diameter to catch spawning buffalo in a spring freshet, and the knowledge to boil new coon traps in green walnut hulls to mask human odors. Most of these sages have a lifetime of experience commercial fishing, trapping, or otherwise supporting themselves and their families by harvesting the natural products of our forests and streams. Those remaining were born before or during the Great Depression. Societal changes have eliminated the demand for their products, and in many cases so-called progress has liquidated the supply. The few who still practice their arts do so as an occasional sideline, reluctant to give up the feel of slow, heavy tugs on a trotline baited with gizzard shad and the pungent odor of a mink hide properly stretched. They remember the times when good luck afield meant making a land payment or another semester in college for a child, the first in the family to be so privileged. Keenly aware of natural phenomena because it affected their livelihood, they understand the consequences of a poor acorn crop and a late backwater, the implications of a dammed river and a clearcut forest. More so than anyone, they know that we all are inextricably attached to the natural world and will sink or swim into the future depending on the depth of our commitment to its health. If this wisdom is lost, we will only acquire it again the hard way. (Adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, LSU Press)


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