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Bayou-Diversity (23 December 2018) Visitors to Louisiana are often perplexed by the peculiar terms we use to describe our waterways and other natural features. One of the most common questions asked by these naïve outsiders is, “What is a bayou?” The word is ubiquitous here; after all this is the bayou state. The confusion is understandable as at least one of every type of conceivable business contains “bayou” in its name in Louisiana. There is a Bayou Bowling Alley, Bayou Builders, Bayou Forklifts, Bayou Gymnastics, Bayou Internet, Bayou Plumbing, and so forth on down through the alphabet. We have bayou churches, schools, and of course the fighting Bayou Bengal football team.

Early Choctaw Indians would be mystified at all this hoopla. They were responsible for the etymology of the word. French settlers took the Native Americans’ perfectly good word “bayuk” and contorted it into the Franco-label “bayou.” The definition, however, remains the same. It is a natural, relatively small waterway that flows through swamps and other lowlands. More than 400 named bayous braid Louisiana from north to south seeking the shortest route to the Gulf of Mexico across a landscape void of significant relief. A few creep into the flat fringes of Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. Except during flood events, currents in bayous are usually sluggish or absent. Crystalline waters are not a characteristic of bayous as they meander through heavy clay soils and capture the washed-in silt of subtropical rains. Their shores are often dressed in live oaks and big-butted cypress trees laden with Spanish moss and parula warblers. Inhabitants of bayous are not without their own notable reputations and include, crawfish, cottonmouths, mosquito larvae, alligator gar, alligator snapping turtles, and alligators. Plenty of others, more innocuous in their life cycles, are dependent on these sinuous, southern streams. If undammed, unditched, and unpolluted, they are glorious places worthy of protection if for no other reason than Louisiana without the living gumbo of bayous would not be Louisiana. (adapted from “Bayou-Diversity – Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country,” LSU Press)


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