A Drive Up Through Cane Country

So I got out of work this week absolutely exhausted. Ending things proved more difficult and stressful than I’d imagined it would be. Wednesday night we had a rainstorm and put down sheets of water and took the power out for the evening. I took nature’s heed and went to bed for the night. I needed it. Waking up the next morning, I felt my body had gained some ground toward being repaired.

Come yesterday morning, I was ready to hit the road. Last May, I drove the 15 hours to Dallas and back to pick up a fish tank off Craigslist and see some discus fish. This May, I felt I needed another drive for sanity. I thought I’d take a scenic route through the Louisiana cane fields of Pointe Coupee and go the back way up to my favorite little town of Natchitoches, pronounced NACK-a-dish.

Last weekend, my wife and I went up to visit my grandmother’s sisters who live in northern Louisiana, and while there, my great Aunt mentioned the pies and ham of Lecompte, Louisiana and asked if we’d ever had them. We hadn’t. She said what everyone seems to say: They’re good, but they’re expensive.

While I was on my drive though the cane, in a tiny bout of serendipity, I came upon the little town of Lecompte, pronounced luh-COUNT, and Lea’s Lunchroom. Skeptical it was the best place to get pie in the town, I drove around until I found an older couple sitting on their porch who I asked where the best place to get pie was in the town. The said that outside of their own kitchen, I’d have to try Lea’s. So I did.

A handmade neon orange sign on the door proudly announced in teen calligraphy the presence of dewberry pie. I didn’t know what it was but if they were that excited about it, so was I. I was impressed at the quantity of pies they seemed to produce and sell. My little piece was good. The crust was more gooey than flakey which was perfectly fine by me. The berries whole, rich and firm. Best of all there was almost no crust. To me crust is the purgatory of pie. Usually I’m too preoccupied with how to ethically dispose of the crust to even enjoy the pie. Here that was not a problem. Just one enjoyable 10 am snack.

Back on the road, I made it up to Natchitoches. Though I sometimes lament that anywhere America is beginning to look like everywhere America, void of local variation,  Louisiana’s still got it. On a main drag in Natchitoches, where strip malls and fast food chains otherwise dominate, a giant crawfish stands atop a seasonal crawfish eatery in proud testament to local flavor. To the outsider, the universal and unwavering local pride shared by Louisianians is as amazing as it is perplexing. Though the outsider can’t quite fully adjust to the ubiquitous use of the fleur-de-lis or seeing grown men dress in purple and gold without thinking a second thought about it, one comes to value how Louisiana is preserving a vibrant and unique identity in the face of ever greater pressure toward homogenization.

I didn’t get any crawfish at the Crawfish Hole, both because it was closed and because I’d just eaten a crawfish meat pie. I stopped to get a stainless steel roux spoon for later home cooking, and then started back home.

When I first drove through cane fields a few years ago, I couldn’t identify what I was seeing. I thought I’d recognize a cane field if I saw it, but I didn’t. In the field, the cane is covered in so many long grassy leaves, it looks like rows of grass and not the long thick bamboo-like stalks I envisioned.

I passed steel grey field buildings who’s sharp angels and perfect proportions contoured aesthetically with the horizon and melded into the pastel greens of the cane.

Another appeared other-worldly. The overhang wrapped around the entire barn, undoubtedly to keep the inside cooler by keeping the sun off the sides of the building.

I crossed a bridge over the Atchafalaya River, pronounced a-Cha-fa-Lie-ah, back into Pointe Coupee, stopped at a bait shop for a pack of frozen alligator to try my hand at blackening latter this week, and crossed more cane to get back to my baby.

So she got her day at home in peace, able to enjoy reading without hassle, and I got my drive. My chance to go and to see. Days alone like this are a blessing. We’re able to do what we enjoy and then we’re ready to appreciate being back together. And appreciate being back together, we do.

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