When it’s in season, crawfish is a staple of the Creole diet, and behind the Delphin Big House, they harvest their very own right out of the ground. After straightening out empty traps, we headed to the back woods to collect the traps already in the bayou, and bait and put out new ones.
“This river runs in my veins” F.J. exclaimed as we headed out of the Cane. F.J. and Phil were heading out to check their limb lines to see if they had caught anything over night. A limb line is exactly as it sounds: A line tied to a tree limb hanging over the water, with the other end hooked and baited several feet below the water. You’re fishing even when you’re sleeping – or as Phil put it “even when you ‘aint doing nothing, you’re still doing something.” After collecting their catch, they took the fish back, cleaned it and of course, fried it and ate it for lunch! I quickly learned how to eat fish that, minus the guts, is fried whole – bones and all. Every now and then Phil would clean a piece that didn’t have bones, or as he called it: “a city slicker cut.”
This is where it all began. On my first day in Natchitoches I met with Janet Colson of the Creole Heritage Center. After telling her I was interested in a story about the Cane River Creoles she handed me off to her husband and direct Metoyer descendant, Oswald Colson. He drove me all around the river, giving me a brief history and telling me which houses and plots of land belonged to which families – names that I would soon become very familiar with: Balthazar, Metoyer, Delphin, Jones, Roque, Rachel, etc. At one point he slowed down by the “Delphin Big House” and mentioned it would be good to get to know them, at the time I didn’t know exactly what that would lead to!
Later that night Mr. Colson took me to the church hall to officially introduce me to some of the Cane River Creoles. It was the birthday celebration of Woody Delphin, and it was the place to be if I wanted to start meeting the everyone. It didn’t take long. I met 4 brothers and a sister, Mark, FJ, Phil, James, and Julie Delphin, relatives of Woody that grew up on the Cane, and FJ who still lives here. Mark immediately gave me his cell number, email, and told me if I needed a place to stay if I came back he had an small office/house on the river I could use. The openness and generosity with which I was greeted was surprising, maybe it shouldn’t have been, but for an outsider who wanted to start taking pictures, I was warmly embraced.
In fact, I didn’t know it at the time, but all the main aspects of Creole life on the Cane were present at a simple birthday party: family, friends, food, drink, the church, a joy for life, and a sense of community that bonds the families and generations together in a tight knit society along the river…