Spending the night in the beautifully restored and modernized Woodland plantation house with the Mississippi River at flood on the other side of the levee, gators in the pond back of the house, five other journalist from all around the country and a few resident ghosts is a memorable experience. This overnight climaxed a post-Deepwater-Horizon-oil-spll tour for journalist from Canada, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia through Louisiana’s Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.
Not only were these parishes recovering from the impact of last years’ oil well failure in the Gulf, they had suffered repeated disasters for five-years running with the Katrina-Rita hurricanes of 2005 being the most publicized events prior to the disastrous fire on the Horizon’s drilling platform . Previously we had visited Grand Isle, the town of Jean Lafitte as well as fished out of Cajun Fishing Adventures Lodge at Buras.
Our last evening we were to dine in the formal dining room at Woodland on the redfish and flounder that we had caught, and then, with stomachs food of food and heads full of ghost stories, spend the night in our selection of the houses’ bedrooms. One of our group felt uncomfortable and decided that she wanted to change bedrooms while another debated whether he would stay in the house at all.
My inclinations as a writer, “sot in his ways,” is to do solo journalism. Most often I go on hunts by myself and write and do radio broadcasts about my experiences. It was fun and interesting to be associated with this diverse group of men and women as we each though about how write, photograph, video, blog and talk about our experiences. There were many interesting tidbits of information that were derived from our visits to these historic places, parks and refuges.
Woodland, the house, was built in the 1830s by Captain William Johnson, a river pilot. Its location on the river bank at West Pointe A La Hache made for an easy commute to his job guiding vessels up and down the river to and from New Orleans. Later this house was used as the seat for a sugar plantation. The house’s image, with stern-wheeler river boats, was put on the labels of Southern Comfort in 1934. Its present owner, Foster Creppell, has converted the plantation into a resort and moved an abandoned church, now “The House of Spirits,” to the site where he can host weddings, receptions and dining events. Using Southern Comfort as a base, he also developed a “Woodland Punch” as the establishment’s signature drink. This could be a suitable story subject for a magazine feature.
Describing the recovery efforts of the Louisiana seafood industry from the oiling of the beaches and wetlands might be another story. Last year’s depressed tourism and loss of fishing income badly impacted local businesses and fishermen. There were many uncertainties, much confusion and conflicting information from a plethora of agencies all too eager to tell the locals what they could not do, but painfully slow to act to help control the spill and limit its consequences to land, fish and wildlife.
A year later, Louisiana’s seafood is likely the most heavily inspected product in the world, the sportfishing aspects have been restored and although some lingering questions remain about the long-term consequences to deep-water fish, seafood from the open parts of the near-shore environment is again among the best in the world. However, shrimpers all along the East and Gulf coasts are facing increased competition from foreign pen-rased shrimp that has depressed prices to the extent that many can no longer follow the lifestyle that their families have had for generations. There is certainly story potential in these topics from a variety of different directions.
The story with the most depth that has the most impact on the most people is the loss of the Louisiana wetands which started in the 1700s with cutting the first cypress trees and continues to date where we are loosing a football field of ground to the ocean every 40 minutes. Salt water coming into the fresh water bays reduces the habitat for culturing shrimp and other seafood species, reduces the “buffer lands” that slow the impact of hurricanes on the lower river settlements and New Orleans as well as destroying habitat for both wildlife and man. Preserving these wetlands now has to be a proactive business. Neglect will only result in future and more losses. Levee cuts and diversions of freshwater to nourish the delta and physical barriers to replace the forested islands which once stood in the bays are needed to allow the wetlands to rebuild and reverse two centuries of steady erosion. This is a long-term and costly problem that needs to be resolved. As journalists we could do stories to highlight this.
Our most important unresolved question for each of us as we sat around the supper table was, “Why would our readers care about what happens in lower Louisiana?” or “Why should our readers care?”
It is comparatively easy to describe a series of events, a beautiful place, good food and interesting people. This is the stock of much journalistic writing. It is much more difficult to persuade and a higher order of magnitude to actually move someone to action. I have some advantages in this regard. Age brings with it more life experiences and a larger knowledge base to start with. As a Professional Geologist I am a bit more attuned to the science. I hunt, fish and know my critters. I have interests in business as well as in journalism. I have access to and work in more media in that I do writing, videos and radio on a regular basis. Most importantly, I am not limited to topic, timing, approach or editorial slant. Unlike most of the world’s working journalist, I can editorialize in ways that would not be allowed in most media.
I have. I have a blog entry on “tar balls” which is an interesting, although somewhat academic, subject with cultural implications. The blog entry immediately preceding this is on Jefferson Davis’ home, Beauvoir, at Biloxi, which I visited on my way to Louisiana. There is another entry on my blog “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventure Radio Show Blog” which describes the radio show about the trip that will be aired on June 6, 2011, and available thereafter on WebTalkRadio.net and Apple’s iTunes. For those who like things in a visual format, I also have a YouTube video that I recorded at Woodland Plantation on YouTube at the wmhoveysmith channel that is also posted below. If you have trouble viewing it here use the following link to YouTube: http://youtu.be/tsPbAISPvdc.
Look for a story in Faze Magazine by Editor Dana Marie Krook, in The Okaolahoman or other state outlets by Ryan Free, from Annie Toby (The Active Woman Traveler) in a variety of places and a colaboration of stories and photos from Cindy Ross and photographer Steve Wewerka. Each will use their quaint journalistic crafts to fulfill the often stated journalistic mandates to “comfort the aflicted and aflict the comfortable, ” tell a good story or issue a call to action over the next several months.
Perhaps our work will bring some comfort to the area in the way of the beneficial changes, which I see as the ultimate aim of the journalistic crafts. The resident ghosts apparently thought so. All of us passed a very peaceful night at Woodland Plantation. If you would like to stay there, visit their website at http://www.woodlandplantation.com.