200 years later it’s still plenty rough and tumble.While the Jayhawkers of Civil War fame have long since been run out, shot up, imprisoned or otherwise made to toe the line, Cameron Parish still has an unruly feel to it. With less than 10k people calling the parish home it’s entirely possible that there are more gators hereabouts than residents. There are still subtle signs of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Audrey, and she made landfall in 1957. Cameron Parish feels desolate. This must be one of the few parts of Louisiana where you can drive for upwards of a half-hour without seeing another human. Birds are another matter altogether. People travel here from all over the world to traipse through the marshes in hopes of seeing a Painted Redstart or Ladder-backed Woodpecker. This is the outermost fringe of Cajun country so don’t expect there to be dozens of little mom and pop diners or boudin parlors across the parish. We had heard that public eating was rare in these parts so we went to town in LaGrange, Texas and bought Weikel’s Bakery out lock stock and barrel. It would take a heavy freight of kolache to sustain me for the 10 hour drive home. As you ease toward Abbeville you’ll start to see herds of cows in the lush prairie fields. Vermilion Parish is the epicenter of Louisiana’s cattle industry and Abbeville has had a festival celebrating the common bovine since 1949. If you go don’t expect a lot of beef. We attended a few years back and were mystified as to the absence of steaks and hamburgers. We expected there to be massive grills loaded down with every cut of steer you could imagine but were sadly disappointed. The hospitality was fine, and Abbeville is properly bucolic but they really need to hire a culinary director who is obsessed with beef to put on a genuine cattle festival. Abbeville is only a short drive from US-90, a major highway that connects Lafayette to New Orleans. I’ve taken this route dozens of times and could practically drive it blindfolded. Twilight has descended by the time I get to Morgan City and after taking a quick tour of the nearly-abandoned downtown I hop right back up on the highway for the final short push to New Orleans. The Creole Nature Trail detour only extended my journey from Austin to New Orleans by about two hours. Those lonely Louisiana backroads in this profoundly rural part of Acadiana are beautiful in a desolate, Steinbeckian way.
There are people who are born, grow old and die without ever leaving this part of the world. The bright lights of Beaumont or Lake Charles may as well be the old filament bulbs that hang from the ceiling of the Központi Piaccsarnok or Great Market Hall in Budapest.
I daydream about these old souls as I pilot my old Ford Econoline through the bayous and east towards home.