I have probably driven through the Slidell area a dozen times, but only stopped to buy gas once or twice  — that is, until this past Saturday. Since then, I have joined my class as guests of the Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Slidell, Louisiana. Initially, the impulse for us to beat a path to the City, but the long van trip trip and late nights caught up with the group on Monday.

Students boarding the boats swamp tour, March 2012.

Some of the other groups began working for various agencies in the area, but our work week starts on Tuesday. After a somewhat slow start, students gathered for breakfast in the dining/meeting hall; then we went through orientation. Afterwards students had a couple of hours to go online, write in their journals, or just chill after three hectic days. I advised them to take advantage, because the next six days would bring hard work AND the long drive back to New Hampshire.

Our intrepid and extremely knowledgeable guide, Pearl River, March 2012.

We all got together in early afternoon a few miles east of Slidell along the banks of the Pearl River. There, we embarked on a swamp tour of the Pearl River basin. It was overcast and showery; the water high from spring rains and still a bit chilly for optimum sightings of large, scaly aquatic reptiles, i.e., the main reason we were there.

Time would prove that we were in the hands of knowledgeable and skilled guides. Over the next two hours, we were enlightened about local history, culture, and the insights of folks who are the antithesis of the fanciful caricatures presented by “reality” shows like “Swamp People.” And we saw some magnificent scenery, centuries old cypress, wild blue iris, and, most importantly, swamp critters.

Great blue heron on the Pearl River, March 2012.

We passed turtles trying to squeeze some sun out of the showers, water snakes, egrets, ibis, a broad winged hawk, and great blue herons. We took a narrow bayou up to an oxbow, the former, now bypassed  channel of the Pearl River. There, the water was warm enough for some gator activity. Not monsters by any means, but large and lively enough to entertain a bunch of students from New England. Our guide, with tremendous eloquence called them to the boat. A hot dog on a stick helped in the task, but only after he got there attention with his gatorese. Each alligator ate and swam back enough to get a good view of our departure. A fun and highly educational way to spend the afternoon. And certainly not something that I can replicate in the classroom.

Pirate's Alley, off of Jackson Square, after a rain, March 2012.

We returned to the Peace Mission Center for traditional Monday fare: red beans and rice prepared by Chef Stephanie. They were delicious and we did our part to make sure they did not have to deal with leftovers.

The students clearly took me seriously about resting up. They retired to the lounge for movies, quiet talk, and relaxation. The guys’ quarters are, to say the least, not lounge-worthy, and I did not want to infringe upon their social time. For that reason, I was forced into town to listen to music, walk about, and take some pictures of the rain-drenched streets. Nonetheless, it was still an early evening for me , too, as our work day on Tuesday begins at 6:45 a.m sharp.

Again, something of a public service warning: these daily posts during spring break are often done on the run, usually in a McDonald’s. I generally don’t have the time to review or edit them as I might usually, and the chances that I’ll go back and catch things is limited. In advance, let me apologize for typos (especially this year since I am using a netbook) and missing words. It goes with the territory, but if I can, I ‘d rather post as often as time allows, albeit imperfectly.