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Chita: a Memory of Last Island   By: (1850-1904)

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CHITA: A Memory of Last Island

by

Lafcadio Hearn

"But Nature whistled with all her winds, Did as she pleased, and went her way." Emerson

To my friend Dr. Rodolfo Matas of New Orleans

Contents

The Legend of L'Ile Derniere Out of the Sea's Strength The Shadow of the Tide

The Legend of L'Ile Derniere

I.

Travelling south from New Orleans to the Islands, you pass through a strange land into a strange sea, by various winding waterways. You can journey to the Gulf by lugger if you please; but the trip may be made much more rapidly and agreeably on some one of those light, narrow steamers, built especially for bayou travel, which usually receive passengers at a point not far from the foot of old Saint Louis Street, hard by the sugar landing, where there is ever a pushing and flocking of steam craft all striving for place to rest their white breasts against the levee, side by side, like great weary swans. But the miniature steamboat on which you engage passage to the Gulf never lingers long in the Mississippi: she crosses the river, slips into some canal mouth, labors along the artificial channel awhile, and then leaves it with a scream of joy, to puff her free way down many a league of heavily shadowed bayou. Perhaps thereafter she may bear you through the immense silence of drenched rice fields, where the yellow green level is broken at long intervals by the black silhouette of some irrigating machine; but, whichever of the five different routes be pursued, you will find yourself more than once floating through sombre mazes of swamp forest, past assemblages of cypresses all hoary with the parasitic tillandsia, and grotesque as gatherings of fetich gods. Ever from river or from lakelet the steamer glides again into canal or bayou, from bayou or canal once more into lake or bay; and sometimes the swamp forest visibly thins away from these shores into wastes of reedy morass where, even of breathless nights, the quaggy soil trembles to a sound like thunder of breakers on a coast: the storm roar of billions of reptile voices chanting in cadence, rhythmically surging in stupendous crescendo and diminuendo, a monstrous and appalling chorus of frogs! ....

Panting, screaming, scraping her bottom over the sand bars, all day the little steamer strives to reach the grand blaze of blue open water below the marsh lands; and perhaps she may be fortunate enough to enter the Gulf about the time of sunset. For the sake of passengers, she travels by day only; but there are other vessels which make the journey also by night threading the bayou labyrinths winter and summer: sometimes steering by the North Star, sometimes feeling the way with poles in the white season of fogs, sometimes, again, steering by that Star of Evening which in our sky glows like another moon, and drops over the silent lakes as she passes a quivering trail of silver fire.

Shadows lengthen; and at last the woods dwindle away behind you into thin bluish lines; land and water alike take more luminous color; bayous open into broad passes; lakes link themselves with sea bays; and the ocean wind bursts upon you, keen, cool, and full of light. For the first time the vessel begins to swing, rocking to the great living pulse of the tides. And gazing from the deck around you, with no forest walls to break the view, it will seem to you that the low land must have once been rent asunder by the sea, and strewn about the Gulf in fantastic tatters....

Sometimes above a waste of wind blown prairie cane you see an oasis emerging, a ridge or hillock heavily umbraged with the rounded foliage of evergreen oaks: a cheniere. And from the shining flood also kindred green knolls arise, pretty islets, each with its beach girdle of dazzling sand and shells, yellow white, and all radiant with semi tropical foliage, myrtle and palmetto, orange and magnolia... Continue reading book >>




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