Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Pow Wow

Dancer at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Pow Wow


Growing up in Alabama, a Thanksgiving family tradition was to visit the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, Ala., for their annual Pow Wow. This year, we continued the tradition by bringing our children to see the colorful costume displays, rhythmic dancing and Native American crafts.

Dancers compete at the Pow Wow
As the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama, the Poarch Creek Indians trace their roots back to the original Creek Nation found throughout Alabama and Georgia. Today, the Indians live in a mostly rural reservation, dotted with sprawling cotton and corn fields and supplemented by a towering casino.

Although we arrived before lunch, the parking lot was nearly filled to capacity. A shuttle whisked us from our cars to the front entrance, where a small ticket booth marked the entrance to the large arena. The steady beat of drums signaled the location of the dancing competitions, and we climbed the bleachers to watch the men twirl and jump in their elaborately decorated and highly feathered outfits. The women, although much more subdued, showcased simpler yet exquisite costumes and a quiet graceful footwork.

While my nieces took time to pose with a few Native Americans, we headed out in search of food. Roasted corn, buffalo burgers, Indian tacos and fry bread were just a few of the options, and, of course, we tried them all.

Jumping high
I was amazed at how long the kids had lasted before darting over to the children's area. They marveled and pointed at the bounce house maze and the bigger kids spinning and jumping in various stomach-turning machines. While their cousins braved the bungee cord jumper, demonstrating their mad flipping skills, my two settled on the pony ride--or at least looked at the ponies before deciding they were still a bit too scary.

Just then, a child walked by with a bow and arrow, and all thoughts of rides were immediately over. A double row of booths lined the outer edges of the festival, and we steadily made our way past one after another. The souvenirs and crafts were nearly overwhelming, as each booth offered beautiful displays of dreamcatchers, animal-print shirts, wooden toys and just about anything else imaginable.

Native crafts for sale
Wooden alligator and pop gun in hand, we settled down for one more round of dancing before giving in to the yawns for nap time. A stop by a final booth on our way out landed us prized, buffalo-tooth necklaces, a lasting souvenir for mom and dad.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fall at the Swamp


Fall at Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve


Although we've explored the trails at Jean Lafitte National Park's Barataria Preserve dozens of times, every trip brings new discoveries. Sunday was the perfect day to visit, with mildly cool weather accented by rust-colored cypress trees and red maples (our version of fall colors).

Palmetto Trail
With one sleeping babe and one rearing to go, we headed first for the Palmetto Trail, where quiet, long stretches of boardwalk suited everyone's needs. The dark waters were peeking through lush, wild vegetation, pooling in small ponds under the shade of giant leaves. August napped to the rhythmic beat of the stroller wheels on wooden boards, while Charles filled his bug catcher with dried leaves and sticks, preparing a habitat for whatever unsuspecting bug he was sure to find.

For the most part, the trail was ours alone to embrace, the silence only broken a handful of times by mostly visitors with foreign accents. Aside from a few "pokey caterpillars" and elusive, croaking frogs, this initial hike was serene and uneventful--a grade A for us adults, but making our 4-year-old a little antsy at the unthinkable prospect of going home with an empty bug catcher.

Reflections in Bayou Coquille

As we emerged from the giant palmettos and crossed the next parking lot, we once again entered the mysterious world of Louisiana's swamps. Bayou Coquille was unusually clear of overgrowth and looked perfect for canoeing, and as the afternoon went on, the sky above the cypress trees became a fantastic blue.

We stopped several times to examine the spiders busily spinning their webs and looked forward to seeing the alligator we heard was lurking up ahead. As we stepped aside to allow some faster tourists to pass, Charles squealed with delight at spotting a giant, black lubber grasshopper waiting for him in the path. He impressed the passersby by fearlessly plucking the grasshopper from the ground and gently placing him in the prepared habitat.
Marsh Overlook

It was enough to make this "the greatest day ever," one that only got better when we finally spotted the 10-foot alligator lurking in the Lower Kenta Canal. He was well-hidden in this hyacinth-clogged canal, which looked so little like water that the kids thought they could walk right out on it.

Our leisurely stroll ended at the expansive marsh overlook. After a few relaxing moments of taking in the views, we strapped the kids in their strollers and starting sprinting back towards the Visitor's Center. We had half an hour to cover the two miles back before the parking lot gates were closed at 5 p.m. Thankfully, the ranger was still waiting for us when we came huffing and puffing back to our car.  

Parting views from the park