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Blue Crab Blues

A lifetime crabber grapples with rising seas

Last weekend I drove down to Venice, La., the last town accessible by car before the mouth of the Mississippi River. It is popular among fisherman who put in there to fish the fecund waters of the Gulf. It is dotted with fish camps that extend from the levee into the wetlands and lakes that open up on the Gulf.

I wanted to see visit my old Cajun friend, Four-Finger Francis, a resident of one of the original camps. He made a living crabbing all his life and when I wanted some big blue crab, I drove the 77-miles from New Orleans to see him.

Four-Finger Frank stood at his camp’s railing smoking a cigarette when I drove up on the old shell road. He waved me up.

“What’s up, cuz?” He called everyone by that moniker. To Four-Finger, there was his way of life and the rest of us was held with equal amicable regard.

“Just came down to see if you had some blue crab for me and to bring you some of this.” I pulled from my jacket a bottle of Jack Daniels, Four-Fingers’ favorite booze.

His eyes lit up like discs.

“I just ran da trap, dis morning. I gots some beauts.”

We climbed up the old wooden steps to his camp and entered the screen porch and walked back to his kitchen that smelled like crab and mullet.

Extending from the back wall was a large square and shallow metal sink filled with about three inches of water and filled with blue crabs. As we approached it, claws shot up from the water like knights raising their swords in anticipation of combat.

How many ya want, cuz?”

“A dozen.”

Four Fingers reached into the sink and started grabbing crabs by their back flippers and putting them into an ice chest. He tried doing that one night when he had too much Jack Daniels, which is why he is called Four Finger Francis.

“So Francis, how’s the crabbing?”

“It ain’t as good as it used to be. Da wetlands are disappearing, da water is getting higher.”

“Oh, that’s not good.” I wasn’t about to mention climate change because I thought Francis leaned a little right. If he had cable it was a good bet it would be on Fox.

“To be truthful, Cuz, da crabs ain’t as fat as dey use to be and it ain’t because da water’s becoming saltier. It ain’t never use to be like dat.”

“Probably due to the dredging of the oil companies in the marshes,” I say.

No, it ain’t dat. Dey been dredging for years and while some of da marsh land has eroded, dere’s a lot of it ain’t dere no more.”

He put the last crab into the cooler.

“Da’ government thinks it’s a hoax. I tell ya, skinny crabs ain’t no hoax. When people pay $24 a dozen dey expect to get fat crabs, not crabs on a man-made diet.

“Obama joined in a global climate pact with all the other nations to try and cool the planet down, but Donald Trump pulled out of it,” I ventured.

“I don’t understand dat man Trump. I think if Obama said something was blue, he’d say it’s black. Truth be known, I’m on Obama Care and got coverage for my diabetes. I ain’t all dat excited about seeing it change.”

“Did you tell your Congressman?”

He votes whatever the Party tells him to vote. I got to say, it ain’t like it use to be. People would get together and compromise. Now it’s your party above country. Hell, if the Republicans and the Democrats were men and women, da species would go extinct because dere would be no one talking wit each other, much less sleeping together. Ya see dat’s da thing. Dey’ all want you to believe what dey believe so you’ll go along with ‘em. But da thing is dey got cards dey ain’t showin’. Never play cards with a politician, dey all got good poker faces and can bluff wit da best of em’.

“Makes sense to me.”

“I can see dat Trump wants to thump his nose to dem high-falootin’ Democrats and dere European friends. And he wants to make dis country number one again. But let me tell you I lived on this spit of land all my life, separated from the rest of da world. I like it dat way. But, I still gots to get gas and food from da store in Port Lafourche. Dos kids dat use to work the store, you know where dey are now? Dey done gone off to college. Ya think dey coming back to Port Lafourche, hell no! Dey gonna marry someone from a different city or state and make a family where dey gets to work and make a good living. Da world’s changing, getting smaller. Ain’t no one an island no more, except maybe dem fools in Grand Isle, who when the next hurricane comes, will be blown up to Lake Pontchartrain.”

“From what I’ve read the water may rise so much as three feet over the next fifty years,” I say.

“And all dem crazy as Cajuns rooting for LSU will be living in Arkansas yelling “Sooey. By that time, I’ll be dead and gone. And Cuz, make sure de throw my ashes in the Gulf. It’s been mighty good to me.”

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