Imagine leaving city life behind for an existence on a floating boat in the middle of nowhere, a place where living conditions are simpler (translation: no toilet or grocery stores) and the hazards are high (finding deadly cottonmouth snakes in your bed, no access to technology or neighbors). Here, enjoy the second installment of Rachel Nederveld's on living on the disappearing Cajun swamp.
I really wanted to get a photo of one of the duck hunters on the lake with what they'd killed, so for a while I was trying to flag down the men on their way back to the landing. It took many attempts over a few days to even get a hunter's attention since my boat is in the trees, near the bank. When I finally did, I had just finished my morning pee off the side of the boat and was still styling bed hair, several warm nighttime layers, and baggy sweatpants half tucked into my steel toe boots. It was a man alone in a boat, and when I waved him down using the toilet paper I was still holding, he did the classic hand to chest, "Who, me?" while looking around at an otherwise empty lake. He did not respond or come over to see what I needed, or even to make sure everything was ok. Instead, he revved his motor and took off. Fast. In that moment, I realized the opportunity to talk to anyone out here was pretty much zero, because none of these men would be caught dead near a woman alone on a houseboat.
Despite this particular instance of solitude, loneliness is almost nonexistent in my life out here. Every task has its own challenges and, if you know me, that means the makings of a good game. Cooking is, by far, the most exciting of the games. The way I see it, there are chance cards I accidentally gave myself and weird rules created by the simple reality of living on a houseboat without electricity or running water.
Chance cards include the things I forgot to bring (like pepper and measuring cups) and things that I skimped out on, like a crappy $20 propane grill that—like the single propane stove that was already here—has no "low" setting. Early on, I made a trip to T & T Bait Shop & Grocery in St. Martinville to eliminate some of these chance cards, including a dollar can of spinach that my hippy standards are having a hard time swallowing (literally).
The store was about two miles by boat, then 11 more by car. Everything was dusty and overpriced, and nothing was what I was hoping for. The shelves were bizarrely empty with fishing gear scattered around them.
My dog, Pilgrim, loved this store outing because she often gets stir crazy on the boat, and frankly much prefers the land. In my preparations, I planned for her to use the front of the boat as her bathroom, which I set up with heavy duty garbage bags covered in dirt, leaves, cypress needles, and moss. But stubborn as can be, she held it in our first 24 hours until I caved and rowed her to shore. I've now tried everything to make her boat latrine more appealing: peeing on it myself, collecting leaves with her own pee and poop, watching what foliage she peed on the most in the woods and bringing it back, and adding in other poop we came across on our walks. Nothing has worked. So our morning routine is that I put on my boots and row her to shore, where we play and walk around, hoping to avoid poisonous snakes and gators.
This morning I played tag with Pilgrim with extra enthusiasm during her bathroom swamp romp so I'd be really hungry for breakfast. In the cooking game, the weird rules inherent to living on the boat cause me to have to plan ahead. I'd been without meat for almost a week until yesterday, when a friend visited and brought me ice, cheese, and tasso from Bread & Circus Provisions in nearby Lafayette. While local friends often bring me ice, I've had to throw out food that's gotten too warm between the deliveries, even playing rotten egg toss against a tree one day, so I had the pleasurable task of eating up the tasso and cheese before they went bad.
Granted, the point system for the cooking game is totally subjective (throwing out eggs, -2 points; getting delicious tasso, +3; eating things that don't taste great together, -1 AND +1 point?), but these games are helping me win against swampy loneliness, and for that, I am grateful.