Now, who would think that New Orleans – the city known for its jazz, boisterous crowds and spicy seafood – harbors numerous areas of natural beauty and quiet distraction?
In early December, we four prairie dogs (Robin and Shannon, Jerry and I) headed south in search of memorable NOLA experiences, and were not disappointed. It was a brand new experience for Jerry and me, and we found the music outstanding and the overall culture fascinating.
But, for purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on the natural beauty. Audubon Park, just off a major thoroughfare, was a true respite from urbanity. The gardens offer some southern-style prairie-ish areas (nothing like our Upper Midwest prairies) among tropical plant life and colorful flowering bushes. A small body of water in the middle of the park is home to a million-or-so ducks and a few egrets.
Louis Armstrong Park is amazing, with flower-lined walkways, and incredible sculptures. Ok, sculptures aren’t really “natural,” but these were done extremely well and are totally appropriate for their surroundings.
One of the sculptures is part of Congo Square (formerly known as Pace de Negres) “...where (in the 18th century) slaves gathered on Sundays, their day off, to sing, beat drums and celebrate,” according to the City of New Orleans website. Celebrate? I have questions.
However, according to the history I saw and heard while in NOLA, slaves didn’t have it as bad there as in other areas of the South because they had allies in the resident Native Americans (mostly of the Seminole Tribe). The Natives provided hiding places for escaped slaves; or, at least took care of them as best they could, and showed them a respect they didn’t encounter anywhere else in this part of the world. The two cultures – Afro- and Native-American – bonded in ways that remain obvious and endearing today. The Mardi Gras Indian tradition incorporates the blending of these two cultures to produce an annual celebration unlike any other.
With the Backstreet Cultural Museum's Robert Frances on a windy, rainy day in the New Orleans neighborhood of Treme. Robert loves to share his knowledge of the city's Mardi Gras Indian and Social Aid and Pleasure Club traditions.
Ok, back to nature. Along with tropical plants and flowering bushes in the parks were some huge, I mean HUGE, trees. With trunks as big around as a silo, the branches were bigger than the trunks of other mature trees I’ve seen.
Our collective penchant for pollinators was piqued when, on a stroll through our neighborhood, we happened on a group of Monarch caterpillars busy munching upon a bush, apparently in the milkweed family. The bush was part of a sidewalk “garden” and, as we were ogling the “cats,” the owner/gardener – a typically friendly NO resident – came out to chat. Robin, of course, had questions for her about the Monarchs.
That’s TMI not really related to prairies, but where else can I spout off about this wonderful trip?