Written by Kimberly Z.
This is a story of the beautiful bayou surrounded by blooming magnolia trees, horrible construction projects to drain the bayou, and the red-eyed Windigo.
Keywords: Mother Earth, Greed, Swamp, Windigo, Soil
My favorite memories growing up always had something to do with Nana’s house and the bayou just a few miles away. My brother and I spent our days splashing in the mud capturing toads and crawdads, and our nights listening to the orchestra of crickets and bullfrogs among the cattails and stars. Louisiana summer nights aren’t like any other; the humidity and heavy sweet smell of magnolia blossoms stick to your skin, and you sweat well into the night.
In our culture, we share the land. Mother Earth has a life of its own, and she must be respected. In the bayou, I feel her presence. I connect with my native ancestors through this land. Here they lived, fought, and died, years and years before I could even speak or walk.
Nana warned us not to get too attached to that bayou, because the town council was determined to turn it into something useful. It already was useful in my opinion. Where else could you spend hours in the sun and with nature? Even the mosquito bites didn’t bother me, as long as you paid them no mind and busied yourself with fishing or crawdad hunting, you won’t even notice them.
That’s not how the town council sees it. They look at the beautiful bayou surrounded by blooming magnolia trees and they see money. I look at the town council and see the Windigo, one heart full of ice that beats to the drum of greed and hunger. “Drain out the swamp,” they say. “It’s better off being a golf course or a hotel. Leesville needs more tourists, more revenue, more consumers.” It was always more, more, more with some people. They can’t appreciate the beauty and value that nature brings to the table.
The day that Nana had warned about came, and the construction crews had arrived to drain the bayou. All the fish, bullfrogs, cranes, herons, mosquitos, and other wildlife would have to find other homes. Even the beautiful magnolia trees would be torn down; their roots ripped from the only soil they had ever known. Men in glowing yellow vests and hard hats began lowering a tube into the water, which sucked it up and pumped it elsewhere to be stored. But this is not what I saw. Instead of men, I saw the red-eyed Windigo drinking up all the water so fast, like he would never have enough. The thirst of the Windigo will never be satisfied, not until the whole bayou and even the whole world is gone. That was the story of old times, that the Windigo came in the winter and preyed on humans, turning them into Windigos, too. The new Windigo lives in mansions, drives fast cars, and never, ever, ever has enough.
I’ve thought about how to defeat the Windigo, although he always comes back. How can I keep him from eating up the bayou I’d spent sixteen summers of my life at? What softens the Windigo’s icy heart, or at least chases him away? I, Kaya, must stop this. I think about how environmentalists stop forests from being cut down, or pipelines from being built. They block the progress of construction workers and keep damage from being done. I ask myself, can I do this, too? Can I cut off the Windigo’s destruction?
I look at the ways that others have stopped these horrible projects, and I think about my ancestors and their peaceful but forceful way to stop things like this from happening. Together they overcame challenges, like sweetgrass blades rising from the ground. I realize that I must do the same with my own friends and family. I begin to bring up these issues with Nana, with my brother, and everyone else. I go to town council meetings, and I tell them how important that bayou is to me, my ancestors, and the environment. None of this makes a difference, they say. They still want the bayou to be a place for tourists, a golf course for the wealthy to bring in their business.
It feels hopeless, as though nobody cares about my people, who this land used to belong to, but I can’t give up yet. Day by day, my bayou drains, but my determination grows stronger every day. I stand at the edge of the bayou, my heart racing as I stare down the Windigo. I smell the Windigo’s foul breath, see its yellow teeth, and red eyes, but still I don’t back down. “This bayou belongs to the people, to my ancestors, and to me. Stop draining it, you’re destroying the home of bullfrogs, crawdads, herons, cranes, and even mosquitos.” The Windigo stares back. The construction workers freeze their work, not sure of what to do or say.
“You’re ruining the land, taking away its soul. It doesn’t belong to you or the town council. Mother Earth is owned by no one, we live with her, we don’t claim and divide her.” Tears prick my eyes. This is my last chance to save the bayou. If I can’t unfreeze the heart of the Windigo by convincing the construction workers to stop consuming the bayou, another piece of Mother Earth will be lost to the Windigo.
One of the men in a blue hard hat turns to the others. “This isn’t right,” he says. “This is the ancestral land of the Choctaw Natives. Their burial ground is nearby, and this area is considered sacred. We can’t do this.” Hope springs in my chest, is this really happening? The Windigo’s red eyes flicker, and I see them slowly drained of life. The greed of the town council still exists, but the Windigo is now powerless. If the construction workers won’t drain the bayou, no golf course can exist. The Windigo has been defeated, for now.