Delacroix & Shell Beach

I looked at the map of Louisiana– said to be losing its distinguishable boot shape (though perhaps not to the degree that that article suggests)– and zoomed in on the moss-colored coast; flecked with blue until it’s the blue that’s flecked with moss, and then it’s all just Gulf. How far could one travel by car before having to switch to more buoyant measures?, I wondered.

Route 46 follows the Mississippi from New Orleans, then cuts East as the Mississippi veers briefly back West toward English Turn. It’s joined by Route 300, which carries on South to its terminus: a town called Delacroix. (Well, it’s called Delacroix on maps, but the welcome sign identifies it as Delacroix Island, est. 1782. It’s not an island, but it was only reachable by boat until the 1930s so surely felt like one.) You have to really zoom in to see that Route 46 can indeed take you further East, to a town called Shell Beach that appears at first glance inaccessible in the sea of green that is the receding coast.

Though seemingly a world away, I saw it was only a 45 minute trek to the isolated outpost of Delacroix from New Orleans, and that making an about-face for Shell Beach afterwards only tacked on an additional 25 minutes. I succeeded in getting a friend to accompany me, and off we went to do some exploring in St. Bernard Parish.

It was, as predicted, an interesting landscape of live oaks, Spanish moss, gnarled cypresses, and reflective waterways. We were treated to appearances by a number of waterbirds, and the photogenic trappings of a sportsman’s life on the bayou. What we were unprepared for were the signs of devastation from, I would assume, Hurricane Zeta (as the other seven named storms to barrel through the Gulf this year miraculously dodged this region). There were at least a dozen– maybe closer to two– upended trailers and RVs splintered along a two-mile stretch of Route 46. The metal roofs of boat slips were curled up on themselves like the lids of sardine tins. The “Baba Yaga houses” (as my friend so enthusiastically identified them throughout the afternoon) on their lofty stilts, so adept at avoiding floodwaters, proved no match for high winds in many cases.

I first noticed the shrimp peelers at Net’s Rock-n-Dock as they laughed at me for taking a photo of the “Caution: Beware Women Drivers” sign across the road from their place. The colorful building seemed like some kind of café or souvenir shop so I decided to pop in with them on our way back out of town, which didn’t take long. (The region is full of misnomers– just as Delacroix Island is not really an island, neither is Shell Beach a beach; where the road came to an end we got some photos of the Katrina memorial and distant Fort Proctor and called it a day.)

As we approached they teased us, “Oh go ‘head and take off the dang mask; what, ya got COVID?!” I’m sure my keeping my face covered did little to ingratiate myself to them, and though I proudly offered up the answer “New Orleans!” when asked where we were from, as though it might convince them we were just like them, I doubt it did. They allowed me to take some photos and engaged in a bit of conversation, but I didn’t get the impression they were sorry to see us– the Women Drivers from the Big City who came down with their camera to gawk at the country folk– go.

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