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Atchafalaya Houseboat

My Years in the Louisiana Swamp

photographs by C. C. Lockwood

176 pages / 5.00 x 7.00 inches / 25 Halftones, 1 Map

Louisiana Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807130896 / April 2006

In the early 1970s, two idealistic young people—Gwen Carpenter Roland and Calvin Voisin—decided to leave civilization and re-create the vanished simple life of their great-grandparents in the heart of Louisiana's million-acre Atchafalaya River Basin Swamp. Armed with a box of crayons and a book calledHow to Build Your Home in the Woods, they drew up plans to recycle a slave-built structure into a houseboat. Without power tools or building experience they constructed a floating dwelling complete with a brick fireplace. Towed deep into the sleepy waters of Bloody Bayou, it was their home for eight years. This is the tale of the not-so-simple life they made together—days spent fishing, trading, making wine, growing food, and growing up—told by Gwen with grace, economy, and eloquence.

Not long after they took up swamp living, Gwen and Calvin met a young photographer named C. C. Lockwood, who shared their "back to the earth" values. His photographs of the couple going about their daily routine were published in National Geographic magazine, bringing them unexpected fame. More than a quarter of a century later, after Gwen and Calvin had long since parted, one of Lockwood's photos of them appeared in a National Geographic collector's edition entitled 100 Best Pictures Unpublished—and kindled the interest of a new generation. That photo and many others by Lockwood are included here.

With quiet wisdom, Gwen recounts her eight-year voyage of discovery—about swamp life, wildlife, and herself. A keen observer of both the natural world and the ways of human beings, she transports readers to an unfamiliar and exotic place, preserving her great adventure for those who did not make the trip in person.

"I [would write] in the stern of our red and green bateau while Calvin was running nets or lines from the bow. Since ink smears when it gets wet, I used pencils on a yellow legal pad propped against the black Mercury outboard motor. Whenever it was time for me to crank the motor and run us to the next line or net, I'd sit on the pad to keep it from blowing away. . . . During the writing process, we carried on our regular conversations. The stories are almost extensions of those conversations, rising and falling with our voices, capturing the essence of our daily lives like our elderberry wine captured the fragrance of April to be released again in October."—from the prologue

Gwen Roland, former editor for the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, continues to write about agriculture and self-sufficient lifestyles from her homestead in Georgia.

C. C. Lockwood is an award-winning natural history photographer who enjoys studying his subject over the course of at least one year through on-site living. Among his many other photography books are Around the Bend: A Mississippi River Adventure; Still Waters: Images, 1971-1999; The Alligator Book; and Marsh Mission: Capturing the Vanishing Wetlands, in cooperation with painter Rhea Gary. In 1978 he received the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography, and in 2000 he was voted a Louisiana Legend by Louisiana Public Broadcasting. He and his wife, Sue, live in Baton Rouge.

Audio Interview

Gwen Roland interviewed by All Things Considered

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