Down on the Batture
An extended meditation on a lively slip of river wilderness abutting the Mississippi River
The lower Mississippi River winds past the city of New Orleans between enormous levees and a rim of sand, mud, and trees called “the batture.” On this remote and ignored piece of land thrives a humanity unique to the region—ramblers, artists, drinkers, fishers, rabbit hunters, dog walkers, sunset watchers, and refugees from immigration, alimony, and other aspects of modern life.
Author Oliver A. Houck has frequented this place for the past twenty-five years. Down on the Batture describes a life, pastoral, at times marginal, but remarkably fecund and surprising. From this place he meditates on Louisiana, the state of the waterway, and its larger environs. He describes all the actors who have played lead roles on the edge of the mightiest river of the continent, and includes in his narrative plantations, pollution, murder, land grabs, keelboat brawlers, slave rebellions, the Corps of Engineers, and the oil industry.
Houck draws from his experience in New Orleans since the early 1970s in the practice and teaching of law. He has been a player in many of the issues he describes, although he does not undertake to argue them here. Instead, story by story, he uses the batture to explore the forces that have shaped and spell out the future of the region. The picture emerges of a place that—for all its tangle of undergrowth, drifting humanity, shifting dimensions in the rise and fall of floodwater—provides respite and sanctuary for values that are original to America and ever at risk from the homogenizing forces of civilization.
"Oliver Houck takes you down to the river, then out wading deep into it. To say his book is enjoyable to read is true but does it an injustice—it’s much more than simply fun. He opens your eyes into a part of the world most of us didn’t know exists, then helps you understand it—and everything else."- John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America
"This delightful book constructs a vivid portrait of a unique American landscape, each chapter as joyous and satisfying to read as the remarkable experiences it records. What emerges in these pages is the poet’s passion for language and the naturalist’s delight in wild places. Reading this book not only provides a detailed and perceptive understanding of the Mississippi River batture, but also offers a set of literary excursions as refreshing and insightful as an afternoon on Huck and Jim’s raft."- Barbara C. Ewell, coeditor (with Teresa A. Toulouse) of Sweet Spots: In-Between Spaces in New Orleans