monthly report 2002

Zach chillin' - thinking about his monthly reports

December 4, 2002

The Acadian World Congress (Congrès mondial acadien) held in New Brunswick in 1994 was an event of major importance for the French language movement in Louisiana. The Congrès mondial was the spark which set the fire under my renewed French language songwriting career. The excitement generated by that event and the commitment to defend the French language culture which it inspired was shared by all of us who attended. The Congrès mondial was the source from which many positive streams flowed, not the least of which was the founding of Action Cadienne.

Action Cadienne was founded in April 1996 for the purpose of defending and promoting the French language of Louisiana. At the same time, French immersion was beginning to become more widespread. French immersion is the last best hope of saving Cadien French. The implementation of the programs, however, is not without difficulty. In the face of the indifference of many and the hostility of others, French immersion suffers generally from a lack of understanding in the population at large. There are many misconceptions regarding its nature as well as its benefits. The program not only allows us to maintain the language that has been spoken in Louisiana from the founding of the colony in 1699, but, more importantly, is an educational method with proven results: the test scores of French immersion students on the standard English battery exams is well above the average. The lack of imagination and the short sighted policies of many local school boards, as well as the general lack of understanding about French immersion, have acted to impede the movement. In the face of this challenge, Action Cadienne set out to sensitize the community by explaining the benefits of French immersion. It is our hope to offer the choice of French immersion education to all of the school children of Cadien Louisiana.

In 1997, we began a series of “Réunions de village”, a town hall meeting format.
We would seek out parents of school age children who were open to the idea of French immersion. With their help, we organized an informal gathering to present information on the program in hopes of forming a local coalition which would in turn lobby the local school board. In some cases the plan worked, while in others our seed fell on barren ground. We became painfully aware of the lack of knowledge regarding Acadian history in the community at large. In the Louisiana history textbooks currently used in the public schools, there is no mention of the Acadian deportation, of the exile, nor of the founding of the Acadian community in Louisiana. It was very difficult to advance our cause without being able to inspire the community with a strong sense of cultural identity. Among those of us who are committed to preserving the language and culture, there exists a common experience which is directly linked to an understanding of the history of our ancestors. In order for us to inspire our neighbors to get involved with the effort to save the French language culture, we would have to educate them about their own history. What we needed to do was to communicate the same powerful emotion that all of us had felt in New Brunswick in 1994, a strong sense of attachment to our Acadian heritage.

By the summer of 1997, we realized that in order to provoke the consciousness necessary to inspire people to get involved, we needed to touch them on a very person level. The best method that we could imagine to do this was a television documentary dealing with the past, present and future of the Cadien community. And so my career as a debutant-amateur-not ready-for the-real-word-film-producer began.

Our first significant support came from the Lions Clubs of France. Jean-François Nys is an influential member of the Lions Club and a committed francophone. His passion for French culture brought him to Louisiana. With incredible generosity, the Lions Clubs of France gave us the financing necessary to get started. A committee was formed to oversee the project including the historians Carl Brasseaux, Barry Ancelet and myself. None of us had any idea what we were doing. With more luck than sense we began our film-making odyssey. During a visit with René Leger and Liane Roy of the National Acadian Society (Société Nationale des Acadiens) we learned of the existence of an important quantity of film stock. The US National Park Service had produced a short film entitled “Acadie Liberté” which dealt with the deportation of the Acadians. After a painstaking search we were finally able to locate the film stock in a warehouse in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. It reminded me of the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the end of the film when the Ark of the Covenant is packed away in a crate in the middle of hundreds of other crates in some lonely warehouse. In our case, with the help of Anne Tubiolo, the producer of the NPS film, we were able to get our hands on our own Ark of the Covenant, several hours of historical recreation depicting the deportation of the Acadians.

There were many other adventures during the production of Against the Tide. I came to believe that there was a mysterious benevolent force which was watching over the project. I identified this “force” as the spirit of my deported ancestors. We had no experience with film-making and no real reason to believe that we could find the funding for so ambitious a project, but, as in the case of the NPS footage, something always seem to come up which kept us on track and moving forward. However, by the beginning of 1998, the money from the Lions Clubs de France had been spent on development and we were nowhere near beginning to film. The spirit of the ancestors once again came to the rescue in the person of Steve May, newspaper publisher and descendant of deported Acadians, who was able to introduce me to Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Lieutenant governor of Louisiana and descendant of deported Acadians herself. The contribution of the Department of Tourism which she oversees was the missing link which allowed us to intiate production. A co-production agreement with Louisiana Public Broadcasting assured us the post production we would need. All we had left to do was to make the film.

From the beginning, I was very adamant about making two separate language versions. All of our interviewees were bilingual. All of our historical experts were bilingual. In fact, as fate would have it, all of the production crew was Cadien. I did not start out with a criteria of “ethnic purity” in the selection of my collaborators. It just worked out that way. Without insisting on the fact, I am proud that the documentary was produced by an all Cadien team. Beginning with our primary scholars Carl Brasseaux and Barry Ancelet. The director was Pat Mire, the script was written by Charles Richard, all Louisiana born and raised. What I think is noteworthy about this is that the film that was produced is from a Cadien point of view. There have been several portrayals of Cadien culture, many of which were not very flattering. With this project, we were able to tell our own story ourselves.

Although I was absolutely committed to doing two language versions, on the eve of the filming in the summer of 1998, I had come to the conclusion that to attempt to film both versions simultaneously was folly. Since we were shooting in 16mm, the logistics of handling two loads of film at the same time would have been extremely complicated if not impossible. The result would have been two disjointed films. And so, with much regret, we decided to concentrate on the English language version. Due to the nature of cultural diffusion in the United States, if I hoped to reach a Louisiana audience, the English version was the best means to achieve that end.

Against the Tide was an important success. It made its premier on Louisiana Public Broadcasting in the year 2000 and was broadcast on PBS stations around the country. It received the Best Historical Documentary Award in 2000 from the National Educational Television Authority. The impact in the Cadien community itself was significant. I would not go so far as to say that it changed overnight the way that Cadiens relate to their culture and to their French language heritage, but its effect was very positive and will continue to influence the community for years to come. In the domain of cultural identity, real change is slow in coming, but lasts for a long time. A quick change is often just a passing fancy. We are in the process of placing the documentary in the public schools so that the children of Louisiana can finally learn the part of their history whichis that of the deported Acadians who ended their exile in Louisiana.

Although very proud of the success of Against the Tide, I was none the less frustrated that we had not been able to produce a French language version. Once again the spirit of the ancestors intervened. From the beginning of the project, we had enjoyed the collaboration of francophone Canadians. René Leger and Liane Roy of the SNA had been instrumental in helping us obtain the NPS reenactment footage. We had been advised by André Gladu, québécois film-maker and long time friend. We had initially imagined a co-production with francophone Canadians, but the problems attendant upon cross border co-production were too complicated for us to resolve. From the initial stages of the project, Pierre Touchette, a Montréal based producer, had been involved. In spite of the fact that we were unable to create a production structure which included Canadian elements, Pierre continued to work in hopes of filming a French language version. His tenacity finally paid off and in August 2000, we began filming Contre vents, contre marées.

For the French version, due to the restrictions of Canadian production, we were obliged to create a new all-Canadian crew, but this constraint had a very positive effect on the production. The project was adapted to a francophone point of view. Significant changes were made in the approach which allowed us to revisit the story with a much more subjective style. Rather than recount the history of the Louisiana Cadiens, we were able not only to recount the history of the Louisiana Cadiens but also examine how this history is perceived from inside the culture. What we wound up with is not simply an adaptation of Against the Tide, but a film which stands on its own. There are several basic differences. Against the Tide is in a more classical documentary style. The story line is chronological. There is a narrator speaking to the camera. In Contre vents, contre marées, there is no on-camera narration, but rather a rolling commentary which is part history, part personal reflection. This approach is particularly successful with the French version since one of the primary themes we hoped to explore was the ability of the culture to survive in the face of tremendous assimilationist pressure. And how that makes Cadiens (us) feel. I love both versions for different reasons. Both are very moving and both give credit to the spirit of determination which characterized our forefathers and foremothers.

The production of Contre vents, contre marées required a whole new team. The direction was confided to Jean Boubonnais. Apart from being a dynamic young director of talent, Jean had just finished another piece on Louisiana, Vent Libre sur la Radio. His experience and his sensitivity to Cadien culture made him particularly well qualified. The script was written by Erik Charpentier. Erik is a Québécois author who has lived in Louisiana for the last eight years. His unique insight into the Cadien world gave the script a very profound edge. Our two “stars” were Barry Ancelet and Antonine Maillet, both of whom figured prominently in Against the Tide. This project allowed them not only to relate the history of the Acadians, but also to examine their personal relationship to the culture, to explore the principal themes of Cadien history not only as scholars, but also as participants.

On August 15, 2001, la Fête des Acadiens, Jean Bourbonnais joined me in Caraquet New Brunswick. I performed that evening and right after the show we ate a hasty meal at the local Chinese restaurant and drove off into the Acadian night cutting through the heart of New Brunswick like a knife. We were on a mission. The next morning we met the film crew in Moncton and headed back north to Bouctouche where we began filming with Antonine Maillet. Three days and hundreds of miles later we flew back to Montréal, our suitcases filled with film stock. We had planned to carry on in Louisiana a few weeks later during the Festival Acadien, scheduled for September 14. The events of September 11 forced us to change our plans.

At first it seemed impossible to replace the Festival Acadien. This event is the most important gathering of musicians playing in the Cadien tradition. It is a unique event in as much as it is the celebration of the culture in itself. In a calendar filled with festivals celebrating every important commodity in Louisiana, crawfish, sugar cane, cattle, rice, etc. the Festival Acadien stands apart since it is the celebration of the culture itself. It was difficult to imagine how we could replace it in our filming schedule. Finally I realized that it was not another festival which could replace Festival Acadian, but another gathering, more modest, but as important in its own way.

Every January, my neighbor and long time friend, Barry Ancelet, hosts a “cochon de lait”. It is his way of thanking the musicians and friends with whom he collaborates as host of the regular Saturday night radio show broadcast from the Liberty Theater in Eunice, and as the organizer of the Festival Acadien. Barry and Caroline Ancelet’s pig roast has become a tradition and is attended by many of the local musicians as well as most of the French militants in Louisiana. Barry has always refused to allow filming of the event, concerned that the intimacy and spontaneity of his party would be ruined by the intrusion of a film crew. I was able to convince him, however, that this time it was for the good of the cause.

We were blessed by the weather. Louisiana in January can be a muggy mess, but it can also be beautiful. For the week that we were filming, the spirit of the ancestors assured us nearly perfect weather. It might seem romantic to suggest that it was our ancestors who looked over our project, smoothing out the rough spots and guaranteeing us good weather, but I do believe that there was a guiding light, the hand of a positive force at play Perhaps it was simply that the desire to pay tribute to the resistance and determination of the deported Acadians allowed us to overcome the difficulties attendant in a film project. I did, however, often feel that somebody was watching over us and helping us along the way.

During the filming of Against the Tide, in Nova Scotia, we spent a day at Grand Pré, near Wolfville. I was very troubled by the thought of returning to Grand Pré. I had been there once in 1975 and the experience had been so difficult for me that I had sworn never to return. In the context of the film, however, there was no way around visiting the sight of the most important embarkation site during the deportation. I prepared myself for the return and arrived with peace of mind and forgiveness in my heart. The filming that day was flawless. There was not the least problem and everything went as though preordained. The sky was a beautiful blue without the trace of a single cloud. For the entire day, a pair of bald eagles floated overhead, never leaving us for a moment. I could not help but think that it was a sign from our ancestors telling us that they were proud that their story had finally been told.

November 6, 2002

Kyudo, the way of the Bow.

I have been meditating in what can be loosely described as in the Zen tradition for thirty years. It was in 1968 that I discovered the various arts which would influence my life. First of all there was music. Coming of age in the 60s, I was immersed in an extraordinarily rich musical culture. Besides songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, there was a plethora of groups, each breaking new ground in its own way. Amongst the most influential for me were the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, It’s a Beautiful Day, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Doors, as well as the blues oriented sounds of Elvin Bishop, Paul Butterfield and Johnny Winter. Directly linked to this musical effervescence was a parallel phenomenon that it nourished and was nourished by: Beat poetry. The musical culture of the 60s and 70s was certainly the most daring that I have known. In a whirlpool of experimentation, poetry and music were often intermingled. I am thinking about the recordings of the Doors, and of Tim Buckley as well as the collaboration between “folk singers” and “beatnik poets”.

I met Allen Ginsberg once in the spring of 1969. He had come to speak at the university at which I was performing my own counter-cultural experiments and writing my first songs. He did a reading in a small theater, seated Hindu style on the floor, accompanying himself on the harmonium. The afternoon of the reading, I had seen him on the quadrangle, lounging on the grass playing his instrument. He was alone. I sat next to him without waiting for an invitation. We passed the afternoon together. He spoke to me about meditiation and gave me my first Buddhist mantra. I am not sure if I had meditatied before that time, but ever since that spring day in 1969, I have been practicing seated meditiation.

I have never had a teacher. My experience with the Catholic religion turned me away from any form of spiritual submission. One of the most important precepts of the counter-culutre was resistance to authority, whether religious, political or parental. In Buddhist philosophy, one is encouraged to seek one’s own path. We are told that absolute truth does not exist and even if it did, we could not know it. What one is encouraged to do is to sit and concentrate on one’s breathing. Quite a shift in direction from altar boy. What I find particularly seductive about Zen Buddism is the integration of the physical and the spiritual. In Western religions there is a separation and even a conflict between the spiritual and the physical. In Zen, however, the spirit is achieved via the flesh; the study of the spirit is achieved through seated meditation and the observation of one’s own breathing. Western religion, on the other hand, treats the body as a savage beast to be controlled. The guilt attached to sexuality was the primary cause which incited me to abandon the Catholic precepts which had framed my childhood. With Buddhism, I discovered a way of expressing my spirituality which was not based on guilt and repression. What Buddism has encouraged me to do is to seek to understand my true nature through the practice of Zazen.

It seems appropriate to me that the biggest influence on my spritual development was a poet. Gary Snyder is the most important influence on my poetics, but his poetry, particularly early on, had an importance to me that went well beyond a litterary style. He spoke of simple things, deer shit on a forest trail, lichen growing by the side of a mountain stream. This approach is quintessentially oriental, quintessentially Zen. Thanks to Snyder, I discovered the poetry that resides in everything. He helped me to see the beauty in even the most commun things, particularly those of the natural world. Thanks to Snyder I also discovered Japanese and Chinese poetry, particularly the magnificent translations by Kenneth Rexroth (One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, New Directions publishing), and the marvelous poetry of Tu Fu (T’ang Dynasty 713-770A.D.) who is the one of the greatest poets of all time (my personal top five: Gary Snyder, Tu Fu, Basho, Allen Ginsberg, William Butler Yeats, not necessarily in that order). The expression of the inexpressible through the description of the most simple things in the most direct fashion is the essence of Haiku, and the heart of Zen.

Without a teacher (I am what is known as Pratyeka, one who seeks without a master) I have followed my path through periods of Zen practice and negligence of Zen practice. Self taught, I have gained my little knowledge through books: Teisen Deshimaru, Dainin Katagiri, Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) and the very helpful “Zen Training” by Katsuki Sekida. Many of the books which deal with Zen speak about its philosophy, which is quite abstract and, as far as I am concerned, impossible to understand, at least in the traditional sense. This book, however, is a how-to manuel and it explains the basic technique of meditation, how to sit, how to breathe, what to do. For a student without a teacher, this book is a God-send.

During that influential spring of 1969, I read “Zen and the Art of Archery” by Eugen Herrigel, a German philosopher who began the practice of Kyudo in Japan as a means of understanding Zen. The book is part of my library, put away with a host of others, the contents of many of which I can no longer recall. I did remember, however, that archery is employed in Japan by monks as a meditation practice. One day, leaving a vegetarian restaurant on St. Denis in Montréal, a pamphlet caught my eye. On its cover was a drawing of an archer, done in the very powerful uncluttered style of Zen painting. The inscription read: “Kyudo, the Way of the Bow.” I was sufficently intrigued to attend a demonstration evening, and sufficently seduced to pass an initiation which consisted of learing how to shoot.

Everything about Kyudo was seductive to me. First of all the style. The bow (Yumi) is tall (nearly seven feet) and assymetrical, of laminated bamboo with a hardwood core. All of the objects, the glove (Gake), the uniform (Hakama,Obi and Doji), the target (Makewara) and the arrows (Ya) are of a simple elegance characteristic of japanese art. But even more seductive is the philosophy. We are told that our teacher is our Bow, and so it is the Yumi that teaches us the Way. The goal is not to strike a bull’s eye, in fact there are no markings at all on the target which is usually made of hay or rice straw, but rather to polish one’s mind. The practice is not primarily to develop one’s skill as an archer (there is no spirit of competition) but to deepen one’s understanding and to strenghten one’s discipline in order to go farther along the Path.

With the arrival of firearms brought to Japan by the Portugese in the 16th century, archery became a thing of the past from a military standpoint. Buddist monks began to employ the Bow in the practice of meditation. The school which I follow is that of Onyumishi Kanjuro Shibata who is the twentieth in his line of master archers and bow makers. He is the first to bring the study to the United States, a sort of modern day Bodhidarma, bamboo bow in hand. In 1980 at the invitation of the Honorable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Buddist leader in the tibetan style, Kanjuro Shibata came to North America to teach Kyudo. He founded the Ryuko Kyudojo (Dojo of the Dragon-Tiger) in Boulder Colorado, associated with the Naropa Institute. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche had come to America at the invitation of Allen Ginsberg. Small world.

This summer I had the privilege of meeting the Sensei (master) during a program in Montréal. Sensei spends a great deal of his time travelling throughout America and Europe, visiting the various dojos that he has founded. He has been assisted for several years by Sam West, an American, originally from the Pacific Northwest, who has dedicated himself to Kyudo and to Kanjuro Shibata Sensei. During the program, Sensei remained seated, observing the students, making a remark now and again, encouraging, correcting. He speaks a pidgin Japanese English, which Sam translates for the students. The things that Sensei says are simple and effective, like to path of an arrow well shot.

The first thing Sensei stressed was the importance of “heart”. He encouraged us to shoot, to act, to live with “heart”. He pointed frequently to his chest saying, “Number one, heart.” Another thing which struck me was Sensei’s explanation of the three precepts: Shi, Jin, Yu. Shi means to listen to others with an open heart, to listen without imposing one’s own point of view. Jin means to do for others without thought of personal gain. Yu means determination, something that Sensei illustrated by grinding his teeth together, his jaw shut tight. He attaches a great deal of importance to determination, never giving up. Kyduo is practically impossible. It is the search for enlightenment through a series of unusual and difficult movements by which one attempts to integrate one’s mind and spirit into the present moment. It is nothing other that meditation with a bow in hand. Determination is absolutely necessary if one hopes to progress. It is said that it takes ten years to know how to hold the Yumi. During the question period, responding to the various questions of the Kyudoka (apprentices), Sensei would often reply by in turn asking how long the questioner had been practicing. The response would often illicit a sigh “Ah so”, which I took to mean that the kyudoka would himself find the answer to his question in time. If he or she practices with Yu, with determination.

After one year of practice, I can say that I have made much progress. I can also say that I have a long way to go before acheiving enlightenment (ha!). I can manipulate the Yumi and Ya well enough to have the arrow fly, and I can do the seven basic coordinations without getting lost. It is altogether another matter to shoot with concentration, observing without reaction the exterior and the interior. To achieve enlightenment will take more time (ha!). The idea seems pretentious and makes me laugh. I hope only to continue my practice with elegance and determination and to acquire therefore a little harmony with myself. As the Zen masters say, “to seek enlightenment is to waste one’s time. A Kyudo saying states, ”One arrow, one life”. It is also said that one should “push the stone in the direction it wants to go.” And that “To enjoy the summit, you must first climb the mountain.”

October 2, 2002

My relationship with the Cadien/Cajun musical tradition is problematic. Problematic because complex and tending to the paradox. I am a singer songwriter associated due to my commitment and my style to a musical tradition that I find both incredibly rich and terribly limited. If this seems hard to understand, I admit I have trouble understanding it myself. In this marketing world where every item of culture is categorized in order to better target the demographic group most likely to buy the product, I have always been hard to pigeon hole. I am a bilingual songwriter of Cadien-american heritage with a “roots” tendency. Singing in French primarily. Last time I checked the record bins, there still was not a corresponding category. My relationship with the music itself is as complicated. I have been and continue to be inspired by the French music of Louisiana, what is called “Cajun” and “Zydeco” music, but I am not a traditional musician in the classic sense. I play Cajun accordion and have spent a lot of time playing in dance halls in Louisiana, but my repertoire is of my own composition and pretty far away from what is commonly considered to be traditional “Cajun” music. As the Chinese say: Swimming against the stream makes the alligators smile.

The music which influenced me most was that of the late 60s: Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkle. Growing up, I knew nothing about the French musical tradition of Louisiana. It was not until I recorded my first album in New York in 1973 (High Time), a primarily English language folk-rock album, that I discovered the musical heritage of my own culture. With part of the advance money from the record contract, I bought a diatonic “Cajun” accordion. The acquisition of that instrument propulsed me into the world of Louisiana French music. I discovered the old tunes not from a family member or an acquaintance, but through the recordings. In 1972, I spent six months learning how to play the diatonic accordion. With the passion of the newly converted, I plunged into the study of Cadien music, a passion which was fueled by the discovery of what is my own ethnic heritage. To me, Louisiana French music was not only a captivating style, but also brick in the wall of my own identity. Playing Cajun music in Louisiana in the early 70s was a cultural commitment with political overtones. It was the manifestation of my new found identity as a Cadien, a Louisiana born, French speaking descendant of the deported Acadians. The music was attached to the culture and to the language. I did not perceive of the music as an end in itself, but as a tool for the preservation of the cultural heritage. Which is not to say that the music was merely the means to an end. The music inspired and continues to inspire me with its passion and its beauty, but there was and is another dimension to the music for me and that is that by playing it, we are resisting not only its demise but the demise of the culture and the language to which it is attached. Certainly I was touched by the recordings of Aldus Roger, Ambrose Thibodeaux and especially Ira Lejeune, but I did not aspire to merely interpret their songs as I would a Lead Belly or a Pete Seeger song. The Cadien musical tradition was the springboard for my own expression, for the creation of my own music which was and continues to be deeply rooted in the French experience of Louisiana. In that sense, Cadien music is as much a literary as a purely musical influence on my songwriting.

From the beginning, I have been criticized by the purists. I was told of the reaction of one of my collegues who upon hearing my first French language album for the first time reacted by throwing the album across the room, and exclaiming: “This ain’t Cajun, this ain’t country, this ain’t rock and roll. This is bull shit!”. My ability to aggravate the folk-nazis has always been a source of satisfaction. I am allergic to any notion of purity in popular music, especially in a tradition as porous as that of Louisiana French music. I have no patience with a tendency among certain elements of the general public to impose sectarian criteria upon music. What I attempted to do by bringing the accordion and the fiddle into a rock context was to create a new expression, a fusion, a métissage, of the musical heritage of my culture and the music of my generation. I do not know if I achieved anything by trying, but at least I had a lot of fun.

I purchased my first accordion from Marc Savoy, a beautiful Brazilian rosewood trimmed in ivory and silver. But I knew no-one who knew how to play. In my small town, I heard that Félix Richard had played the accordion. Like many musicians in Louisiana, Mr. Félix had given up playing to raise a family. His ten children demanded sufficient attention so that his playing was confined to a dark corner in the attic of his past and covered with the dust of half a lifetime. But the flame still burned inside. When I went to see him for the first time, it had been thirty years since he had held an accordion. We knew each other, living in a small town, but although we shared the same last name, we were not closely related. I had seen Mr. Félix at the barbershop or in church, but that was it. He accepted to teach me. But in order to teach me, he had to relearn himself. He took my accordion that first time, holding it carefully. He began to draw the bellows, hesitantly at first, but as the afternoon wore on, he became more and more at ease. The songs began to pour out as though the dam that had held them back for thirty years had come smashing down, letting loose a flood of music.

I began to visit Mr. Félix every Sunday. It became our own tradition. He would play my accordion and I would watch his fingers fly over the buttons, trying to memorize every move. Impossible task. In spite of years of neglect. the music poured out from his heart like water from a geyser. After he finished a song, he would rock back, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. He would chuckle and push on a big sigh as if to say, “Boy, that’s a good one”.

Félix Richard’s father, Kaliste Richard, had been a well know accordion player, and most of Félix’s repertoire was inherited from him. But Félix brought his own personal touch. Félix Richard was a big man, in size and spirit. He had a high forehead and a Roman nose, inherited, he said, from his ancestors Allendez, the Spanish side of the family. When he played, his gaze was that of a hunting hawk, but he had a heart of gold. He gave us lessons every Sunday, never asking anything in return. He was flattered by the attention and proud that young people were interested in his music.

It wasn’t very long before Mr. Félix got his own accordion. It was a “Petit Noir”, a “Little Black One”, a model common before WWII and so prized today. Where he found it I never knew. With his accordion, and surrounded by his sons, Sterling and Kenneth, at the age when most people retire, he began a new career, or rather he took up his musical career where he had left it half a life time ago. He began to play dances and to travel out of state. He never recorded, having an old time mistrust of the music business and a primitive desire to take everything with him when he finally departed. He died in 1993.

Four years after I visited Mr. Félix for the first time, Horace Trahan was born in Vatican, about five miles south of Félix Richard’s home. At sixteen years old, Horace became interested in Cadien music and decided to play the accordion, a curious choice for someone of the heavy metal generation. But a choice made less curious by time. As others had done before him, Horace beat a path to Mr. Félix’s door and asked that he teach him how to play. Dying from cancer and in constant pain, Félix Richard was able to pass on his music to yet another young musician. Horace would show up and Mr. Félix, weak from the disease, would pick up his “barloque” and teach the young man a new tune.

When my neighbor and friend, Barry Ancelet, asked that I play in tribute to Félix Richard at this year’s Festival Acadien, I did not hesitate for a second. Pay back part of the debt I owe. We rehearsed twice, Michael Doucet, Kenneth Richard, Horace Trahan and myself, playing the standard tunes from Mr. Félix’s repertoire. Horace explained to me that the purists are on his case for having crossed the frontier between the Cadien and Zydeco styles, attempting to stake out a new musical territory. The tradition lives on. I am very proud that a new generation has found a way to piss off the folk-nazis. For this show, however, the purists could not have been better served. We played in the style of Mr. Félix, with respect for the master. Horace Trahan, among the new breed accordion players, is the one whose style most closely resembles that of Mr. Félix. On stage we were joined by Tammy Richard, Mr. Félix’s daughter, and by his grand-son. The emotion was very powerful. While we were playing, in the sticky part of a very warm Sunday afternoon, suddenly, the sky clouded over and a brisk breeze blew out of the North. A gust of wind lifted the dust and for a moment it seemed like we were in for a thundershower. But as quick as the wind blew up, it suddenly died down, leaving us behind in a moist calm. Mr. Félix had passed. He was telling us that he was proud.

September 3, 2002

2nd of 2 parts. From a point of view both social and historic, the difference between an Acadian and a Québécois is that the Québécois is of a people conquered, while the Acadian is of a people deported. The treaty of Paris which ended the 7 Years War (French and Indian War) and effectively ended French presence in North America, guaranteed the territorial integrity of the French settlers of Canada (Québec). On the other hand, the Acadians were not granted the right to occupy their lands for the simple reason that those lands were now in the hands of British settlers (from New England for the most part and whose participation in the military operation was rewarded by their subsequent acquisition of the lands of the deported Acadiens). There was no possibility for the Acadians to reintegrate the lands they had occupied before the war. This historical distinction explains much about the difference in attitudes between the Québécois and the Acadians today.

After the conquest of 1759, the rights to property, to the practice of their religion and to the maintainence of their language in official discourse, were all confirmed for the French Canadians (Québécois). Regarding their property rights, the French legal system, as opposed to English common law, was preserved to the chagrin of the newly arrived English settlers. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, however, the 1500 Acadians remaining in the territory were granted only the right to remain, to re-settle new lands. Although they were no longer hunted down by the British rangers as they had been during the war, their situation remained precarious; they were permitted to remain, but obliged to recolonize the least fertile and least attractive lands. The confidence enjoyed by the Québécois, that of being able to maintain their installations, in spite of the British military dominance, was unknown to the Acadiens. The Québécois remained in possession of their lands. With the memory of the deportation hovering over the small communities like the smoke from a house fire, the Acadians were a long way from feeling secure. The traumatism of the deportation is a fundamental part of the Acadian character and its effects are still felt today. It is easy to understand the “bon-ententisme”, of the Acadiens, the willingness to compromise and to get along with their Anglo neighbors in light of this very difficult heritage.

The rate of assimilation in the French speaking Acadien community of New Brunswick is 30%, the least important rate of all of the French speaking communities in North America outside of Québec. In spite of this being the “least important rate of assimilation” the number is catastrophic. The Acadian community of Nova Scotia is in a much more fragile situation, containing approximately 10 times less population as that of New Brunswick (300,000 Acadiens in New Brunswick). It is easy to criticize the Acadian parents in Nova Scotia who prefer that their children be educated in English, contributing therefore the demise of their own language culture. But their situation is far from clear cut. The Acadian parents are doing what parents do, attempting to give to their children the greatest opportunity and the best education possible. Unfortunately they cannot concieve of the possibility of as bright a future for their children in French as they can in English. That is none the less the reality, one which the Québécois can hardly imagine.

Before accepting to play Canada Day (La Fête du Canada), I consulted my entire entourage. I was very reluctant to accept (see last month’s report) and was particularly sensitive to the perception of my Québécois friends. The band and crew who are nearly all Québécois (Lina Boudreau is Acadienne) and certainly separatist at heart, expressed no problem. They were happy to get the work. My agent, who is Québécois and an avowed separatist had proposed the job. A chance to get some of the Federal government’s money, he said. As far as my Acadian friends, they had no qualms and wondered why I should hesitate for a second. Finally, I consulted my father, who is American like me and a devoted French language militant. He told me that I should be proud to be the first non-Canadian ever to play La Fête du Canada, especially since Canada had been so helpful to our country during the September 11 crisis. In fact I am the first non-Canadian citizen to play the event. I should point out that I sang in French (apart for one song) and addressed the crowd in French and come out as militant a francophone as I went in.

Since my return to Québec five years ago, I have never been invited to play La Fête de la Saint-Jean, the Québécois national holiday. I certainly did not accept playing for Canada Day to spite the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste, but I admit frustration at never having been offered to play. It would seem that the main reason for this is the fact that I am not “pure breed” Québécois. Unfortunately there exists in some quarters of the separatist movement a close minded spirit bordering on the xenophobic. This saddens me greatly. If Québec is to maintain its identity, if it is to thrive and prosper as opposed to wither and die, it will need to open its doors to the world.

The relationship between Québec and the other French language communities in North America in general and in Canada in particular is problematic. The Québécois are confronted with a dilemma: to resolve their support of the French language in North America (and therefore the French speaking communities outside of Québec) with their effort to protect the integrity of their own territorial culture. There is a serious feud in the French North American family, for which I can see no resolution. The national aspirations of the Québécois are in direct opposition of the aspirations of the other French communities in Canada who are terrified at the prospect of an independant Québec abandoning the less that one million French speakers who would remain in the Canadian confederation. Divide and conquer.

I have the bitter memory of a vicious argument between the Québecois poet Gaston Miron and the Acadien author Antonine Maillet. Perhaps the two most important French language writers of their generation having at each other on the question of Québec independance. The difference between a conquered people and a people deported played out by two gifted writers in a spiteful argument.

During the 1970s, there was a nationalist political party among the Acadians, Le Parti Acadien. It was never able to elect a single deputy. The people were not inspired by the ideal of an independant Acadie. The reality of such seemed so far away as to be impossible. A deported people in the minority. At the same time, the Parti Québécois was consolidating its power and implementing the social gains in what has come to be called “La Revolution Tranquille”, the quiet revolution. A conquered people, but one which maintains an overwhelming majority on its territory.

I did finally accept to play Canada Day and run the inevitable gauntlet of separatist opinion. I sang for all of the French speaking people of Canada, with no distinction and for the English Canadians as well. I was none the less very aware of the symbolism of the event. Possible scenarios: “Militant American francophone sings at the event which marks the submission of the French race in Canada to honor the French speaking people of North America including those of Québec who will denounce him for participating in an event celebrating the confederation dominated by the descendants of their conquerors”. Or, “ American French language singer sings for the closest ally of his own country”. Or, “ French language singer celebrates the country of Canada which is the last best hope for the preservation of the French culture in North America”. Pretty complicated. There is a final interpretation: “Ass hole traitor sings for money”. Canada Day is certainly a big payday. Government money, and so therefore partially Québec money. I am not ashamed to say it. After all I am still a nephew of my Uncle Sam.

In that evening so charged with symbolism, the repercusssions of which are still and will continue to ricochet around my head for a good while to come, there is one image which stands out. The stage on which we were playing was located at the bottom of a pretty steep hill. The spectators were sitting on the side of the hill looking down. Behind me, at the back of the stage, was a sign proclaiming “La Fête du Canada” complete with maple leaves, a sort of Canadian flag in disguise. Facing me the entire time, dominating the whole scene, perched atop the museum which dominates the hill and flying in the wind, was the fleurs de lys in blue and white, the flag of Québec. It stayed in my eye the whole time.

July 31, 2002

Ô Canada. In the Journal de Québec on July 2, the day after my performance at Canada Day, the film maker Pierre Falardeau was quoted as saying that any artist who performed for Canada Day was a “solopard”, which translates roughly somewhere between “ass hole” and “dirty rat”. Pierre Falardeau is known for not mincing his words particularly when it concerns the question of Québec independence. I cannot say that I disagree with him. The Canadian confederation was conceived to, or at least had the effect of reducing the French speaking population to minority status. Beginning with the conquest of 1759 through the Act of Union, the Act of Confederation itself and all the way to Lake Meech debacle of recent memory, the English political strategy has been to dominate the French speaking population. For many French speaking Québécois, to celebrate Canada Day is to celebrate English domination, or more appropriately, French submission. The question is then why would I, militant Francophone that I am, accept to play in this context. In this report as well as the following, I will attempt to explain my thinking relative to Québec sovereignty and the situation of French speaking minorities in North America.

My sentiments are with the separatists. Were I Québécois, I would most likely be counted in their number and probably amongst the most hard core. But I am not Québécois and my own identity as a French speaking North American is rooted in a reality which is completely different from that of Québec. From a point of view defined by the territory of Québec, the Canadian Act of Confederation created a political entity within which French speakers were considerably weakened as a political force. The Act of Union, implemented in 1841, weakened their situation viz-à-viz the English community, and the coup de grace came in 1865 when all of the British colonies in North America were combined within the same government. What strikes me is that the central issue throughout process was money and the control of money This fundamental question, however, is easily camouflaged by the sentimentality attached to the question of culture.

The political establishment has recently been shaken in Québec with the by-election victories of the ADQ (Action Démocratique du Québec). Both traditional parties suffered at the hands of this new upstart party which had until recently only one deputy in the provincial assembly. The consensus is that the voters are simply fed up with the never ending sovereignty debate and the constitutional rut into which the traditional parties (Liberal and Parti Québécois) have fallen. The voters seem to be saying that enough is enough. The message for the political class is that the priorities for the government should be the economy, education and health care. What is clear is that the question of governance most important to the electorate is not the creation of a new state, but rather the quality of life It seems to me that those very fundamental social questions have always been at the heart of the conflict between the two ethnic groups in Canada. Whether during the period leading up to the rebellion of 1837, or at the present time, control of finances and the attendant power, has always been at the heart of the conflict. The dream of an independent Québec, a state within which the French language and culture of North America would be presumably preserved forever, is very inspiring, but outweighed by the dream of making money and keeping control of it. According to my Federalist Québécois friends, the referendums on sovereignty were defeated because the Parti Québécois could never prove that an idependant Québec would not be in deep shit economically. This uncertainty diminished the enthusiasm that many Québécois feel naturally for an independent state. The Federalists, on the other hand, believe that the French language and culture can be maintained without compromising economic security and that in the context of the Canadian confederation. The separatists do not agree. They believe that the French speaking Québécois will never control their own destiny, nor preserve their language and culture without an independent state. Let’s examine the history.

At the conquest of 1759, a population of approximately 85,000 French were ruled by the English military of a few hundred persons. Following on the heels of the army were the merchants. The English merchants controlled the commerce of Québec (then called Canada) and were fundamentally opposed to the French culture. Following the conquest, the two antagonistic ethnic groups were obliged to find a means of cohabitation. The French population could not get rid of their English rulers, nor could the English rid themselves of the French people (as they had done in Acadie). This conflict is the very essence of the Canadian national character. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. The English, as the conquering power, hoped to impose their legal, linguistic and even religious culture on their newly conquered population, but they were confronted with a people established in the territory for 150 years and which they could not imagine eliminating without provoking the absolute ruin of the country.

The French people of Canada were saved simply by their overwhelming numbers relative to the English. The constitution of Canada of 1791, written in London, insured the survival of the French community and its national character. There was simply no way around it. Both the laws governing property, fundamentally French as opposed to English common law, and the Catholic religion were untouched, and untouchable in Lower Canada (Québec). Upper Canada (Ontario) was, on the other hand, English in every sense. The only problem was that there were hardly any people, English or otherwise, in Upper Canada. To counter the influence of the French, the method relied upon was immigration. From the period of the conquest forward, the means to insure the supremacy of English culture and language in Canada has been to drown the French in a sea of English immigrants.
The period leading up to the rebellion of 1837 was characterized in Lower Canada by a constant struggle between the governor and the French dominated Assembly. For years, the governor, frustrated by the deputies’ constant refusal to approve the funds necessary for the conduct of his government (they insisted on a line item control), would dissolve the Assembly. This would require new elections during which the voters would return essentially the same deputies who came back to the Assembly with renewed vigor, ever more determined to resist the governor. This vicious cycle terminated in an armed rebellion, La Geurre de Patriotes, which did not last long and was squashed relatively easily, but which has left a rancor which persists in the French community still.

The history of the Patriotes is pretty sad. The people who fought at Saint Denis, Saint Charles or Saint Eustache were, in spite of their courage, badly organized and poorly led. It’s hard to resist the comparison with the American revolution of 1776. The Patriotes, for all of the devotion to the cause of liberty, did not posses an organization sufficient enough to carry out a long term rebellion against the military power that was England. The undisputed leader of the Patriotes was Louis Joseph Papineau. In the Assembly, he fanned the flames of national passion with an eloquence which has became legendary. On battlefield, however, once the fireworks started, he ran the other way. Once the rebellion had failed, he fled to the U.S. and carefully avoided any public gatherings, living under an assumed name. We have to wonder whether the history of the rebellion would have been different had Papineau had the physical courage to match his oratory. Probably not, but certainly the cause of the Patriotes was hampered by ineffective military leadership.

There is not much evidence of the rebellion today. There is a Patriote museum. Several films have been made about the rebellion (including the most recent by Pierre Falardeau). At Saint Eustache, you can still see the bullet holes in the stone wall of the church left by English bullets. There is even a beer called 1837 dedicated to the memory of the Patriotes killed on the field of battle or executed thereafter. Several names are listedon the label and it bears a dedication to the “heroes who gave their lives for liberty and their country”. Can’t help but wonder what the Patriotes would think of this.

On top of these vestiges of the rebellion, and of much more consequence, is a vivid feeling of oppression, a sort of ever burning patriotic ember, in a part of the Québecois community. I emphasize that it is only a part of the community that feels this way. This aspect of the national-cultural identity of the Québécois is the most difficult to understand and probably the most difficult to endure. I do believe that every Québécois is painfully aware of the history of his or her people. The way in which they choose to live with this reality is, however, the great divide and that which prevents, has prevented and perhaps will always prevent the Québécois from finding a national consensus on the question of sovereignty. It seems to me that Québec society is divided into three fairly equal parts: the hard core separatists, the hard core federalists, and the rest of the people who float between the two extremes. The result of the 1995 referendum indicates the extent of the division. There could not have been a vote closer that the outcome of that referendum on sovereignty, but that division is as much a part of the national character of Québec as is the French-English conflict is part of the national character of Canada.

The French speaking population of Canada following the conquest of 1759 had a very ambiguous relationship with their English rulers. The French Canadians were able to maintain their property, their religion and their language. For many French Canadians (all of the Canadians were French at that time), the change of rule from the King of France to the King of England did not mean very much. Although certainly not pleased with the loss of North America, in cannot be said that the King of France been particularly devoted to Nouvelle France, and for many French Canadians at the time, the conquest brought no real difference to their lives. Even during the rebellion of 1837, the French community was hardly unanimous. The clergy, apart from a few exceptions, was firmly on the side of the ruling power to the point of refusing communion to any and all who participated in the rebellion. This division within the French community had always existed and has always prevented the community from acting as a whole regarding the question of national identity. Writing about the Act of Confederation itself, historian Jean-Paul Bernard has analyzed the votes of the deputies of Lower Canada. Among the 49 deputies representing majority French speaking counties, 25 voted for and 24 against the Confederation. Pretty evenly split. During all of the history from the conquest forward, there have been Québecois who have been opposed unconditionally to the English domination. And there have been as many who have dealt with and profited from their relation with the English. For those who remain opposed, however, Canada Day remains an aggravation.

Following the rebellion of 1837, the English government sent Lord Durham to investigate. Although he was very sensitive to the French community, his report was
disastrous for the French population. One could not find better proof of the arrogance of the English during the building of their empire. Durham’s point of view was that the problem of Canada could only be solved by the assimilation of the French or at least their reduction to minority status. This report was the basis for the Canadian national state of today. The outcome of the report was the Act of Union which went into effect on February 10, 1841. The revenue and the debt of both Lower and Upper Canada were fused. This measure was unfavorable to Lower Canada (the French) in as much as the debt of Upper Canada was much greater. In the newly created Assembly, Lower and Upper Canada were given an equal number of deputies in spite of the fact that the population of Lower Canada was much greater. The strategy of Lord Durham founds its application in the linguistic policy of the new government. All publication of the Assembly had to be in the English language only. A translation of any “official business” could be made into French, but this translation was not to be kept in the official record and would have no authenticity as an official document. The domination of the English language and culture would be furthered during the 19th and 20th centuries by the Canadian policy of immigration. Thousands of English speaking immigrants would arrive from Europe, many of them transported by the Canadian government itself, during a period that found thousands of Québécois immigrating to the U.S. because conditions were so bad in Québec.

I finish this report with part of the Durham report. It speaks for itself. In reading, you will perhaps understand why the constitutional question still provokes such a passionate debate in Québec.

“If the British government wishes to maintain its authority over the two Canadas, it must rely upon the English population. The French Canadians are but the residue of an ancient colonization. They are destined to remain isolated in the midst of an Anglo-Saxon world. And the French Canadian nationality, are we to preserve it for the unique benefit of this people, even if we could? I know of no other national distinction which constitutes a more irremediable inferiority. The language, the laws and the character of Nord America are English. Any other race than the English will remain in a state of inferiority. It is in order to draw them from this inferiority that we wish to give to all Canadians our English character.”

July 3, 2002

Aldo. The first time that I met Aldo Pedron was during the Nyon (Switzerland) folk festival of 1978. We arrived at the festival something like Hottentots on 5th Avenue, not knowing what awaited us, nor exactly how to behave. For the first time on tour, I was able to offer myself the pleasure of a big band. There were seven of us on stage: bass, drums, two guitars, two horns and myself. However, the excitement that I felt playing with a horn section was not shared by the audience.

In those days, the style of music one preferred was not only a question of culture, but also one of politics. One’s musical taste was to a large extent, determined by one’s view of society, and this was especially true of the folk movement in Europe. The folk music culture in Europe in the 70s was seeking a return to the roots, and the folk music fans were not only rabidly anti rock and jazz, but also vehemently opposed to nuclear power and electricity.

I will never be able to forget the reception we received at Nyon. From the very first note, the audience began to whistle, which in Europe is a sign of disdain. I knew this, but the players, Louisiana home boys all, had never been outside of the Bayou State and did not catch on right away. At first they though that the audience loved us. Whistling is a sign of great approval in the good ole USA, but not in Switzerland. I knew we were in trouble, but the band played on, perfectly oblivious to what was really going on. However, since the whistling did not stop, neither between nor during the songs, everybody soon realized that something was wrong. When the audience began to throw things at us, we all knew there was a problem.

It began to rain small change and bottle corks. Happily there were no fruits nor vegetables in the hall, because we would have received them as well. The fourth song of the set was a reggae version of “Allons danser Colinda”. Since the tempo was relatively slow and the feel of the song very laid back, the crowd had plenty of chance to manifest their disapproval. We were finally driven from the stage in a storm of cat calls and whistling.

At that moment, Claude, my partner and manager, insisted that we return to the stage to play our most energetic number. We took a deep breath and jumped back in front of the hostile crowd to play the meanest version of “Johnny B. Goode” that I have ever played. Half of the audience got up and left, and the other half was, from that moment, eating out of our hands.

It was an incredible evening. After running the gauntlet of that very aggressive audience, we played with wild inspiration. And the crowd itself, those who stayed in the hall, were transported. They began to applaud wildly, screaming their joy. This was our last stop in a European tour that had lasted too long. We had gone across the continent leaving behind a trail of empty beer bottles and wrecked hotel rooms. After the Nyon show, we drove all night, straight to the airport in Paris and flew to Montréal. Once we arrived in Québec, we immediately drove eight hours to Notre Dame du Nord where the lighting scaffolds fell on the band during the show. Certainly the toughest few days of my career. But also among the most memorable.

Coming off stage in Nyon, I met a timid fellow. He was acting like a stray dog, unsure of whether to approach me or turn and run away. “Hello, my name is Aldo”, he said, with a thick Italian accent. He had driven up from his village in Tuscany to see the show. I don’t know how he had found out about us. At that time, I had released only one album and that in French. Somehow the news had penetrated the Italian countryside, and Aldo had become one of my biggest fans.

Through the years, I got to know Aldo better. Each time that I play in Italy, there he is. He is a great music lover, passionate about his three idols: Van Morrisson, The Beach Boys and me. With a devotion which is very European, he has become a connaisseur of Zachary Richard. His discography of my recordings is more complete than my own, and when I need information about a particular recording session of mine or the line up of a particular tour, I ask Aldo.

And so my Italian friend has written a new book on Louisiana music. It is a book that I highly recommend to all who are interested in the musical culture of the Bayou State. Aldo certainly knows more about Louisiana music than most everybody in Louisiana, maybe more than anybody in the world. So if you are interested in the music of my home state, pick up a copy. It helps if you can read Italian, but if you can’t, don’t worry, just do what I do: call Aldo.

Guide Rock, New Orleans e Louisiana
Carmelo Genovese & Aldo Pedron
Editori Riuniti

May 29, 2002

La miroise. I began to be seriously interested in bird-watching about eight years ago. One crisp clear autumn day, from my back porch, I saw a large hawk, battle ship grey, floating about six feet off the ground. Fascinated by what I had seen, I rushed to a book store and got myself a bird guide, the famous Peterson. The bird that I had seen was a marsh hawk, or northern harrier. The guide explained that this method of hunting very close to the ground was characteristic of the species. In addition, the guide listed the bird’s vocalizations, its territory and several other details useful in identifying. In this particular case, the thing to look for was a large white patch on the rump. Thumbing through the guide, I was amazed by the diversity and sheer numbers of the birds. On that day, I became an bird-watcher, what is called a “miroiseur” in Québec. Satisfied with neither the traditional French term “ornithologue” (ornitholigist), nor the English term “birder”, the Québécois have coined a new term incorporating the verb “mirer” to view or target, and the first syllable of “oiseau” (bird).

My love of nature has made me many good friends. Last summer we were in Hull, Québec for a festival. As is my habit, I asked the receptionist at the hotel if there were any green spaces nearby. I was directed to a very charming wood which was just across the road, behind a shopping mall. I had brought my binoculars in hope of spotting a few birds. To my delight, I was able to see, for the first time, a yellow warbler and an Eastern kingbird. While walking a trail, I was myself spotted. Bird watchers are easy enough to recognize, gazing constantly as they do up into the trees with binoculars at the ready. I was approached by a fellow who offered to take me to see the nest of a sharp-shinned hawk. We agreed to meet the next day. We left the trail and headed into the woods. Through the trees, perched high up,. we were able to see the nest. A male chick, about the size of a big rooster, still with fuzzy feathers and unable to fly, was out on a branch. His sister was sitting inside the nest. They were waiting for their parents to return with food.

My guide explained to me that the beautiful park in which we were walking was menaced with destruction by the construction of a golf course. He also explained that he was a member of a coalition that had been formed to resist the project. The park in question was Lac Leamy and my guide was Marc Téllier. That day was the beginning of my friendship with Marc and of my involvement in the Coalition pour la sauvegarde du parc du Lac Leamy.

The summer before, I had had a similar experience in Acadie. Once again, we were on tour, in Memramcook, New Brunswick for the Fête des Acadiens. We were staying at the College Lefebvre. In the college, a young man was giving a course on ornithology which we happened to attend quite by accident. The young man was Alain Clavette. Alain proposed an expedition to the estuary of the Petit Codiac river to view the semi-palmated sand pipers. During their annual migration from their nesting grounds in the arctic to the tropics, many shore birds stop in the Bay of Fundy to load up on the small crustaceans found in the mud flats. They will stay days or even weeks, storing up protein, getting ready for the big flight across the open water. Flocks of thousands of birds can be seen. Accompanied by Alain, we set out the next day, but were disappointed. We arrived at low tide and the large flocks we hoped to see were still dispersed. None the less, that day marked the beginning of my friendship with Alain Clavette.

This spring, Alain proposed a trip to Pointe Pélée, the most southern point in Canada. The park is shaped like a dagger cutting deep into Lake Erie. Thanks to its geographic situation and to its wild state, Pointe Pélée is what is known as a “migrant trap”. During their long voyage over water, whether the gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic ocean or Lake Erie, migratory birds will often throw themselves onto the first bit of land they see, seeking food and rest. On May 15, I met Alain and Roger Leblanc, another Acadian birder. Bill Fontenot came up from Louisiana. Although I have not known Bill personally for very long, I have long been aware of his work. Bill runs the Nature Station in my home town and is one of the most respected naturalists in Louisiana.

We all met up in Leamington, Ontario, perched on the Lake Erie shore just above Pointe Pélée. I found Bill in the hotel restaurant in front of a plate of seafood. I asked how was the food. “It ain’t Cajun” was the reply. But we had not come all this way seeking a gastronomic experience. We had something different in mind. Alain and Roger arrived a little later and we hit the field. The next morning, I was up at 5 A.M.. “You have to get up with the birds to see the birds,” my Dad told me. In spite of weather which stayed dreary, raining and cold for the whole trip, there were plenty of birds. I had a list of several species which I absolutely wanted to see for the first time. I was able to see them all as well as quite a number of species which I had not imagined that I would ever see. Thanks to the experience of my comrades, I was able to identify many species which would have otherwise gone unnoticed, many of which could be identified only by their song. Here is my personal birding list, Pointe Pélée, Ontario, observed from May 15 to 17, 2002. Although my list may seem quite impressive, with 93 species, I am obliged to report that Alain’s list topped 150.

Grèbe à bec bigarré/Pied-billed Grebe
Cormorant aux aigrettes/Double-crested Cormorant
Héron vert / Green Heron
Outarde/Canada goose
Canard tête verte/Mallard
Uberlu à tête rouge/Turekey vulture
Pygargue à tête blanche/ Bald Eagle
Épervier de Cooper/Cooper’s Hawk
Crécerelle d’Amérique/American Kestrel
Gallinule poule-d'eau/Common Moorhen
Foulque d’AmériqueAmerican Coot
Pluvier argenté/Black Bellied Plover
Pluvier kildeer/Kildeer
Tournepierre/Ruddy Turnstone
Bécasseau variable/Dunlin
Goéland à bec cerclé/ Ring-billed Gull
Goéland argenté / Herring Gull
Tourterelle triste/Mourning Dove
Pic à tête rouge/Red-headed Woodpecker
Pic mineur/Downy Woodpecker
Guifette noire / Black Tern
Martinet ramoneur/Chimney Swift
Colibri à gorge rubis /Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Moucherolle à côtés olive/Olive-sided Flycatcher
Pioui de l'Est/ Eastern Wood-Pewee
Moucherolle des Saules/Willow Flycatcher
Moucherolle tchébec/Least Flycatcher
Tyran tri-tri/Eastern Kingbird
Tyran huppé /Great Crested Flycatcher
Viréo à tête bleue / Blue-headed Vireo
Viréo mélodieux / Warbling Vireo
Viréo aux yeux rouges /Red-eyed Vireo
Geai bleu / Blue Jay
Corneille/American Crow
Hirondelle noire /Purple Martin
Hirondelle bicolore / Tree Swallow
Hirondelle à ailes hérissées/Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Hirondelle rustique / Barn Swallow
Sittelle à poitrine rousse/Red-breasted Nuthatch
Troglodyte familier/ House Wren
Troglodyte de Caroline/Carolina Wren
Roitelet à couronne rubis/ Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gobemoucheron gris-bleu /Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Grive familié/Veery
Grive à dos olive/Swainson’s Thrush
Merle d'Amérique /American Robin
Moquer chat/Gray Catbird
Etourneau/European Starling
Jaseur d'Amérique/ Cedar Waxwing
Paruline à ailes bleues/Blue-winged Warbler
Paruline à colier / Northern Parula
Paruline jaune / Yellow Warbler
Paruline à flancs marron / Chesnut-sided Warbler
Paruline à tête cendrée/Magnolia Warbler
Paruline tigrée/Cape May Warbler
Paruline bleue /Black-throated Blue Warbler
Paruline à croupion jaune/Yellow-rumped Warbler
Paruline à gorge noire/Black-throated Green Warbler
Paruline à gorge orangée /Blackburnian Warbler
Paruline des prés/ Prairie Warbler
Paruline à couronne rousse / Palm Warbler
Paruline à poitrine baie/ Bay-breasted Warbler
Paruline rayée/Blackpool Warbler
Paruline noir et blanc /Black and white Warbler
Paruline flamboyante /American Redstart
Paruline orangée / Prothonotary Warbler
Paruline couronnée/Ovenbird
Paruline des ruisseaux /Northern Waterthrush
Paruline masquée/ Common Yellowthroat
Paruline à calotte noire/ Wilson’s Warbler
Paruline du Canada/ Canada Warbler
Tangara écarlate/ Scarlet Tanager
Cardinal/Northern Cardinal
Cardinal à poitrine rose/ Rose-breasted Cardinal
Passerin indigo / Indigo Bunting
Tohi à flancs roux /Eastern Towhee
Bruant familier /Chipping Sparrow
Bruant des champs/ Field Sparrow
Bruant chanteur / Song Sparrow
Bruant de Lincoln/Lincoln’s Sparrow
Bruant des marais / Swamp Sparrow
Bruant à gorge blanche/ White-throated Sparrow
Bruant à couronne blanche / White-crowned Sparrow
Goglu des prés/ Bobolink
Carouge/Red-winged Blackbird
Carouge à tête jaune/Yellow-headed Blackbird
Quiscale bronzé/Common Grackle
Vacher à tête brune/ Brown-headline Cowbird
Oriole de Baltimore/Baltimore Oriole
Oriole des vergers / Orchard Oriole
Roselin familier / House Finch
Chardonneret/American Goldfinch
Moineau/House sparrow