Daren Dean pic 2What have you been reading in terms of new fiction? Can you make any recommendations?

If you like Cormac McCarthy, read Secessia by Kent Wascom; If you like grit lit, read A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post; if you want a writer with her finger on the pulse of contemporary life, then read Refund by Karen Bender; If you long for prose reminiscent of incredibly bright moments that Raymond Carver was so adept at creating, then read Dispensations by Randolph Thomas; for New Orleans grit, read Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa; If you want a writer with the linguistic brilliance of Barry Hannah, try The Book of Duels by Michael Garriga; if you want to read a contemporary and brilliant southern writer then look no further than the current summer issues of both Tin House and Zoetrope for two short stories by Jennifer Davis. Finally, I’m especially looking forward to a Civil War novel called Fallen Land by Taylor Brown. That ought to keep y’all busy.

The last time I drove past the apartments on North 5th, their efficient practicality had been scrubbed up a bit. A nice little fence marked the front entrance. The sidewalk that led into the U-shaped courtyard had healthy plants on both sides. The casement windows had been replaced. Someone had finally taken pride in the boxy old place, built in 1948 to provide post-war housing.

I can’t save the world, but I want to save the world. This has always been the case. Many times as a child, I thought I could save the world or otherwise do the impossible. Many times, I was proven wrong.

After sudden rainclouds and sudden rainstorms, all of which avoided me as I slept in my warm hotel room and landed squarely on Zara as she foolishly went out to experience and enjoy life, we drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. We noticed as we drove that we had stopped caring at all about any journey that was under, say, eight hours. If it took above eight hours, then, yes, we would admit, that was a long drive. Anything else was a hop, skip, or jump.

Not even a big one, at that.

Seven hours, fifty nine minutes?

Whatever, man.

I could do that standing on my head.


No one likes alligators, really. Most people appreciate them fried or turned into boots, but when they are real, alive, and sidling up to your fishing boat, they are less enjoyable. When you see an alligator in the water, you keep your distance. You don’t entice or antagonize it. You sure as hell don’t cast your fishing line thatway. In Louisiana, you grow up with a healthy respect for your toothy reptilian cousins. I fear no human being, but an alligator is one force I will not test.


This is where I grew up. I know it doesn’t mean anything to you. It matters to me, though, and all the reasons I can think of for you to care are insufficient. There’s seafood, alligators, oil, and the economy. But then there’s my home.  That blue-brown swirl spilling out of a little wet crack in the earth? Yes, that. That’s where I’m from.

It’s not really a spill. It’s more like a gusher. A deep wound. It’s like being stabbed in the belly while wearing your Sunday best, something your grandmother made for you, something irreplaceable.

It’s like hearing your first love got hit by a train and seeing photos of his mangled body on the news while the broadcasters banter about how this is going to be some awful PR for the railroad business, and there you are at home, sitting in the glow of your TV, screaming inside and unable to act. There you are – watching part of your life die on the evening news while everyone feels sorry for the killer. The murderer. Sick.

Sulphur is the dot where I lived for my first 18 years. From where I grew up, the gulf is about an hour’s drive. You put your boat in the water at Cameron, the grey stone jetties guide you out, until the floor of the Gulf drops off and finally it’s just you and that fine line of a horizon, bobbing along together. Only you don’t really get that kind of intimacy with the sky because it’s interrupted by oil rigs unless you go out pretty far.


When fishing, you may find the rigs useful, as you can tie your boat up to one — they keep you from drifting off aimlessly. And at the end of the day, a pod of porpoises may join you on your way back to shore. They’d swim right at the bow of your boat, just riding along, jumping, escorting you. They’re in the dolphin family, but they’re not the same as the widely loved bottlenose dolphin. Maybe they’re not as cute or as open to being domesticated. Maybe they’re too damn Cajun for that showbiz nonsense. But they, like everything else that makes its home in the Gulf, are threatened by this oil spill.

Every dark dot in the water is an oil rig.  You can see how close they are to the mainland. Close enough that if any one of them sprung a leak, the nearby shoreline would be destroyed.


The rig that actually collapsed was 50 miles from shore, near
Venice, LAThe oil has been drifting away from my hometown and toward Florida instead, and for that we feel lucky. Lucky, but far from thrilled. It’s like feeling grateful when a hurricane turns the other way or when the flood waters rise in someone else’s neighborhood. We can always say that wasn’t our fault. We can call it a natural disaster and say prayers and collect canned food to donate to those whose homes were destroyed in one of nature’s mood swings. This is the kind of thing you’re used to if you grew up on the Gulf Coast.

An oil rig, on the other hand? That’s our fault. That’s straight up, undeniable, human stupidity.

Even the canal in the woods, where my best friend and I used to trek on summer afternoons to feel like explorers, is connected to the oil-vulnerable Calcasieu River. There are so many waterways in Louisiana that some of them don’t even have names. They’re just “the canal” or “that little inlet,” but they are all connected. Every last one of them. Every little blue line on the map goes somewhere.

We human beings have become too sure of ourselves, and we need alligators. We need some animals left that scare the daylights out of us. Do you know what happens when an alligator gets its teeth around you? In Louisiana, we call it a death roll. When an alligator has you in a death roll, there is no escape unless something juicier strolls by. But I’m afraid an alligator has no defense against oil spills.

*Please note: I had help editing this essay from my amazing editor friend Ellie Di. She can be found on Twitter @Ellie_Di. She’s also the founder of The Wholestyle Network.


All kinds of animals live at my parents’ camp. My parents go every weekend, wake up early and sit on the porch sipping their coffee and watching the animals go about their lives. While some homeowners along the lake try to run the animals off (the owls and geese leave too much poop), my parents pretty much love every last one that takes up residence in their yard. They’ve put up birdhouses for a few different kinds of birds, including purple martins and wood ducks. But they also loved the water snakes, harmless to humans, that could be seen swimming toward shore with a small fish in their jaws, trying to get on land to enjoy their catch.

But this weekend, we found a snake in one of the purple martin houses. Each of the houses is actually a cluster of little abodes for several bird families mounted on top of a tall pole, specifically for the purpose of keeping predators out. Around 9:30 a.m., I was out on the end of the dock, lying in the sun. Dad had gone out of buy groceries for the day. Mom came to make sure I didn’t fall asleep in the sun, and on her way, she noticed the snake. By the time Mom walked all the way to the end of the dock, got me and came back, the snake was totally inside one of the houses except for the last couple inches of his tale. We were sure he was still there by the way the mother bird flew frantic circles around the house. She’d dive in as though to attack, stop short, hover near the entrance to her house, then fly away again. She wouldn’t land on any part of the house, but she kept trying to attack and pulling up short of crashing right into the birdhouse like a kamikaze. Mom and I stood watching and cheering her on. “Go on, grab his tail! Pull him down,” we told her, unwilling to do it ourselves. Unsure of how we could help or whether we really should, we went inside.

Around noon, my brother John arrived. He’d driven down from New Orleans because it was rare for me to have a chance to make this trip home, so we hadn’t seen each other in about six months. John and Dad got home around the same time, and Mom and I told them about the snake. The four of us started to brainstorm on ways to get the snake out of the birdhouse. “Well, we can’t just shoot him,” Dad said. Our neighbor had a Purple Martin house, too, and a snake got in it, so the neighbor stood right under the birdhouse with his shotgun and shot through the floor of the birdhouse. He got the snake, but he also blew the roof off the house. John thought maybe we could use a water hose to flood the snake out and then shoot him. We agreed that this was a pretty good place to start, so we mobilized. John started pulling out the hose, Dad went and got his shotgun and a couple shells. Admittedly, we thought we were hilarious.

As we stood out there on the lawn, sweating after only the slightest exertion, we realized spraying the snake would only cool him off. He’d probably be grateful and perfectly content to stay exactly where he was. We tried anyway, turning the hose to the highest water pressure it could muster, but by the time the water reached the birdhouse window, a good 10 or 12 feet up, it must have felt like just a gentle summer shower to the snake. He stayed put.

Then Dad remembered that he had a fishing pole that could be extended until it would reach the birdhouse. He grabbed it and used the pole to reach into the birdhouse. I’m not sure what he hoped to accomplish that way, but he waved the fishing pole around once it was inside the birdhouse window. All along, our idea was to annoy the snake enough to make him get out of that birdhouse, but he must have just coiled up inside, which was a pretty good idea on his part. If the fall from the birdhouse didn’t hurt him, being shot once he hit the ground sure would. When wiggling a fishing pole at him didn’t help, we retreated to the house to think on it and have lunch. We sat around the kitchen table having red beans and rice with red wine. Soda or even margaritas might have been a better choice, but we like a drink with our meals, and the margaritas are so sugary they make my teeth feel all wrong. So we had a glass of red wine, and about the time we finished eating, our cousin Greg and his girlfriend Sally showed up.

We’d planned to probably fish or kayak around the lake or possibly take the boat out, or maybe just sit around sipping margaritas for the rest of the afternoon. I was thinking of lying out on the deck again later in hopes of reducing the glow from my lily white legs. But we couldn’t commence the lazy afternoon without telling them about the snake. Greg and Sally had a beer and the rest of us had our wine while we rehashed everything we’d tried through the morning.

Rejuvenated by our lunch and our new company, and questionably inspired by our wine, our troop of six marched back out to the birdhouse to try again. This time, I picked up Dad’s camera on the way out. First, John shook the birdhouse. Water, we had concluded, was too good for the snake, since he was most likely just a water snake who’d found his way up from the lake for a snack. But if the goal was to irritate him, then shaking the birdhouse would probably do it, and it did. He stuck his tongue out at us, but showed no signs of exiting. He must have known he was safer in there than out on the ground with us.

Greg then made a noose with fishing line, tied it to the end of the fishing pole, and pushed it through the birdhouse window. “Heeeeere snakey snake,” he said. “Stick your head in the hole.” He waved the pole around inside the birdhouse, and the snake dodged. Dad’s next idea was to tie fishing hooks to the pole and try to pull the snake out. That didn’t work, either. John went back to shaking it. We’d hoped to preserve the bird nests, in case the birds weren’t already too scared to come back after having their home invaded by a snake, but after being soaked with a water hose and shaken, parts of the nests were flying out of the windows, and it was clear that the fight was between us and the snake. The birds were gone, and their eggs probably were, too, as Mom had seen the gluttonous snake make his way from one window of the birdhouse to another, making his rounds and filling up. Now we were disturbing his afternoon nap, and as John shook the birdhouse, it seemed the snake wanted to unload some wares. We started to notice something bulging out the window, and at first we thought it was the side of the snake where he was swollen from the eggs he’s stolen. But then, out fell a bird. An adult bird that might have been sitting on eggs or might have gone into the house without knowing what was waiting inside. After the bird fell to the ground and the snake recoiled himself comfortably inside, we knew what had to be done.

Greg went and got some tools from the garage. Dad got his shotgun back out. I was still hesitant about killing the snake — hoped we could shake him out of the birdhouse and let him slither away, maybe even shake him right into the lake. But the others seemed sure he would continue to hunt our birds, and in any case, he had no business climbing all the way up that pole to get those eggs. That was the whole point of placing the house so high and away from trees. His being up there to begin with was a sure sign he had to go, I guess.Together, John and Greg dismantled the pole. Top-heavy, it immediately tipped over in John’s hands, so he went on with the shaking operation. We all leaned closer to see if the snake would come out.

After our day long standoff, we barely expected to see him, but then out he came, about half of him at once, all muscular — not flopping out like the full, lazy beast we expected. I grabbed hold of the camera and bolted back to the safety of the walk way. The snake hit the ground and kept moving, but before I could turn around to get his picture, there was a gunshot. The first one went wide, but the second shot got him, severed the head and first six inches or so of the snake from the other foot of his body. The upper part continued to squirm pathetically, so John chose to put him out of his misery with a third shot. I chose not to take a picture of the dead snake. I picked up my wine glass and went back inside, and that was the last I saw of our snake.