Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Metz Calls us back to Nature in St. Francisville

Metz Calls us back to Nature in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler; images by Darrell Chitty


 Metz at workJustin Metz has a musical ear and an artistic eye, and he puts both to work crafting his gorgeous duck calls that are in demand all across the country. And he does it all in a little well-equipped workshop in the wooded paradise called the Tunica Hills.
 He had the good fortune to be born into a family that for generations lived close to the land---loggers and hunters, cattlemen and self-sufficient farmers, horticulturists and of course hunters. His favorite memory, back when he started duck hunting as a young teen, was heading out at 3 or 4 a.m. for the simple cottage on the edge of Cat Island swamp; he could hear the television blaring way down the road along Bayou Sara creek, because Uncle Moochie and Uncle Dump were both hearing impaired after years of running chainsaws and heavy machinery. There was always coffee brewing, breakfast on the table even at that hour, and after a brief visit, Justin would be off into the swamp waters, with ducks coming in, the excitement of a brisk north wind in his face, and he felt like he was in heaven. He was hooked.
familyLouisiana, with its abundance of waterways and swamps, is the most important wintering area for over 3 million North American waterfowl every year; Louisiana Wildlife Insider calls the sheer size and diversity of our wetland habitats integral to meeting the life cycle demands of millions of waterfowl migrating up and down the Mississippi Flyway. But Justin Metz was not satisfied with the commercially stamped duck calls available in big box stores, and so in 2011, after years of sitting and listening to ducks from his blind, he knew he could mimic the sounds that convinced them to commit to come in and land.

Duck calls are made with a barrel and insert, a tone board and exhaust. The reed on the tone board vibrates when air passes under it to a channel on the tone board; that’s where the sound comes from, and then the air travels out of the exhaust. It’s the curvature of the tone board and the thickness and length of the reed that gives the variation of sound. The type and density of the wood also affects the sound; the tighter the grain in the wood, the crisper the sound. Consequently Metz Calls uses an assortment of exotic woods like African Blackwood, Cocobola, Osage, as well as local woods like Black Walnut and Cherry and Buckeye Burl. To seal the wood, he soaks his calls in burnt linseed oil, just like all the old callmakers used. Some of his duck calls now are also acrylic.

detailsOnce he had perfected the shape and sound of his duck calls, Metz began adding artistic touches like carvings, many with specific meanings, all hand turned and freehand engraved. He makes his own bands as well, turning out what are essentially working pieces of fine art.

Before he and his wife Misty had children, they travelled to sportsmen’s shows where he would sell thousands; now, as a business owner, raising a family and serving his community as a member of the parish council governing board, he doesn’t travel much, but sells his calls in a number of retail outlets. He estimates that he has sold calls to duck hunters in every state and even in Germany.

One special design shows a carved flying duck, rice fields and a raised state map, with the lettering “Bring Them Back,” a reference to the declining duck presence; the 2018-2019 duck season was called the worst in 50 years. Justin, head of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter, attributes this decline in the number of migrating ducks and geese in this area to a number of factors, including a shift in migration routes westward, much of it due to man’s footprint; also loss of habitat, changes in Midwestern agricultural practices like no-till farming leaving grain spillage on the ground to provide food for ducks between crops, too much rain and high water, mild winters and fewer northern cold fronts.
several duck callsIn south Louisiana, vast flat fields of sugar cane aren’t suitable for ducks, and many rice farmers in southwest Louisiana are now growing GMO rice, a very abrasive grain less desirable as a food source for waterfowl. But the state will always have thousands and thousands of migratory waterfowl and consequently thousands of enthusiastic duck hunters tempting them from blinds in wetlands and swamps, many using one of Justin Metz’ works of art, noted as much for beautiful craftsmanship as for exacting tone.


Contact information: online email metzcalls@yahoo.com or phone 225-721-0580.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination; check locally for coronavirus mitigation requirements, please. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
tunica
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Photo credit:
Darrell Chitty
Master Artist
2840 Cypress Village Drive
Benton, LA 71006
318-349-9085

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Flying Charlie McDermott and St. Francisville’s New Elementary School Suit Each

Flying Charlie McDermott and St. Francisville’s New Elementary School Suit Each Other
By Anne Butler

waverly plantationThe loss of historically significant structures, whether to fire or flood or neglect, is disheartening to say the least. Sometimes, though, these historic homes are replicated. Sometimes, when the home itself is a total loss, the gardens and landscaping can be salvaged. And sometimes, when home and gardens are gone, the property itself can be rejuvenated in unexpectedly appropriate ways. That’s what is going to happen at Waverly Plantation, just north of the attractive campus where all of the St. Francisville area students go to school.
The West Feliciana Parish public school system is considered one of the best in the state, and its newer Lower Elementary and Middle School buildings are top rate as well. Parish residents are so supportive of the system that they recently voted tax funding to provide upgrades to the high school and some of its attached facilities. With student enrollment increasing yearly, the funding also covers an entirely new Upper Elementary building to replace the crowded and dated current structure.
And happily, just to the north of the Middle School complex lay Waverly Plantation. The main house there, built on a 1790s Spanish land grant, was a beautifully austere double-galleried frame structure, its entrance doors enhanced by fanlights and sidelights. It was actually located in the tiny community called Bains after Dr. Henry Bains, and when it burned in 1972 it was the home of another longtime parish physician, Dr. Alfred Gould.
But it was a third physician, the brother-in-law of Dr. Bains, who gained national notoriety for his 19th-century scientific experiments. Because of him, it is entirely appropriate that the Waverly property will find new life as an elementary school on the expanded campus of one of the state’s best public school systems, where STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and other innovative programs encourage exactly the same mindset that inspired the early owner of the property who was known as Flying Charlie McDermott.
McDermott, of Irish descent and an 1828 graduate of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University, inherited Waverly and became a respected physician at the encouragement of his brother-in-law. But like creative geniuses and dreamers from the time of Leonardo da Vinci, he was irresistibly drawn to the study of the mechanics of a flying machine, and for forty years was said to be constantly leaping out of the live oaks or dashing pell-mell down the nearest slope with the latest iteration of his invention.
charlie mcdermottBy 1842 he told the Daily Picayune that he had “a kite 110 feet long, 20 feet broad, and tapering to each end like the wings of a fishhawk. Under the center of the kite I have a frame 18 feet high, in which I stand. Under the kite are four wings which operate horizontally like the oars of a boat. They are moved by the muscles of the legs. The blades of the oars are made of a series of valves resembling Venetian blinds so that they open when they move forward and close when the stroke is made.” By 1872 he had been issued Patent Number 133046 from the U.S. Patent Office for “Improvement in Apparatus for Navigating the Air,” but by then he was an old man. He said he probably knew more than any other living soul on the subject of aerostation, adding that “when in the future the air is filled with flying men and women, the wonder will be that a thing so simple was not done long ago.”
Flying Charlie McDermott’s early experiments with human flight preceded the 1903 Wright brothers’ Kitty Hawk ascent by nearly half a century. He was quoted in a newspaper of 1882, “It is mortifying that a stinking buzzard and a stupid goose should fly, and man, the lord of all the earth, should be any longer confined to the land and water. Many sails, one above the other, and a horizontal propulsion, is the secret, which was never known until I discovered it by analysis and synthesis, and which will fill the air with flying men and women.”
He and his brother eventually moved to Arkansas, where he became such an influential citizen that the whole town was named for him (Dermott), although he continued to manage his Louisiana property as well, making arduous trips back and forth. One 1842 letter describes his arrival at Waverly looking “very thin, says he has had nothing to eat since he left, rode 12 miles with a heavy rifle on his shoulder and 12 more with a deer on his horse. And to crown the whole, slept 3 nights in an Arkansas tavern, resting his head on a pillow that had a dead rat in it.”
After the Civil War, he joined Charlie Barrow of West Feliciana in founding colonies in Honduras. And it would not take a big stretch of the imagination to understand his excitement could he but know the use to which his Waverly property will be going, encouraging little minds to think out of the box and let their own imaginations soar.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Monday, March 30, 2020

St. Francisville in the Time of Covid-19

St. Francisville in the Time of Covid-19

By Anne Butler

So, in this scary time of social distancing and sheltering in place, some of us are using the downtime to reconnect with family and commune with nature, exercising and eating sensibly. Others, not so much…our only exercise is jogging to the icebox and getting lazier by the minute; we’ll be sorry when we have to give up our comfy pants and PJs for clothes with belts or waistbands. And it’s far from funny, but there are times when humor and prayer are our only comforts, and Lord knows there’s some hysterical stuff on social media these days.

We’ve been down this road before. A wonderful fact-filled article by that esteemed historian/author Brian James Costello of Pointe Coupee, just across the Mississippi River from St. Francisville and thus experiencing similar trials and tribulations, examines the historical antecedents of the Covid-19 Pandemic through the early years of constant floods and epidemics which plagued the area. There were 18 major river floods from 1770 through 1927; he reminds us that the disastrous 1882 flooding of the Mississippi River put four feet of water on Main Street in New Roads and five feet in St. Mary’s Cemetery, necessitating that Mrs. Philogene Langlois’ funeral procession proceed by boat and her remains had to be entombed in the uppermost vault). There were also numerous disastrous outbreaks of yellow fever, cholera, typhoid fever and influenza. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, according to New Orleans and Baton Rouge newspapers of the time, reported 245,000 flu cases throughout Louisiana, resulting in over 5,000 deaths.

Correspondence from author F. Scott Fitzgerald, quarantined in 1920 in the south of France during the Spanish Influenza outbreak, reads as follows: “Dearest Rosemary, It was a limpid dreary day hung as in a basket from a single dull star…Outside I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach… The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and Lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.”

And here we are a full century later, sheltering in place with only essential businesses operating (grocery and liquor stores still doing a brisk if carefully controlled business in “Lord, if we need it, brandy” and other staples of ordinary life). There are two big differences, however. In Louisiana, accustomed as we are to hurricanes and ensuing weeks-long power outages, we are grateful to have electricity and air conditioning. And then there is the enormous impact of social media, restoring a sense of community even as we remain homebound for what may seem like a very long time. Elementary school kids are connecting online through Zoom and Instagram and all sorts of sites, doing lessons, touring museums and zoos and parks, listening to celebrities like Oprah read children’s books, chatting with the little friends they miss so much; high schools and colleges have offered online classes. Farflung families are staying in touch, in spite of their next travel destination being from Las Kitchenas to Los Bed or La Rotonda De Sofa. One hairstylist posted pictures of her longhaired long-suffering boyfriend sporting a new hairdo every day, from George Washington to Princess Leia. Ladies are going from no makeup the first week to no bra the next, being reminded what their real hair color is and hearing stylists beg them not to cut their bangs, learning that Baby Wipes are good for more than a baby’s behind and toilet paper is a valuable commodity, and who knew how many times we touch our faces. And boom, it appears that we don’t need Hollywood as much as we need farmers and grocery store stockers and truckers, first responders and all levels of brave medical staff.

So what can you, an individual, do? Isolate, quarantine, shelter in place so as not to spread the disease and to flatten the wave, remembering to appreciate that you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home. Go into your yard to listen to the birds and watch the squirrels. Walk your dog; if you don’t have one, foster one, because there’s nothing more soothing than petting a dog or cat. If you live in a highrise, go out onto your balcony and join the chorus of singers or musicians or handclappers showing appreciation for all those laboring in the trenches. If you live in a suburban neighborhood, have a drive-by parade celebrating youngsters’ birthdays with honks and signs and balloons in lieu of in-person parties. Digital books, libraries, concerts, lectures, all of these and more are available online. Listen online to the growing number of out-of-work musicians like David Doucet of the eternally popular Cajun band Beausolail posting webcasts and virtual gigs from courtyards and other improv stages to keep the creative juices flowing and maybe even get a few donations into online tip hats like MusiCares; there are some fabulous syncs of choirs whose members are participating from across the world. Appreciate the community responsibility and generosity of folks like Drew Brees and Ralph Lauren, and if you’re not a millionaire, show your support for restaurants offering take-out meals or purchase gift certificates for later use at B&Bs, which have also lost all business due to event cancellations and home isolation.

And don’t forget to laugh. As Aunty Acid says, “Please don’t mistake my humor about the virus as a lack of seriousness or concern. Laughing through difficult times happens to be how I got through my entire life so far.” And on Facebook, there are some really hilarious postings:

So you’re staying inside, practicing social distancing and cleaning yourself? Congratulations, you’ve become a house cat.

Some of y’all are gonna be beggin’ Jolene to take your man before this quarantine is over.

Pretty is out. Now men want a woman who can catch a chicken.

Girl, I know you hear these kids out here. I’m ‘bout to bite one (picture of legs lounging in bathtub with dog sticking his head around the curtain)

Dog again: Girl, I almost bit you. Where is your wig, eyelashes and makeup?

Getting real tired of babysitting my mom’s grandkids right now (as old folks, considered the most vulnerable, are no longer available to babysit).

I’m stocking up on ice cream, canned fruit, raspberry sauce and sprinkles. I’m planning to self-isolate for a month of Sundaes.

This quarantine has me realizing why my dog gets so excited about something moving outside, going for a walk or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.

I swear my fridge just said, “What the hell do you want NOW?”

After years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house but lacking the time, this week I discovered that wasn’t the reason.

Mona Lisa taking advantage of the closure of the Louvre to take a little time for herself (shown in sun glasses with exposed legs crossed, cigarette in hand, wine glass and guitar nearby).

My body has absorbed so much soap and disinfectant lately that when I pee, it cleans the toilet.

I never thought I’d see the day when weed was easier to get than hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
I ate 11 times and took 5 naps and it’s still today.

I’m from Louisiana. Talk to me in a language I understand. Is the virus a Category 4 or 5?

I don’t think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks earlier this month, we’d go from standard time to the Twilight Zone.

Now you can really dance like no one is watching.

Y’all are about to find out why your great-grandmother washed her aluminum foil and saved her bacon grease.

Mosquitos be waking up from winter like “Where y’all at??”

My mom always told me I wouldn’t accomplish anything by laying in the bed all day. But look at me now, I’m saving the world.

Homeschool Day One: Spankings and prayer about to return to classroom.
Homeschool Day Two: For science, we studied the effects of NyQuil on students.
Homeschool Day Three: If you see my kids locked outside today, mind your own business. We are having a fire drill.
Homeschool Day Four: One of those little bastards called in a bomb threat.
Homeschool Day Five: Science project (image of copper moonshine still).
Homeschool Day Six: And just like that, nobody ever asked why teachers need a fall break, spring break or the entire summer off again.

And then there’s this: In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. On the 26th day of March, 2020, attention was called to Isaiah 26-20: “Come, my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed.”

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are usually open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs. At this stage, check locally in this fluid situation; some outdoor spaces are open, but no house tours; restaurants are limited to take out only, and some are closed.

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups. Again, check locally for closures.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).