I took my dog Ashok and my housemate’s dog Rilo out for an adventure this afternoon. The place I’m living in is in the middle of town. It’s convenient to everything, but there is very little green space. My dog has been so stressed from the move that I wanted to get her off leash and let her run. I drove up Highway 16 almost to the Livingston Parish – St. Helena Parish line. There’s a little road where I run on occasion, so I thought I’d take them up there. On the way, I noticed a little abandoned horse show arena back in the woods. I decided to take a detour.
I grew up in Watson LA which is located in the bend of the Amite River. I camped on the Amite a week or so ago. It’s a cold little river that flows south in Southern Louisiana. When I was growing up, we used to float down the river on occasion, but what I remember most is the excitement it caused in our small town when it flooded. Back then, the forecasts weren’t as sophisticated, so it was often a surprise and certainly a curiosity when things started to go under water. The river back then was mostly used for commerce. The Amite Riverbank and bottom is mostly sand mixed with gravel. For as long as I can remember, gravel trucks hauling sand and gravel would speed up and down Highway 16 spraying sand and gravel along the way. I hear now that they have to put covers on the top of the trucks to keep debris from flying, but, when I grew up there, you lived with pings and breaks and cracks in your windshield. Even now, I am amazed that I only get a ding in my windshield every now and then. I grew up thinking that cars were sprayed with gravel all the time. I had no idea it was something that was unique to our stretch of the woods. There was really no sense in getting your windshield fixed. It would just happen again the very next day.
So, today, when I walked back behind the horse arena and through the woods, I came upon what we always called the bar pits. The boys used to fish up there in the bar pits when we were young, and my cousin tells me that some of them are spring fed so the water is very cool. I googled bar pits, and apparently, the name comes from either barrow pits or borrow pits. Both indicate a ditch or a hole where dirt (read sand and gravel) is removed for another purpose. The hole that is left is the barrow pit (from wheelbarrow) or borrow pit (borrowed dirt). When the river floods, or it rains or fills up with spring water, there is a little pretty pond perfect for an afternoon swim for my dog. And, that’s what we did. We walked past the old arena – grown up with weeds and surrounded by a rusted metal fence. I found a bar pit that was grown up with vegetation, and took the dogs for a swim. Then, out of curiosity, I continued to walk on the gravel road back into the woods.
The first section was overgrown with small pine trees. We always called the area north of Watson the Piney Woods. I remember pine straw being a pain in the ass. I’ve laughed over the years when I’ve had to buy pine straw in the Northern United States. We just wanted it to go away down south. After I got through the woods, I could see the sandy, gravelly soil much more predominately. Vegetation popped up here and there, but the landscape looked more like a desert than a Louisiana riverbank. I figured there would be more bar pits back there, so we kept walking until we found one. Ashok swam around in the cool water, but Rilo just stopped for a drink.
I remember working at the Live Oak Hardware store when I was about 15. I developed pretty early, and I’m sure I had a cute little figure at that age. I worked for $1.90 an hour ringing up the cash register at the store. There was a diner in the hardware store, and at lunchtime it filled up with those gravel truck drivers. They’d take a break from loading up sand and gravel at the bar pits and slinging it all over the road to get a meat and three or a burger offered up at the store that was located in the intersection of two roads in the teeny tiny town. At that time, the heart of Watson consisted only of a distance of about 1/2 mile and a number of businesses were located in the center of two curves. There was the hardware store, a gas station, an old auto parts store, a small grocery store and the school. Oh… and there was the church. Other businesses were scattered up and down Highway 16, but I always thought of this primary section as Watson. So, these gravel truck drivers would come in the diner and have lunch…. then they’d flirt with me or any other young gal that was taking orders or ringing up their checks. Then they’d take their beer bellies and go back to slinging gravel for the rest of the afternoon. Mama was always terrified that we’d get run over by one of those trucks. They just flew through town like there was a gravel emergency somewhere up the road.
I don’t think I thought of the bar pits as pretty back then. They were just part of the backdrop on the place we grew up, and I had nothing to compare it to. But, today, I noticed wildflowers amidst the undergrowth and pretty little patches of forest that I’m sure is home to more than a few critters. I know my dog rolled around in the remains of one of them, and I had to bathe her when I got home. There were old barbed wire fences covered in rust that made a pretty picture and reminded me of cuts and scrapes endured as a girl from climbing through fences in my first explorations of the countryside. I don’t see barbed wire much anymore, but there was plenty of it there today.
I went to a party last weekend at an old high school friend’s house, and he has built a beautiful place in the midst of the bar pits. I was really surprised at how pretty it was because, like I said, I didn’t remember thinking the bar pits were pretty. His beautiful home is on the bank of one pit, and he has a sand volleyball court on another. He’s even set up a volleyball court in one of the bar pits for us old folks who get hurt playing in the sand. I have a feeling people up north would pay good money to go to a place like this. It was quite unique, and I was very impressed with my childhood friend’s creativity.
I like seeing my old stomping grounds with new eyes. I told my cousin that I had been up there walking around. He asked me if I knew the property owner up there. No, I don’t. I know that in this stretch of the world, you’d better know the property owner before you step on their property, but I snuck in. It was just too tempting to go see that old arena and then to walk around those bar pits. I’m just lucky I didn’t get shot. I put a call into my friend who lives on the bar pits to see if I can walk my dog around there in the future. It might be a little safer, but it probably won’t be as engaging of an adventure. I kind of enjoyed my afternoon, risky or not.