September 5, 2002 - "

Everybody knows about the scenic beauty of the Atchafalaya Basin. However, few have discovered the swamp wonderland just a few miles farther west on I-10.

Someone who knows all about it is tour guide Marcus de la Houssaye. As he maneuvers his small boat among the ancient trees, draped with Spanish moss, he tells the visitor, "I not only like to think about what the swamp was like, but in the big picture, what was Louisiana like 200-300 years ago before we began this great conversion to benefit our prosperity."

Truth be told, the Atchafalaya Basin has changed radically over the last half century, as Marcus readily explains. "Instead of the silt rich water of the Mississippi River being distributed across the vast plain of the Delta, it's being contained in a relatively narrow 20-mile-wide corridor, and so what had been swampy cypress tupelo forest has become more of a bottom land hardwood forest."

But Marcus can show you what the Atchafalaya Basin did look like 50 years ago. Ironically to get this glimpse into the past, you have to drive west of the Atchafalaya Basin by about 10 miles to the Cypress Island Basin.

There, around Lake Martin, stands old growth cypress where it has stood since before the time of Christ. "It's a natural treasure here in Louisiana -- the trees, the live oak, the bald cypress. It's very interesting how a tree could live so long," says Marcus de la Houssaye.

There adult ibis feed their young in what many believe is the largest rookery in the United States. Cycles of life, centuries of beauty. You can reach Marcus de la Houssaye through this link to his web site at