Down in the Atchafalaya Basin

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Among James McConnell’s many jobs, one involved working under the Mississippi River and Tributary survey in the Atchafalaya Basin of Louisiana, as seen above.  His job was to document just what was in this area, as no one really knew this exactly up to this point.  This job first involved many maps and compasses to measure just where he was in the surveyed area, and then culminated in a “cruise,” or a documentation of the different types of vegetation, soil, tree types, and many other things that were on the list of things the core engineers wanted to know about the area.  These areas were typically measured in “tenth acre plots,” which meant workers, such as Mr. McConnell, would use a large walking stick and measure out in different directions to define the areas they would work in.  Mr. McConnell enjoyed doing this type of work, but admitted that being alone in the forest made the job tiresome, remarking that today this type of individual work wouldn’t be allowed unless they knew exactly where they were.  “Nobody ever knew where I was, except me, and sometimes I didn’t know, recalls Mr. McConnell with a laugh. 

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He had many interesting encounters in his times carrying out this work, his most frightening probably being his close encounter with a creek bed full of cotton mouth snakes.  He had stopped at the edge of the creek bed during one of his measurements and was caught by surprise by the unwanted visitors.  “Honest to goodness, I cannot remember getting out of there.  I think I must have flew.  I think I must have just jumped up and flew.”  Another more common encounter in the forest was that of old remnants of people who had lived on the land, including handmade headstones, full cemeteries, and foundations of houses.  Mr. McConnell could easily use his knowledge of vegetation, such as walnut trees specifically the black walnut, to know that houses had been there.  Concrete blocks were also a more obvious giveaway of human life, along with old wells or a forgotten road running through the trees.