Thursday, April 29, 2010


I’m amazed at how far afield young folks today travel before they reach the age of thirty. A few weeks ago, the daughter of a good friend who lives in New Iberia, Louisiana, telephoned that she was in Sewanee, visiting her alma mater, the University of the South, and wanted to come by for a visit. Jennifer Desormeaux received her first degree in Art from the University here and was only a few weeks away from getting her M.F.A. from the University of Georgia when she visited with me for several hours before driving back to Athens.

Jennifer began traveling abroad when she attended the Episcopal School of Acadiana in Cade, Louisiana and took her senior trip across the pond to Europe. I’m sure she must have repeated an experience abroad while she attended the University of the South, and while studying at Athens, she participated in a University of Georgia camp in Monteverde, Costa Rica where she taught Digital Photography.

Jennifer had returned to Sewanee to pick up photographs she exhibited at Sterlings Restaurant, an exhibit that included winter landscapes. While talking about her art, she told me that she believes her “body is the tool to make a mark,” not just physically but to inspire the marks she makes in photographing what she sees. She has completed two marathons (one in Eugene, Oregon, and a Marathon is twenty-one miles each, folks) and has the slender, fit physique of an athlete.

Jennifer came over to invite me to assist as deacon and to deliver the homily at her marriage to Andy Graycheck who is getting his degree in Landscape Architecture when Jennifer receives her M.F.A. However, before she marries in October on Jefferson Island (near New Iberia) and settles in Iberia Parish, she’s off to Australia to teach photography for a South Pacific Abroad program! Now, you can more closely relate to my opening statement about how far afield young people travel nowadays!

Jennifer’s fiancé, Andy, not to be outdone by his traveling bride-to-be, has traveled and studied the cultivation of bamboo in India and is interested in sustainability. He’ll have an opportunity to view some of the oldest bamboo in the U.S. growing on Avery Island, Louisiana, just down the road from New Iberia, where E.A. McIlhenny, founder of Tabasco hot sauce, cultivated Moso bamboo from Japan. These bamboo groves on the island still flourish, and bamboo enthusiasts helped celebrate the 100th anniversary of the groves in February of this year.

An interesting paper about the deceased McIlhenny entitled “E.A McIlhenny, Pioneer Bamboo Planter,” was written by Andrew Ringle, a cousin of the late E.A. McIlhenny who lives on Avery Island. The paper focuses on the correspondence between McIlhenny and the plant explorer David Fairchild and his colleagues at the U.S.D.A.’s Office of Seed and Plant Introduction and can be found on the internet. I know Andy and received support for the work of Solomon House from him when I served as Executive Director of this outreach mission. His charitable efforts are as impressive as his scholarly and well-written paper about the bamboo groves that he grew up next to on the island.

Andy Graycheck, Jennifer’s “intended,” is interested in bamboo as a sustainable choice for building supply. It’s the fastest growing woody plant in the world and has better tensile and compression strength than steel! It can be harvested in one-five years and absorbs carbon dioxide, releasing thirty-five percent more oxygen into the air than an equal stand of hardwoods. It’s used in paper, flooring, furniture, building materials (especially fences), and its fibers are a lot stronger than wood fiber. Bonuses for bamboo growers: no agricultural chemicals needed for it to thrive, and the roots of bamboo stay in place after harvesting, preventing erosion.

I think Andy is in for good bamboo viewing at Avery Island where McIlhenny cultivated sixty-four varieties during his lifetime. He’ll also get a look at an area lush with azaleas, irises, camellias, Chinese and Japanese wisteria, hedges of Oriental holly, and lotus and papyrus imported from the Nile. They are contained within Jungle Gardens, a 200-acre garden where McIlhenny achieved a design of color and symmetry that has made the gardens as well-known as the red peppers of the Tabasco sauce enterprise.
Well, from traveling brides-to-be to bamboo is a long stretch, but that’s what happens nowadays when you welcome an educated young person over to engage in repartee’.

Note: For further reading about Avery Island, stocks copies of my book, THE TREASURES OF AVERY ISLAND, published by Acadian House Publishing in Lafayette, Louisiana.
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