NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 19, 2013 – The Water Team had a day full of interviews last Friday, all of which centered primarily on the issues of wetlands and wetland loss in Louisiana.
According to local scientists and researchers who study these matters, a combination of factors, including population growth and reduced sediment deposits that have historically come from upriver are causing rapid loss of wetlands in Southern Louisiana. Wetlands are important to the environment because they help cleanse water, and they provide habitat to important animals and organisms in the food chain.
These discussions got us to thinking about what visuals we would need in the film to illustrate these points.
The answer to that question unexpectedly presented itself as we were driving back to New Orleans from one of our meetings outside the city. As darkness fell, we spotted a roadside sign that read, "Airboat Tours by Arthur."
Almost immediately, we decided that shooting video and stills from an airboat would be a good way to acquire imagery. We called from the car and made reservations for just before sunset the next evening.
We arrived on Saturday a few minutes before our appointment time, not sure exactly what to expect.
We walked into the office and the first thing that caught my eye was an 11-foot-long stuffed alligator. We were greeted by a friendly woman, who we would soon learn was Arthur's wife. She had us sign the obligatory release forms, took our money, and prepared us for our journey, which included warning us that her husband, Arthur Matherne (our tour guide), is very passionate about his job and can talk VERY fast when he gets excited. This is something we learned quickly.
Soon thereafter, Arthur pulled up on his airboat. He welcomed us, and the team climbed aboard. Armed with our cameras, we began our journey.
Arthur, who makes his living by running these bayou tours, began by gently guiding the boat through a canal -- lined by waterfront homes -- that leads to vast, open wetlands that stretched for miles in all directions.
About five minutes into the ride, and with the residential neighborhood now well behind us, Arthur revved the boat’s motor and shouted, "Now would be the time to put on your ear muffs!" By which he meant large, plastic ear coverings like those worn at shooting ranges, or by ground control crews at airports.
Next thing we know, we are speeding through the water at about 60 mph – so fast that it feels the ear muffs might fly off my head and the wind might yank the video camera out of my hands.
Meanwhile, Arthur is making the boat do 360-degree turns in the water and simultaneously talking a mile a minute about the wildlife whizzing by, about the depth of the water in any given place, about the air temperature, and just about anything else that pops into his head.
The craziest part of this excursion occurred about halfway through the tour. At the beginning, Arthur had casually mentioned that airboats could go just about anywhere.
However, that brief allusion early on did not prepare me for what was about to happen. Still driving at a swift pace, Arthur turned the boat towards dry land! As chief videographer, I was seated in the very front of the boat. Arthur showed no signs of slowing down.
So, I gripped the camera tightly and hoped for the best. The airboat jumped the bank, hopped up a fairly steep hill, spun around 180 degrees, and came to rest on dry land.
Clearly proud of himself, Arthur hopped off the boat, and in his rapid-fire Cajun accent, again announced that “Dis here boat can go anywhere, anytime.”
After recovering from the shock of having just “sailed” on dry land, the team and I stepped off long enough to catch our breath and have Arthur take a group photo of us. Then, it was back on board for the rest of tour.
That airboat ride with Arthur is an experience I will never forget. It gave the team a unique and up-close perspective of the Louisiana wetlands, a beautiful and vital natural resource. We also had a few heart-stopping moments along the way and lots of laughs.
Members of the Water Team finished the day with smiles on their faces, a memory card filled with footage of Southern Louisiana, and the unforgettable Cajun airboat pilot Arthur Matherne.