The End of the World is exactly like the Zone.
Not the End of the World in New Orleans, that strip of land for late night parties at the city border. No, in the marina of Venice, Louisiana – the final city of the Mississippi River – there is a sign.
“End of the World: 1/2 mile.”
We were at the end beyond the end.
And it looks it. We had taken our time that morning in the motel, we had drifted merrily along the road, fighting a stiff headwind and stopping for scenery and pictures. We hadn’t found restaurants so we sat under a live oak near Buras, LA. There we had apples and almond butter.
But by the Venice area we were hungry. It was late afternoon. A man at the gas station suggested we try the marina; otherwise the gas station itself was the last hope for food.
Cautiously, we bicycled into Venice. That city is past the levee, a lamb on the altar of Flood. We biked up and over the final dyke of southern Louisiana. From that small height, we had a view.
A view of four dozen smoke stacks, twice as any metal-girder towers, a hundred proud cranes at odd angles; I don’t know how many ships.
Use your imagination, friend, picture it: an entire small twentieth century nation, washed hurdy gurdy onto the shore of the Gulf, clinging to Louisiana’s postern with the promise of shrimp, crawfish and oil.
We entered in silence. The road seemed never to go through a town, rather to hint at one. Every side-lane could have been the route to a village, or simply a delivery road for semis. There was no one to ask, no human – only the raptors of industry. Deserted lots, deserted roads, empty boats, empty hangars. One road had a sign: Chevron. Another: Haliburton.
We saw one black fisherman, in this lonely place. I wondered if he was a phantom. The phantom told us the road to the marina. There, he promised, was food.
Well there are two marinas in Venice and both have a restaurant. They are on opposite sides of a harbor, and the near side was closed. The owner sold us a beer, but food was lacking; it took 90 minutes to get around to the other side.
There, at last, we ate. What should have been lunch was by now dinner, and when the last deep-fried platter was cleared away the sky was gold.
It was time to do our job.
Where is the end of my journey? One small catch: the road curves away from the river. That means there are two “end” points to choose from:
- The end of the actual road, which far from the river. You have to go past town to reach it.
- The farthest part of the main Mississippi channel that can be reached by foot. This is off the road before town.
I wanted to visit both.
First the end of the road. We turned left on the main road, the last jaunt of the whole Great River Road I’ve followed for a year. Much of it is gravel, and we walked the bikes. We forded a mud pit, then rode cautiously through a lake: yes, we did. The water floods the road often, there, and is infected with snakes, gators and a variety of chemicals. Once, I scared a fish on the road. Not long after we saw a gator—he was already dead.
This stretch also had more fishermen, these ones less like phantoms but just as quiet as we passed.
So what is the End of the World like? The road becomes dry again, then smoothly paved. It thinks it’s going somewhere. A gated entrance to a refinery. Fire hydrants. As if some movie director thought up a parody of the end of the universe and had it installed in the swamp.
Facing into the setting sun, we approached the mistaken sign, the sign that welcomes you to the “southernmost point in Louisiana.” It isn’t, but it’s as far as the road will take you. The road goes past the sign about 100 yards. Tar-smeared logs to the left; on the right, bayou.
And one heavyset man, smoking his cigarette at the End of Time.
“How’re you doing?” I asked.
He nodded his head.
Jessica and I sat on a log retaining wall, dangling our legs into swamp. It was perfect, the perfect picture of the End. Just at sunset, everything bathed in bronze, dragonflies around us, intense green river plants, living brown water, the stinging reek of tar, an ancient boat parked in the reeds.
To adventure is to make love to the world.
We had our moment, we took our pictures. This, to me, was the end of the first leg of the Great Adventure; this was what I needed to see. But all was not done, all not complete. I am a priest, you know, and I had a certain rite to perform.
When we biked away from the End, the heavyset man was still there, his smoke was still there, he watched us go, he watched us go away.
Back through the flooded road, back across the mud pit, back over the gravel, past one marina, past two marinas, all the fishermen driving away—driving away to where?—shrimp boats on trailers driving in, industry smoking in silence, a city that isn’t a city.
Back past Venice and back over the levee.
I returned to the bend in the road, the last bend in the whole road. We had biked past it that afternoon like it was nothing, and it is. I followed a track of gravel, weeds and barbed wire to edge of the river, the final reachable River if you haven’t got a boat.
After that she meanders some tens of miles through islands, coastal marsh and backwaters till she gives herself to the sea.
But here, she is river, she is the goddess Mississippi. I approached that final point, a dear friend watched as I knelt down, I placed myself in her water and I spoke to her.
Her source is a lake shaped like a triskele; I once swam to its center and offered a triskele. That was 10 months ago. Now I have followed her every inch, I have crossed her many times, I have slept on her bank, I have bathed in her water, I have eaten her food.
“May you be blessed.”
I gave her the offering that I brought. It was hand prepared by the Wandering Dragon. Thank you my brother, thank you.
One stubborn fisher watched as I threw it in, one fisher and one brave woman. And the gods, maybe the gods, did the gods watch too?
So it ended. So the first leg of the Great Adventure ended.
But there is much more to tell.
Part 3 will be up soon. Please share this on Facebook or wherever you like to share online. Comments are appreciated.