Author Kelby Ouchley with artist Emily Caldwell at the exhibition of her delightfully whimsical artwork in downtown Monroe.

Bayoudiversity and Bayoudiversity 2 author Kelby Ouchley with artist Emily Caldwell at the exhibition of her delightfully whimsical artwork in downtown Monroe.

Last night Kimmie and I celebrated the much-awaited launch of Kelby Ouchley’s  Bayou Diversity 2 by heading downtown to Monroe’s Central Business District for the Bi-monthly art festival Downtown Gallery Crawl, from 5-9 pm. There , amongst other wonders, we found an exhibition by artist Emily Caldwell of her spirited illustrations of nature that enrich the new sequel to Kelby Ouchley’s original Bayou Diversity, a seminal collection of his writings for radio broadcast celebrating the nature and people of Louisiana, published by LSU Press.

We had enjoyed her artwork in that book and also her mixed media art-work in the exhibition of ‘Wild! Art’ at Union Museum of Art and History in Farmerville last winter. She’s a brilliant artist, capturing the essence of her subjects with a whimsical flourish of their own vivacity juxtaposing natural curvilinear forms with geometric print patterns that seem to emphasize the subjects’ natural forms in contrast with their regularity and in combination project the image. Her lichen covered twig is jaw-dropping — I’ve seen that very twig on the forest floor with its lichen crust. She’s captured it very skillfully.  If you enjoy nature, and particularly art depicting the nature and wildlife of Louisiana check out her website https://emilycaldwell-art.com/

Her artwork for Bayou Diversity 2 is great!

I’m a bit embarrassed to say how much I didn’t know about this Sportsman’s Paradise before reading Bayou Diversity.  In that sense, I think Bayou Diversity is similar to E.O. Wilson’s Diversity of Life; I think both books are literary watersheds, both written by southern gentlemen greatly impressed by the nature of the southern United States and passing on that wonder and their insights to their readers.  This natural world makes a lot more sense having read them.

You should know that there are generations of local natural history knowledge in the Ouchley family, I seriously think that the Bayou Diversity books should be required reading. As should be the children’s book “Swamper: Letters from a Louisiana Swamp Rabbit” by Kelby’s wife Amy. It’s beautifully insightful of southern wildlife in its habitat.

For a foretaste of Kelby’s writings, why not visit www.bayou-diversity.com ?

There’s a lot of knowledge and careful thought invested in these pages, but there’s also inspiration. Can appreciation of nature be transferred? Yes, indeed. I think that that transfer is wholesome and essential. Just as an art teacher can show students how to appreciate the quality of light, and how light reveals form and texture, a good writer and a good artist can distill their informed observations of nature and pass on that exquisite liqueur to be enjoyed in perpetuity for as long as we and the species and phenomena share our common environment.

Furthermore, I dare say that the more people who read this book, then the longer we’ll be around together to make such observations. Ignorance is expensive and opportunity costs are very real.

As the titles suggest, the Bayou Diversity books are intelligent reading matter, biodiversity means the extent of difference (variety) in living organisms and bayous, as Kelby helpfully explains, are the water bodies with seasonally varying degrees of flow and varying shorelines, peculiar to the southeastern United States. Put them together and you have the subject of these books. It is the very rich extent of this biodiversity and its ecological and social interactions that make for fascinating reading and amount to an extraordinarily rich natural heritage of which every American should feel proud.

For foreign nature-lovers such as myself, Kelby’s writing is pure gold but anybody interested in the nature of the southeastern US will find these books enjoyable and mind-expanding.

I have to say that the books are beautifully written too, with the type of witty clarity that I most admire in writers. I’m quite selfish about my reading matter, I expect it to improve my mind and expand my knowledge.

If you don’t know some very fundamental stuff about North American nature, for example that the flapping birds tend to do their migrating at night and the soarers by day, then fear not because enlightenment is at hand.

While the first book covers a wide range of critters and critter behaviour, natural phenomena and human interactions with nature, there’s only so much that can be packed into 225 pages, hence the need for this sequel about 20 yrs later that further expands on the subject by featuring new wildlife, phenomena and historical interactions with nature and by adding to subjects previously covered. I have only just bought it and so haven’t read much of Bayou Diversity 2 yet.

Anyway, like a box of chocolates, these are books that can be enjoyed in various ways — at the run as if a novel, or as reference works, or randomly dipped.  In my family we’ve used the first book in all three ways. The short chapters lend themselves very well to pre-sleep reading — they’ll calm a busy mind and ready it for repose, also suit the limbo of the waiting room and suit reading aloud to others on car journeys. Very often the topics spark interesting conversations and draw out personal observations.

Visitors to Louisiana should read Bayou Diversity books in preparation for their visit and retain for reference; that will add much to the quality of your field experience, I think. It has to mine!

I hope that you enjoy the books as much as my wife and I do.