Lotus Eater: Up Close and Personal with a Delta Jewel

This article is from the fall edition of Mobile Baykeeper’s print quarterly, CURRENTS. The magazine is mailed to active members who have given more than $50 in 2023. To get on the magazine’s mailing list, donate here.

by Caine O’Rear

I’d long heard about the American Lotus that blooms each summer in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. How it blankets huge swaths of water with its yellowed beauty. Until recently, I regret to say, I had never seen these mythical flowers up close and in the wild. Nor was I aware they grew so plentifully in the lower reaches of the Delta, just a short kayak trip from the Causeway. My impression had always been that you had to venture by boat into the upper reaches of America’s Amazon to see such huge patches in all their glory. 

So when my colleague Valerie Longa, the education director at Mobile Baykeeper, told the staff the flowers were still blooming in early August (it’s rare for them to be strutting their stuff so late in the season) and a large patch could be seen just a short paddle from Meaher State Park, I had to take a look for myself. 

So I kayaked one Saturday morning to Ducker Bay, a small inlet circumscribed by wetlands just west of the Blakeley River, with the hope of finding them still in bloom. You can find this little bay by launching at Meaher and hanging a right before reaching the Blakeley and then navigating through a narrow pass curtained on both sides by enormous cordgrass. 

There I found the wonderland of color and life I had once only seen in imagination. Beds of lotuses surrounded me on three sides with their expansive pads standing proud of the water. Their forest of yellow blooms stood higher still to catch the sun. Under their canopy is the perfect shade and camouflage for fish and alligators, while the nectar of the flowers is catnip for insects and birds like the red-winged blackbird and common moorhead. All parts of the lotus are edible but I declined nature’s snack that day. I wanted to eventually return home, unlike some of Odysseus’ shipmates. 

Ducker Bay is a shallow, peaceful spot. It reminded me that kayaking is the best way to experience the Delta. Life teemed in the water about. Redfish and gar darted and splashed around my kayak. Juvenile crabs crawled among the tape grass. At water level you can see first-hand the fragile nursery that is the lower part of the Delta. You need to see it for yourself. 

The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that without mud there is no lotus, and that suffering and happiness are intertwined. As I pondered this on the water that morning I watched the slow, miasmic crawl of traffic along the Bayway and felt happy in my little hermitage on the water. I was right-sized, far removed from the hustle of the modern world. Maybe I didn’t need to hurry home just yet. 


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