Here’s a magical piece of writing by Sam Anderson, on the art of tubing down the Bogue Chitto river in southeastern Louisiana. It begins with something that will be all too familiar to everyone who came to the Walker Percy Weekend:
People often compare the summer heat of Louisiana to being locked in a sauna for three months. The image is close, but a bit weak: It’s important to add that, in the sauna, you’re forced to wear a body stocking made of warm, honey-soaked cotton balls—and that, sometime around the beginning of July, you’re thrown into a clothes dryer (still within the sauna), in which you tumble around on high heat with a load of wet towels. Occasionally someone tosses in a smoldering coal, and one of the towels flares up and emits a damp smoke.
The point is that Louisiana’s heat is inescapable and aggressive. It dominates life to such an extent that you start to think consciously about things that are, in friendlier climates, unremarkable: breathing, for instance, and blood circulation. You start to strategize about walking, replacing it whenever possible with sprints from one air-conditioned building to the next. Life—restricted to the biosphere of your house and the local supermarket—begins to seem like an endurance experiment engineered by NASA.
This means that, from June to September, Louisiana’s outdoors are off-limits.
All too true. The only reason we didn’t do Walker Percy Weekend in May is because it conflicted with everybody’s school schedule.
Anderson writes about one way Louisianians conquer the heat: riding large innertubes down their lazy rivers. As he makes clear, tubing is more a state of mind than an activity:
The end result, and final object of tubing, is Dixie Zen: a highly elusive, mindless and mindful trance in which you feel drunk and loved, perfect and unrushed, and the euphoria is bound inextricably to the place that caused it. In my experience, a handful of other Louisiana pastimes serve as consistent portals to D.Z.: eating half a pan of bread pudding at one sitting, cheering with 14,000 strangers at a high-stakes college basketball game, standing alone on top of an Indian mound in the middle of the woods, or talking with the neighborhood sage for half an hour about nothing. But tubing is the most direct route. Even on a humble backwoods stream like the Bogue Chitto, you begin to understand why rivers have been the symbolic centerpieces of almost every culture, ancient and modern.
Drunk and loved, perfect and unrushed. Yes. Yes. Read the whole thing. This is exactly how it is.
I haven’t been tubing since I was in college, but I can tell you, everything Anderson says about it is true. Maybe this summer is time to introduce my kids to one of our greatest regional pleasures.