Some people say that it’s moss that hangs down from cypress trees. Some people say that it’s a commensal symbiotic epiphyte. But some of us know better.
A long-long time ago on the bayou, all the people had little houses, and all the houses had little farms, and all the farms had little levees for when the high water came up. Everyone was happy, especially a group of three kids who took turns pulling a little wooden boat on a rope along the side of the bayou, singing the song they made up, “Jouons le bateau sur le bayou.”
And even the sky was happy. It would hold up fluffy, white clouds every day and blow away clouds made up of the other colors. But one day, the other clouds got mad for always being blown away. They all got together, filled themselves up with water, and made the sky dark as night. And when the sky was dark, you could see mad light flash inside the angry clouds. And their low, mad voices rumbled across the trembling land. And when all the voices spoke at once, it made wind. And the wind blew hard-hard. None of the cypress trees could hold on to their leaves. All the egrets flew away. The walls of the little houses were blown down, and people hurried to hide under their roofs. The wind even blew water, and a wall of water came up the bayou from the Gulf. All their boats were wrecked. All the land and all farms were flooded.
When morning came, everything was gone. Water was on the land and land was in the water. And the kids were not singing. Their little wooden boat on the rope was gone. One of them said, “We can’t play boat no more.” The second kid said, “Papa Noël will bring us another boat for Christmas.” The third kid said, “Papa Noël’s not gonna find us with no house and all this water.” While the poppas and mommas tried to find food, the kids tried to find their little boat.
On the next day, some people in a boat rode the tide down the bayou and brought food and water. They brought clothes, and soaps, and some canvas and tools, and started building tents. Everybody got something, but there was no little wooden boat for the three kids. “We never gonna play boat again,” one kid said. The second kid said, “Papa Noël will bring us another boat for Christmas.” The third kid said, “Papa Noël’s not gonna find us with no house and all this water.” And none of the grand-pères and grand-mères, and neither the poppas and mommas, heard them. But there were some things out there that were listening.
When Christmas Eve came, they still had high water. The kids had no hope for a visit from the man who brought presents. But they fell into a deep-deep sleep, and when they woke early-early on Christmas day it was still dark-dark and the moon was still out. One by one, they each walked outside their tents to see the starry morning. But they saw something else, too! All the egrets that flew away from the mad clouds came back—hundreds and hundreds of them—and they sat high and low in the cypress branches, tree-by-tree, from faraway all the way to their tents. When the moon shined on their white feathers, each one glowed like a coal-oil lamp. “Maybe they showed Papa Noël the way to find us,” one of the kids said. With the light from the egrets, they could see that the cypress trees had grown roots above the high water like the knees of a man or a horse. And some of the knees were muddy, like somebody walked on top of them. “Maybe Papa Noël walked on top of the knees and didn’t get wet!” the second one said.
“And look!” The third one said. “Up on the branch!” He pointed to some stringy gray stuff up in the tree. “His beard got caught on that branch! Papa Noël passed for us! He was here!”
The kids ran to their tents to tell their poppas and mommas what they had seen. And all the poppas and the mommas smiled. And inside each of their tents, each kid found a new wooden boat on a rope. “Thank you for finding us, Papa Noël!” said one kid. “We can play boat again!” said the second kid. “I hope your beard grows back!” said the third kid.
And his beard did grow back, each and every year. A lotta-lotta years passed, and the kids grew up to become poppas and mommas themselves. And each Christmas Eve, they looked out from their houses with their own kids at all the stringy gray stuff hanging from the cypress trees near and far away to see how many times Papa Noël had remembered the bayou people for Christmas.