“My father was a coal miner for thirty-five years and died of black lung,” Howard told me, while resting from the heat and overhead brushstrokes of the outdoor mural he’s working on for a local food pantry. “When I [told my father] I wanted to study art—well, that wasn’t well received.”
Down a dirt lane, I park under a pine grove. I spot the old man I’m looking for standing beside the front door of a small white home, dressed in charcoal slacks, braided belt, and red suspenders over a pin-striped dress shirt, snow-white hair slicked back. He gazes with shiny, vacant eyes at the treetops, as if he has just stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, only he has no cigarettes. The last chief of the Apalachee beckons me in.
The problem wasn’t just the sinkhole and the fears about how big it might grow, but the lethal gases that the shifting earth had unleashed beneath Bayou Corne. Landry and others were now sitting atop a mound of methane, invisible and potentially explosive and trying to find a way to the surface, a way out.
The officers made their way down to the pair of moonshiners and went through the typical rigmarole of an arrest, everything they’d been taught. But before they started busting up the still with the axes they’d brought along, Rusty Hanna said something that caused all parties to freeze: “Now we’re gonna cook some whiskey.”