Born in 1937, Greg Guirard moved, with his extended family, to the western edge of the Atchafalaya Basin in St. Martin Parish. Greg was two years old at this time, and while he moved to other places (Belize, Costa Rica, North Carolina, Virginia), and traveled extensively within the US, he always came back home.
Greg is the father of four grown children, and for 13 years he made his living teaching English in colleges and high schools. Eventually, he found his passion was for the wilderness he called home, and the people who made their living there.
Of late, he spent most of his time crawfishing, salvaging ancient cypress logs from the swamp, fighting to save and restore the environment with Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, and writing and publishing books about the people, scenery and wildlife in and around the Atchafalaya Basin. He recorded the land, its wildlife, and its people in beautiful photographs and writings, publishing seven books, four of which are still available.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Greg Guirard is the most honest man I know. I think that’s the bottom line. I’ve been “studying on it,” as my kin say in South Georgia, for a couple or three years now.
I heard about him long before I met him. His photography books – lush, evocative scenes of the Atchafalaya Swamp he inhabits – were everywhere I went. They were in fancy book stores and lowly bait shops and homes both rich and poor. It was as if the swamp had its own Karsh, a mysterious portrait artist who ran a low profile and existed only to make the things he loves look lovely.
And then I met Greg. In the flesh. He came to dinner at my invitation and at my house. He ate our ducks. He drank a little wine. He talked about a life that sounded exotic: teaching in Costa Rica, Lafayette and Belize; crawfishing in the swamp; raising a family; resurrecting cypress logs, making both movies and furniture.
He knew everyone. He’d met movie stars and politicians, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and poet Miller Williams, whom he lived next door to in Baton Rouge. Miller is singer Lucinda Williams’ father, and she’s a favorite of mine.
And yet, and this is it, he seemed far more impressed by his friends in the swamp than his friends in high places. He was the most truly democratic soul I’d ever encountered.
He had no reason to become my friend. He had plenty of friends. But he did. Become my friend. One of my best.
And when my husband died and I was forced to pack up my belongings, sell my house and move away, Greg was there to help, lifting and loading and counseling when I felt lower than his sunken cypress logs. There was no percentage in it for him, but then Greg Guirard is also the most unselfish person I know. He doesn’t do things that pay off; he’s not about networking or ladder-climbing or any of that nonsense invented by a society that falls on its back to get ahead.
And I’m not somehow special. Greg is open to friendship with anyone, of any age, of any socio-economic strata, if he feels he might learn something new. I’m not sure what he’ll learn from me. But already I’ve learned that there are left in this life a few good-to-the-bone people who will be there for you when you are down and out and lonely and confused and mad at the world. When you’re not easy to befriend…