Reading With Hindsight — Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast

I’ve never re-posted a review before, but it seems appropriate to call attention once again to this timely book about the disappearing Louisiana wetlands.

Sadly, much of what author Mike Tidwell warns about as a worse case scenario came true two weeks ago in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. Just two years after Bayou Farewell was published,  it’s become dated. To read this book now will be an eerie experience and sad–many of the coastal communities Tidwell spent time in most likely have been washed away.

The message remains the same, however, and is more important than ever. Tidwell’s portrait of this unique region and the people who call it home powerfully conjures up what has been lost and must be reclaimed.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, now as I did then.

Mike Tidwell (2003)

I really really really loved this book. I found it in my favorite bookstore, which just happens to be in New Orleans.  When on vacation, I like to read books about or set in the places I’m visiting and this book fit the bill perfectly.  It’s also in the nature/travel genre that’s become a recent favorite of mine as well. Before I purchased Bayou Farewell, I’d never heard of it or the author. I test drove it in the store, reading the first few pages, and I was immediately drawn into it.  Tidwell’s examination into the disappearing landscape of the Louisiana coast, and the devastating effect it has on those who live there, human and animal, is fascinating, entertaining, frightening, enlightening, sad and a call to action.

Put very bluntly, the Louisiana coastline is disappearing at an alarming rate–an acre every 20 minutes. The bayou, that precious mixture of salt and fresh water where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, from which comes 30% of the world’s shrimp, where hundreds of bird species find safe harbor during migration, where Cajun families have lived off the land for generations, and which protects millions of people from New Orleans to Baton Rouge from hurricane storm surge, is on the brink of disaster. An environmental, cultural and economical disaster that very few Americans outside of Louisiana are even aware of. (I wasn’t until I read this book.)

One of the most amazing aspects in all of this is the silent way this beautiful, rich natural resourceful is slipping away.  If the Grand Canyon was crumbling away or the Florida coast melting away, and it was humanly possible to stop and even reverse the effects, it would be headline news, gathering financial support like crazy. But Louisiana is a poor state with the misfortune of being in the South. To make things worse, the pending doom is having an ironic positive effect on the shrimp industry (a short-lived, deceptive side effect resulting in record shrimp hauls) that makes it hard to get people who depend on the bayou for their livelihood to rally in any way for support. And locals who see the land literally disappearing out from under them feel a sense of futility and resignation that comes from an overwhelming situation.

Tidwell spent many months immersed in the environment and he does a wonderful job of summoning the sense and the spirit of the natural beauty, the wildlife and the people. I couldn’t read this book fast enough, and yet I didn’t want it to end, and when I’d finished it, I recommended it to everyone I could. [*****]

(Review originally posted 7.19.2004)

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