Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bayou Farewell -- a good read

Bayou Farewell: the rich life and tragic death of Louisiana's Cajun coast
by Mike Tidwell

This title caught my eye on a shelf in the public library. This is an area of the country that I know so little about, so I checked out a copy.
Up here in the midwest, Cajun often means only a style of (delicious and tasty!) cooking. In his book, Tidwell vividly describes Cajun culture, food, and unique language from his one-on-one encounters with fishermen and crabbers in the Louisiana bayous. Tidwell hitchhiked along with several crabbers, shrimpers, and others as they go about their daily and nightly routines, offering to work for them in exchange for conversations that would make up his research.
Tidwell's new friends were welcoming and candid, and the stories they shared create a vivid picture of the coast and its people. He delves into the seafood industry itself and the generations of (mostly) men who work in it.
Through these conversations another picture emerges: that of a disappearing coastline. Tidwell wonders why there are telephone poles in the middle of the water and dead oak trees, a land tree, sticking out of submerged, isolated groves. His hosts explain that the rapid changes in the coastline caused by human impact are allowing the salt water of the Gulf to overtake the bayous and marshes of the region at the same time as the sediment-formed land sinks below water level.
The author's descriptions of his new friends and his surroundings are vivid, sensory, and detailed. I felt like I was riding along the bayous with him as I read. He examines the potential environmental catastrophe from both scientific and political angles. There is a definite bias in his writing toward saving and rebuilding the bayous -- a bias he supports convincingly through his data and stories.
Bayou Farewell was originally published in 2003. The new edition contains an update written after the hurricanes of 2005, Rita and Katrina. It is a valuable book and a worthwhile read on topics of both the peoples and the land. I highly recommend it to all who are interested in society's impact on unique cultures and on our fragile environment.
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