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Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast
Mike Tidwell
Pantheon Books: March 4, 2003
352 pp., $23.00, hardcover
ISBN: 0-375-42076-2

Did you know that the state of Louisiana is shrinking? It is losing 25 square miles of land each year. But it is losing more than just land, it is losing a way of life. Mike Tidwell's Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast describes how Louisiana's coastline is literally washing out to sea.

What started as an article for The Washington Post, has turned into a book about life and death of a land and a people. Tidwell knew nothing of the Louisiana Bayou country, of land disappearing under the encroaching sea water. From the scenes of burial vaults disappearing underwater, to telephone poles sticking out like twigs from the rising waters, Tidwell weaves a tale of environmental degradation. The destructive oil company practices of canals and pipelines encourage this land loss, as do the levees designed to stop the Mississippi River from flooding. These practices are some of the driving forces leading to Louisiana's land loss.

There are millions of migratory birds that call these marsh and coastal areas home. It is also a transitional resting point for America's songbird population. Without these coastal areas, whole species may be lost. In addition, these coastal wetlands and marshes protect the interior of Louisiana from the damaging affects of hurricanes - as evidenced by New Orleans flooding from Hurricanes Lili and Isidore. New Orleans is, on average, eight miles below sea level, and is slowly edging toward the Gulf of Mexico. A century ago, it was 50 miles away from the gulf - now it is 20 miles away. The barrier reefs and coastal marshlands provide both a wind block, as well as wave block, diminishing the destructive power of hurricanes on inland areas.

There are also the economic aspects to the loss of land happening in Louisiana. These aspects affect American consumers. The Louisiana's Bayou provides a third of America's seafood: shrimp, crab, fish, etc. Tidwell focuses on the brown shrimp population. Shrimp need a very specific environment to flourish and grow, and Louisiana's Bayou is an excellent incubator. And each and every year Bayou residents work very hard to get these shrimp into America's stores and restaurants. It is a way of life to these people, one that is slowly disappearing.

Intertwined with this is the soul of the Louisiana Bayou, the people living and working in a land that is slowing disappearing. From generations of Cajun people, members of the Houma tribe, and the Vietnamese Boat people, Tidwell works and travels with them on their fishing and shrimping boats. There is even a section on Tidwell's travels with a Houma medicine man. Bayou Farewell is replete with the history of each of these peoples. From the original emigration of Cajun people from France, to Canada, and finally to the Louisiana Bayou country. To the Houma Indians, a people that do not have federal recognition as an established tribe, yet have been forced to exist on the edges of the Bayou. He also gives a brief history of the Vietnamese Boat People, of a hard life where every dollar goes back to Vietnam to support families, and in some cases, whole villages. He describes whole communities whose entire way of life is vanishing under water

While this book is being described as a travel book by its publishers, it is also something more. It describes a people, a way of life, and an environment that are under siege from the bad land use practices of the early Twentieth century. It will take most of the Twenty-first century to fix it.

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