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Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast

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The Cajun coast of Louisiana is home to a way of life as unique, complex, and beautiful as the terrain itself.  As award-winning travel writer Mike Tidwell journeys through the bayou, he introduces us to the food and the language, the shrimp fisherman, the Houma Indians, and the rich cultural history that makes it unlike any other place in the world. But seeing the skeletons of oak trees killed by the salinity of the groundwater, and whole cemeteries sinking into swampland and out of sight, Tidwell also explains why each introduction may be a farewell—as the storied Louisiana coast steadily erodes into the Gulf of Mexico.

Part travelogue, part environmental exposé, Bayou Farewell is the richly evocative chronicle of the author's travels through a world that is vanishing before our eyes.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Mike Tidwell

11 books13 followers
Mike Tidwell is founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and DC. He is also an author and filmmaker who predicted in vivid detail the Katrina hurricane disaster in his 2003 book Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast. His newest book, focusing on Katrina and global warming, is titled The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities. Tidwell’s most recent documentary film, We Are All Smith Islanders, vividly depicts the dangers of global warming Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.

Tidwell has been featured in numerous media outlets including NBC's Meet the Press, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He is also the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Earthbeat," which features ground-breaking global warming news and interviews live from the nation's capital.

In 2003, Tidwell received the Audubon Naturalist Society's prestigious "Conservation Award." Two years later he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. On Earth Day 2010 -- the 40th anniversary of Earth Day -- the Montgomery County Council named Tidwell one of the County's top 40 environmental leaders over the past 40 years. A long-time resident of Maryland, Tidwell lives in Takoma Park with his eleven-year-old son Sasha.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews
Profile Image for Gay.
Author 22 books40 followers
December 11, 2007
I read this book shortly after Katrina. Here's the review I wrote on Amazon.

According to Michael Tidwell, in his book Bayou Farewell, twenty-five miles of Louisiana coastline disappear each year. That's 25. 2-5. And this statistic may be more dramatic in the wake of Katrina and Rita, yet most of us are unaware of what is happening in the estuaries of Southern Louisiana. The state's rich supply of wildlife, animal, marine, and avian, is threatened by the advance of the Gulf of Mexico into the wetlands. It's turning fresh water into salt, drowning native grasses, oak trees, cemeteries, and small towns. Changes in the fragile chemistry of the wetlands endangers oysters and crabs. Eventually the migration route for the white and brown shrimp will disappear. The people of this area are in retreat. Louisiana fishermen supply "an astonishing 30 percent of American's annual seafood harvest, measured by weight." When the wildlife is gone and the people are relocated to higher ground, we all lose.

In recent years, many of us have experienced the unique culture of "Sout' Loosiane" by traveling to New Orleans and perhaps cruising down Bayou Black or Lafourche. Many of us know Louisiana through movies like The Big Easy and books such as Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke. And most of us have fallen in love with the food, the shrimp okra gumbo, the blackened red-fish, the crawfish etoufee. Would there be the BAM of Emeril without Cajun food? What's Cajun food without Louisiana shrimp, red-fish, oysters, and crabs? The state's plight is everyone's problem and Tidwell's book takes you deep into the heart of the swamp.

Writing before Katrina and Rita, Tidwell relates his journey through the wetlands via shrimp trawlers, crab boats, and oil-company supply ship. He hitch-hikes down bayous and canals, meeting and talking with Cajuns, the Houma tribe, Vietnamese settlers, and the environmentalists who are trying to wake up America to this continuing tragedy. Author and Louisianan Burke says Bayou Farewell is "The best book on Louisiana I have ever read...stunning, beautifully written," and I have to add that it's a jolting call to arms for the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. It reminds me of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a book length essay about man's responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Silent Spring changed the way we think about our custodial duty to the environment and Bayou Farewell admonishes us as to how we have forgotten that duty.

Over thousands of years, the Mississippi has built the delta that makes up Southern Louisiana. The estuary and its wildlife developed because of the river's constant deposit of sediment at its mouth. This natural process has been interrupted by man and levee system which now takes that sediment and dumps it over the continental shelf and into the Gulf of Mexico. In other words, Louisiana wetlands are being starved of its nourishment of dirt, mud, silt, sand. As the sediment is denied into the area, the salty waters of the Gulf are filling the void, moving farther and farther inland. The end result is the disappearance of the land, the creatures that inhabit it, and a unique way of life.

There are solutions to help rebuild the coastline and estuaries, but Tidwell warns us to take action now. At the rate of twenty-five miles per year, that gives us maybe thirty years before it's all gone.

I urge you to read Bayou Farewell and tell others to read it. Send it to your congressman. Thanks for your attention and time.
Profile Image for Alisa.
385 reviews69 followers
September 9, 2018
The Louisiana coastline is disappearing at the astonishing rate of 25 acres a day. EVERY DAY. But when you mention this to people, at best they will lament the sad sate of environmental affairs and our seeming inability to make progress on battling climate change but more likely they will just shrug their shoulders. It may be sad but what can be done? Plenty, if there was political will and money and business and government and communities working together. The reason a lot of people shrug their shoulders over this however is that they really don't understand what it means to them in real terms. The Gulf of Mexico and specifically the gulf coast of Louisiana is a huge source of the seafood consumed in America, and that industry supports the livelihood and way of life for generations of people who still live off the land and perpetuate a unique culture. The ecosystem of the gulf waters is also dying off rapidly with the deterioration of the marshlands. Can the erosion be reversed? Can the coastline be rebuilt or at least saved? Can the gulf oil & gas industry operate in a way that minimizes impact on the environment, and is there a role for them to play in rebuilding part of what they destroyed with all the canal dredging in the gulf access waterways? Ironically, some of the very forces that are destroying the wetlands are creating a boom in brown shrimp harvest. The very people whose means of earning a living relies on this harvest are experiencing a boom that is on the verge of turning to bust in a few short years. Then what happens? Where will they go? The loss of natural barriers also means the loss of protection from hurricanes. A strong enough storm unimpeded has the potential to wipe out not only the coastal communities, but New Orleans and upriver to Baton Rouge and beyond. You think Katrina was bad? It can get a whole lot worse very soon unless something is done. NOW.

I got carried away there for a minute with the questions, but they are real, and the issues are important, and deserve far more attention than the short shrift the topic gets today.

This book sounds the alarm on the current state of affairs of deterioration of the bayous and coastline of Louisiana. Part environmental treatise, part travelogue, part cultural examination, and delivered with a vivid illustrative and heartfelt narrative, this book is really a love letter to the bayou. The author manages to mix science and culture studies to tell the story of this huge ecological dilemma through the eyes and words of the people who live along the bayous and rely, in some way, on the gulf for their survival. Really well done, highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about our environment. If nothing else it will give you new appreciation for the shrimp on your plate.
Profile Image for Desiree.
152 reviews
December 1, 2008
Hands down, a must read for anyone who loves Louisiana and/or the Cajun culture. A fascinating, but sad look at the state of the culture and the State of Louisiana. As a native Louisianian, I found it difficult to read this book as it made me sad to see what's happening to the place where I was born and raised. This place is so special to me, but just like many of my fellow Cajuns, I have fled the state in search of better job opportunities. It's sad to see that a smart, motivated individual has a hard time making a living wage in Louisiana, but the author explores the question of "Why" and documents what is happening to the people who are choosing to stay. A culture is being lost along with land - at a very swift pace.

A great read, even though it does make me sad to think of the future (or lack thereof) of Louisiana and the Cajun culture.
Profile Image for April.
205 reviews16 followers
December 22, 2007
This is one of the best non fiction books I've read. Tidwell does an excellent job of describing a very complex environmental and social problem with many of the details included, while making it interesting and easy to read. His experiences in the Bayou with the peoples that live on the land there are phenomenal. This book is an excellent suggestion for anyone interested in either environmental, social or travel stories. I would like to have all Americans read it.
Profile Image for Kurt.
12 reviews
August 12, 2007
If you're from South Louisiana and you don't read this book, your Louisiana Card should be revoked.
Profile Image for Sean Chick.
Author 5 books1,040 followers
August 7, 2018
A moving personal account of the cultures that survive on the edge of America, mostly Cajun but also Houma and Vietnamese. Written in 2003, its dire predictions and warnings hurt even more in 2018 as the world stumbles towards an environmental disaster Tidwell clearly sees. It was also interesting to read a work about a more unique cultural diversity, instead of "a hip slogan we mumbled on the way to the same melting-pot mall" to quote Tidwell. The current diversity debate, itself lacking a more thorough discussion of culture and class, pales a bit compared to this this work. For one, Bayou Farewell was written without the condescension of more contemporary works that pathologize, rather than empathize, with whites in the countryside. In addition, it is before the current racial debate placed whites into a homogeneous mass (as evidenced in most Coates essays at The Atlantic) rather than seeing the differences between said cultures. Tidwell's honesty, perceptiveness, and empathy is sorely lacking in the current culture war.
Profile Image for Missy Ivey.
537 reviews29 followers
February 17, 2021
One of the most amazing reads in quite a while! The author takes you on a once in a lifetime adventure deep into the swamps of Louisiana that sits below New Orleans and finds that the Gulf of Mexico is reclaiming, and has been reclaiming, hundreds and hundreds of acres for many years.

Yes! He is an environmentalist, but not your screaming environmentalist that foolishly screams to shut everything down now. He believes there is a way to save the coast so fisherman, shrimper and crabbers can continue to crab for many, many years, save the navigational system in the Misissippi, and save the agricultural lands along the Mississippi so people can continue to live and farm.

He's such an awesome writer that I felt like I was on this awesome journey with him, hitchhiking on shrimpboats down the bayou from Golden Meadow to the Gulf, visiting some of the most remote villages deep into the swamp, and experiencing the "battlefield" for shrimpers out at Barataria Bay at the first full moon in May...the week before shrimp season opens inside Louisiana territory.

I'm a Cajun whose family has migrated to Southeast Texas. I'm very envious of his journey. My husband and I are making plans now for a weekend adventure excursion to check out the boot below New Orleans. I've never been there before and want to make the drive through Golden Meadow and Leeville, all way to the end of Highway 1, to Grand Isle, Louisiana.

The book was originally published in 2003, with the newest publication in 2010. Here we are now, the year 2018, I wonder if anything has been done to convert some of the Mississippi River back down to the swamps? I'm curious to see if 8 cemetery crypts are still visible above water at the Leesville bridge, or has the Gulf completely claimed them?
12 reviews3 followers
August 9, 2008
In June, I filled in with an ecology lab at LSU's Dept. of Oceanography and Coastal Studies (basically, my friend Joe threw me a bone). This was a great way to close out my time in Louisiana--finally seeing (and trudging through) the disappearing wetlands of the state. And this book helped me pull it all together...

Louisiana contains fully 40% of the nation's wetlands, and as Tidwell explains, these aren't just mosquito-breeding fields, but rich ecosystems upon which the entire nation depends. Of course, as we all know post-Katrina & Rita, they provide also provide buffers from storm surge.

For a variety of reasons--almost all the consequence of either oil & gas drilling or the maintenance of the Mississippi's shipping channel via the Corps of Engineers-maintained levee system, Louisiana's wetlands are disappearing at a rate of about a football field every 38 minutes.

As Tidwell goes to great pains to show, this is not an abstraction, but has tangible and immediately obvious consequences on both the landscape and the communities who depend on these wetlands. Like many nature writers, he veers quickly and often in the purplest of proses: his metaphors are strained at times, particularly when describing something beautiful, and in his reverence for a
"simpler" way of life on the bayou, he risks fetishizing his subject. Such is often the case with nature and travel writing. I was able to get past these stylistic issues because the analysis and the reportage is so meaty. Wholeheartedly recommonded.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
201 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2008
Most accurate description I've read of coastal Louisiana and Cajun culture...he does a great job of capturing the feeling of being in South Louisiana, especially the food, the people, and unfortunately the disappearing coast. I've never been so sad, proud, and hungry all at the same time while reading a book. While reading on the subway I looked up several times shocked to see that I was in NYC and not on a boat somewhere in a bayou.
27 reviews
July 17, 2008
This book is about the coastal erosion of Louisiana. It is told by a man who traveled the bayous and bays of the La. coast with the people who live there. I like that it is about the people and not a just a sermon about how desperate the situation is along the coast. And the situation is extreme.
11 reviews34 followers
January 28, 2008
This is a first rate book on the destruction of the bayous. Also a great book for understanding why Hurricane Katrina was so destructive. It's really sad admittedly, but Tidwell is a strong writer and it's enjoyable at the same time.
Profile Image for Abby Eckland.
13 reviews18 followers
January 18, 2020
Bayou Farewell is, so far, my favorite book written about Louisiana's coastal land-loss crisis. This book touched my heart in several ways. Having conducted boat-based field work in many of the same towns and waterways that Tidewell visits himself, I feel grateful that 1) many of the places Tidewell visits or discusses are still above water (major exception being Isle de Jean Charles), and 2) I was able to see and experience these landscapes and cultures before they vanish into the Gulf of Mexico.

Although written in 2003, prior to both Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill, I find Tidewell's analysis of the coastal crisis extremely relevant and accurate. There has been far too little progress made towards coastal restoration in the past two decades since Tidewell visits the LA coast, despite the surge in funding for research and restoration sparked from two of America's worst disasters.

Louisiana's land is being stolen from right beneath it. As a travel writer, Tidewell is enraged that LA's coastal crisis is not conveyed in the national media. Why is this, you might ask? Tidewell argues that the people living in these spaces have been, for centuries, neglected by state and federal governments and shoved to the southernmost marshes of the state. Maybe if their voices were lifted and not smothered, the rest of the world would know their story and demand action to be taken.

For 50 years now, scientists have known why the LA coast is disappearing rapidly: due to levees that stop the Mississippi River from flooding and releasing its water and sediments to its now-starved floodplain, and oil and gas companies carving thousands of miles of canals into the marshes, allowing saltwater to penetrate deep into the landscape, killing vegetation. It is extremely frustrating that in the year 2020, I still feel the responsibility to get in the muck myself (literally), fix this problem, and get the word out, since most people in the state and country still have absolutely no idea that a football field of land vanishes from the LA coast every hour (and that's a modest estimate).

During my field data collection campaigns to the coast, specifically to Port Fourchon and eastern Grand Isle, I was nervous to admit I was a scientist. Scientists are not always welcomed in these communities. Based on my own interactions with fishermen, I figured they did not want scientists' recommended sediment diversions to take place since diversions will disrupt salinity balances that fisheries depend on. However, sediment diversions are the most promising technique being designed to restore vast portions of LA's coastal marshes - the very marshes these fishermen depend on to nourish their daily catch. Fear of sediment diversions may be part of fishermens' distaste for scientists, but Tidewell argues that the real reason is because pretty much everyone in this part of the world really hates the government (which funds science). The same government that has neglected the Cajun, Vietnamese, and Native communities living on these lands for centuries. They don't trust the government to fix a problem of this magnitude. No heckin' way.

Depressing yet invigorating, nostalgic and familiar, Bayou Farewell will always be one of my favorites. I hope farewell stays away for a while longer; we clearly still have lots of work to do.
Profile Image for Hillary.
14 reviews8 followers
October 13, 2013
The southern coast of Louisiana, consisting of marshy wetlands, small islands, and miles upon miles of twisting and turning bayous, is the fastest disappearing landmass on earth. And yet almost no one outside of Louisiana has heard anything about this looming environmental disaster. The southern coast contributes billions of dollars each year to the state’s economy and Louisiana alone produces around 30% of the nation’s seafood. Not to mention the fact that the southern wetlands protect the rest of the state from inundating waves and disastrous flooding from hurricanes each year. In addition, the wetlands are nesting and breeding territory for thousands of birds, a rest stop for those birds migrating, and a home to hosts of other animals including alligators, dolphins, snapping turtles, crabs, shrimp, and other land and sea creatures. And even though a plan that experts agree would halt the land loss and, over time, actually build new land, was first proposed in the 70s, it has not become even close to being implemented. Bayou Farewell follows Tidwell as he travels the bayous of southern Louisiana on shrimp, crab, and oil boats, working and staying with Cajuns, Houma Indians, and the Vietnamese who settled en masse in the Louisiana wetlands after the Vietnam war, and those scientist and environmentalists working to save this quickly disappearing wetland.

The reason for the wetlands turning to ocean at an alarming rate, of houses and whole communities turning to open sea water is simple: in 1927, after the Great Mississippi Flood, the worst flood in US history, the Mississippi was dammed and placed under control with a series of levees. Bound on all sides, the Mississippi can no longer flood naturally and release its tons of sediments it gathers on its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, it dumps this earth uselessly into the continental shelf. With the wetlands cut off from the Mississippi, it can no longer receive the sediments and dirt it so desperately needs and the land, hounded by waves, begins to disappear. The situation is made worse by the fact the bayous are crisscrossed with literally thousands of miles of canals built by the oil industry to make the laying of pipe underneath the bayou easier. These canals erode at an alarmingly fast rate and literally eat the earth away, causing more devastation.

Scientists believe that it took 7,000 years for the Mississippi and its sediment load to create the Louisiana wetlands. In the past century a third of this land has disappeared, due just about entirely to human interference. But the process can be slowed and even reversed if the Third Delta Conveyance Channel is built. First proposed in the 1970s, the idea is to build a man-made river bottom and to let around a third of the Mississippi divert its current levee restrained course north of New Orleans and let it flow to the south. This would ensure that life-giving sediment reaches the areas that need it most and, slowly, the loss land would be halted and, with decades, reversed. It is unlikely that the conveyance channel would restore the wetlands to its original state- too much has been lost- but some land can be recovered and the fishing and shrimping economy that so many depend on would be sustained. Unfortunately, the plan would cost billions of dollars and Louisiana is chronically short on funds. But the solution is there. Within a decade or two the coast will be so eroded that it would be impossible to restore it; it will be gone forever. It is critical to act now to ensure this unique environmental and cultural pocket of America survives.

Tidwell does an excellent job describing the dangers facing these wetlands and the people who inhabit it. The area is the cultural bastion for the Cajun culture and thus is an area close to my heart as I am Cajun on my father’s side. The situation as it stands now is very bleak, and as far as I am aware no meaningful progress to make the Third Delta Conveyance Channel a reality has been made since this was published, but I remain hopeful.

Besides describing the environmental crises, Tidwell does an excellent job telling of the crisis facing the people who depend on the bayou for their livelihood. He describes with great sensitivity the issues facing those literally watching the land recede before their eyes. He spends time with Cajuns, Houma Indians, and Vietnamese depicting these unique cultures and their concerns fairly and without judgement. To be honest, I would have preferred less time dealing with Tidwell and his personal experiences and more time with those fighting to save the bayous and wetlands from utter destruction, but I did enjoy the fact that it gave me a chance to ‘meet’ the people of the bayou.

This book was published in 2003, before Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, both of which caused terrible damage to the area environmentally, economically, and emotionally to the people themselves who lost homes, jobs, or their lives. I can’t help wanting to know how the coast was affected by theses events- how much marsh turned to sea by Katrina, how the health of the water and the animals were effected by the oil spill, and whether these events intensified the urgent need to save this landscape in the eyes of government officials who so far have acted frustratingly slowly to effect desperately needed change.

But that will have to be something that I find out on my own. I am not sure how many other books are out there on the topic of Louisiana’s disappearing coastline, but I know that there are tons of books out there on the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. I’ll have to do some research and see which ones interest me the most, but this is a topic that I would like to explore more in the future.
Profile Image for Eva Counts.
1 review
March 23, 2021
We can assume that the main objective of this book was to bring light to the problem that coastal Louisiana is facing in regard to coastal land loss and erosion. Though Tidwell attempts to encapsulate the culture and heritage of many groups that make up the Louisianan coastal community in order to humanize the problem (I guess), he falls excruciatingly short on that field. Tidwell constantly generalizes the Cajun community into something that mirrors an episode Duck Dynasty or Swamp People. Throughout the book, as he hitch hikes down the bayou, he constantly exploits the hospitality of the people he meets, rarely giving them anything in return for their kindness. He continuously extrapolates on the experiences of the Cajun people, tarnishing the inferences that should be left to the reader and diminishing the experiences he is supposed to be retelling. His comparison of the movement of the Acadian people to slavery is extremely problematic, as is his representation of both the Houma Native Americans and the Vietnamese population. The inclusion of dialect for the Cajun people and the Vietnamese people is downright distasteful. He includes odd personal details of the people he encounters, leaving the readers to questions the reverence of these details to the problem of coastal land loss. Overall, his characterization and overgeneralization of the people he meets takes away from the main objective of the book. It also comes off as Tidwell painting himself as the "Coastal Messiah" who is the sole person sounding the alarm about the issues Louisiana is facing. If I were able to give this book less than one star, I would.
367 reviews
March 29, 2023
Devastating to read, especially 20 years later. A bit repetitive, but we certainly don't seem to learn or listen no matter how much he repeats himself. Cool to have been to some of these places. Sad to know folks still really don't know the story of the environmental cataclysm happening in South Louisiana.
Profile Image for Sheather Nelson.
79 reviews4 followers
March 31, 2012
I liked the personal stories, the great description, and the sort of outsider wonder at learning about the erosion and destruction of the Louisiana coast. As an environment reporter, I would have liked it a bit better if the author had not obviously been a travel writer amazed into writing an environmental/cultural book, because he sometimes acted so shocked by information that has been publicly available to not only scientists but politicians for decades. But then again, most Americans were amazed when Hurricane Katrina ate a big chunk of Louisiana (after this book was published), so his perspective is perhaps representative of the average casual reader. His characterization is great and it's neat to feel the excitement of adventuring through the bayou with him when he's basically hitching through the wilderness with strangers who almost come from another country. This gave him the ability to make all these environmental issues, from oil pipelines to Mississippi dredging, very real and personal. I finished this a while ago but it remains very clear in my mind, despite having read other articles and books on the same topic.
Profile Image for Eric Nguyen.
21 reviews36 followers
February 16, 2021
First published in 2003, this has aged a bit. The book warns of a storm coming to Louisiana that would be "the big one" and, of course, that happened in 2005 with Katrina. The environmental issues the book explores, too, have become more dramatic since its research and writing. Still, if you can get past the dated facts and some badly done mimicking of region accents, this is an interesting book about the declining environment of the Louisiana coast and the people--Cajuns, Houma, Vietnamese--who live there.
Profile Image for Jack.
197 reviews2 followers
December 15, 2015
A poignant story of the disappearing wetland and an unfolding disaster. The story is told through living and working with the chief culture of the Bayou the Cajuns. The desire for oil without concern for environmental consequences has led to the disappearance of an acre of land every 20 min. and consequently the culture and homes and livelihood of the fishermen who live and work on the Bayou.
Profile Image for Lauren.
18 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2007
Thorough and engaging reporting about what is really happening to Louisiana's coast. Tidwell helps readers grasp the enormity of the problem, info you would hope that leaders/politicians and the Army Corps of Engineers would have, but it doesn't seem that way.
Profile Image for gadabout.
101 reviews
August 28, 2020
It may be right in its themes and underlying issues, but this book is still 50% fabricated and 50% exaggeration of the truth, with a light peppering of tragedy voyeurism.
Profile Image for Josi.
172 reviews10 followers
March 10, 2022
Obviously, me reading this in 2022 and this being written in 2003 - some stereotypical and prejudicial way of thinking is mentioned in this book so be warned if you do pick up this book.

I read this for my geography class and this book follows the author through Louisiana's coastland where he meets those severely effected by the wetland loss. He witnesses the traditions of shrimpers, learns about the culture of Cajuns, the native Houmas, and Vietnamese throughout south Louisiana. He also meets with professionals - conservationists, groups helping what little they can, politicians, and people who work in the oil field.

I think if you have no clue about Louisiana and it's rapid coastal land loss and cultural loss this is an easy read and can scratch the surface of both. Being over 20 years old, the language of this book is not the greatest but it does show how the people who live in the marshes and bayous of Louisiana are often seen as the lowest of the low. Being they all live off the land and provide for themselves with what's around them and mostly concerning themselves with the catch.

The biggest theme or message from this book is to find a way to prevent further land loss/cultural loss and the very real possibility of losing South Louisiana as a whole. The culture, the land, the people are all at risk. Louisiana's bayou has a rich history and it can literally be completely submerged by water in our lifetime.
Profile Image for Audrey Baetz.
34 reviews
May 2, 2022
Truly incredible, heart breaking book about Louisiana, her coast, and her inhabitants. Tidewell does an amazing job exploring the history of Louisiana’s coast, connecting us with so many different communities, and laying out why nothing has been accomplished to save the coast. A must read!
Profile Image for Brian.
362 reviews59 followers
February 15, 2009
This book was special for me. It spoke of a place, of customs, and people I'd nearly forgotten because of distance and time put between us. Through weekly talks with my parents, emails of news articles, and reading of online bayou papers I've been kept informed of the disappearing Louisiana coast. My annual trips to the bayou also remind me how fast the land is sinking. I see the differences each year and they're not subtle differences. Places I used to walk, build 'camps', sit under trees and fish are now just water. Prairies of marsh grass around Leeville with little trinasse's [water channels:] meandering through the fields of green are now just open water. The community is drowning.

Mike Tidwell's book is non-fiction, but it reads like fiction, even like science fiction at times. His message about the disappearing coast is clear. But this is not simply a study of coastal erosion. He travels and lives with the people who call the bayou home, refugees of past wars, people pushed to the southern extremes to eke out a living; the Cajuns, the Indians, and the Vietnamese (before the giant hurricane of 1893 there was even a Chinese community living on the bayou).

I learned just recently that FEMA does not recognize the levee system protecting the lower Lafourche Parish. As a result of this, flood insurance is expected to triple. People are now paying nearly 3 times the amount of their mortgages on insurance. Many are forced to leave. Many don't have insurance.

Simply put, the taming of the Mississippi River and the oil rush of the 20th century created the problem we see today. Plans have been developed to right this wrong. But it appears that once again the Cajuns, the Indians, and the Vietnamese will have to move on and look for other lands, exiled again.

• "Diz life down here," he says, "it's in [the:] blood. He just don't realize it yet. He don't realize he can go wherever he wants but he'll never be happy unless he lives down de baya. What good's a job payin' a million dollars if you ain't happy?"

• Before we drift off, Phan lights a final Marlboro in the dark. His Asian face glows with a faint orange hue as he says, "I think, you know, I'm like special eel in Thailand or salmon in Alaska. Many years go by and I travel far from home and I grow up and now, much time later, I make long trip back, thousands of miles back, to place where my life began, to place where I was born."

• My travels along the coast are almost over, and the sadness that comes at the end of any meaningful journey is now compounded by the very real possibility that I will never pass this way again. Not because I don't want to, but because the place won't exist. It might be gone. In all my travels around the world I've never had to say goodbye to a place in quite this manner. I've never even imagined such a place could exist. The traveler is supposed to go away, not the destination.

• ... land is still disappearing at the astonishing rate of 25 to 35 square miles per year.
(this was a pre-Katrina/Rita estimate)
Profile Image for Hannah.
130 reviews16 followers
December 24, 2013
It's always interesting to get an outsider's perspective on your own culture. Sometimes he understands it very well. At other times, he misses the mark. In this case, Mike Tidwell hits the mark very well. He includes Southern Louisiana folklore, mentioning swamp Cajuns, the Houma Indians, and the Vietnamese. He impressively integrates the folklore into his devastated story about the loss of Louisiana's coastline. The lives and cultures he describes sums up many Louisianan's experiences, especially the story about the oil industry. Despite the fact that this book was printed in the early-mid 2000s, the information in it still applies now, more than 5 years later.

Tidwell writes his adventures in a fiction-like style, incorporating facts and scientific information here and there. The information integrates well with the rest of his story. He's a great storyteller. The only issue I have is with some of his descriptions. At one point, he makes Cajun food sound sexually appetizing, which is just weird in my opinion. The food is good, but I don't think his descriptions accurately describe it. They make the food seem like it's better than it actually is. I have been told, however, that Louisiana puts a bigger emphasis on food than we realize, so maybe his descriptions of the food just seem weird to me because I'm used to good food. Besides the food descriptions, there are a few scenes that I couldn't help but make fun of. For instance, at one point, I got an image of a "sexy" shrimp, floating around the marshes and gloating in all its glory. Then in another scene, Tidwell made the fish eating the shrimp look like Godzilla-like monsters attack the sexy shrimp. It's quite humorous, though I don't think it was Tidwell's intention to make it that way. I can't take a lot of his descriptions seriously. He seems to overstate somethings, which makes him seem a bit naive and idealistic. However, if you're interested in learning more about Louisiana, I definitely recommend this book.
Profile Image for Gabriel.
Author 14 books129 followers
January 27, 2009
Tidwell does an excellent job of highlighting the serious environmental threat to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana posed by saltwater intrusion into freshwater marshes. Every hour, a football-field sized area of the marsh goes underwater, permanently. And, as a result, hurricanes become exponentially more dangerous to towns that used to be miles from the coast and the fishermen that fish the coast's abundant marshes are facing the prospect of having to not only change jobs but change their lives, from where they live to how they live.

Tidwell mercifully doesn't spend an inordinate amount of ink on the quirks of the "characters" he meets (with one unfortunate exception)-- though his note at the beginning is a little much; his rendering of the dialect is itself more or less successful, and needs no note to explain it-- and that is saying quite a lot. A lesser writer could (and would, and no doubt has) fill many books with "funny" stories about the people that live in these marshes, but Tidwell always brings his diversions back around to the land, the livelihood of the people he writes about, and to the astonishing (and inadvertent) destruction of the coast through the effects of the Mississippi River levees and the oil company canals.

Too much "I looked around me and could see the future..." And not a single mosquito bite (impossible!). But a necessary first step in drawing attention to this huge natural disaster happening right now, as you read this.
Profile Image for Sharon.
Author 38 books376 followers
December 16, 2016
I'm not going to lie; this book was a hard read. Not because it was difficult, or the vocabulary was outside my abilities, but because it talked so plainly about the loss of coastal wetlands in south Louisiana.

Journalist Mike Tidwell hitched rides of shrimp boats, crab boats, oil rig tenders and more to write what he thought would be an interesting travel story. Instead, what he got was a story that caused him to quit his job and become an environmental activist (I am not kidding). He spent time with Cajun and Vietnamese people living deep in the bayous, who were literally watching their land disappear under water (Louisiana loses the equivalent of a football feed every 5 minutes now because levees that protect the towns also stop the sedimentation that creates new wetland and barrier islands).

Tidwell shows us the faces behind the tragedies, interesting characters ranging from a local healer to a Vietnamese man whose family came to Louisiana after the fall of Saigon and who wants nothing more than to go home.

The personal stories bring the land loss home in a way that mere statistics cannot. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Debra.
140 reviews
March 3, 2012
I didn't expect to like this book, but read it because my dad suggested it. (We don't always have the same taste). It's an enjoyable and educational read. I learned about the challenges facing the Gulf Coast that were put into play long before global-warming became known. I was shocked that this is happening in our own country, yet I know more about the loss of the Amazon Rainforest than what's happening in our own back yard. And, it can be fixed if as a country we make it a priority.

Anyone who's interested in how other people live or how people impact the environment (good or bad) will enjoy this book. It also reminded my that my life's a piece of cake compared to how some of our fellow countrymen live. While I'm the same age as many of the central characters, I have never experienced the type of struggles these folks have. I look forward to reading some of Tidwell's other books.
Profile Image for Jeannie.
47 reviews5 followers
August 16, 2014
Reading this over a decade after its initial release date, with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill having occurred within that span of time, I'm struck by how eerie and seemingly prophetic Tidwell's call-to-action feels in light of these disastrous events. Of course, there was nothing truly prophetic about it. The signs were all there, and the data had been accumulating for years. Until fairly recently, however, there had been no measure a la the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) adopted by the state of Louisiana to deal with the massive loss of crucial wetlands. By some demented twist of fate (as in, the way things go in our world), the disasters mentioned above have helped to garner attention to this region and its much needed environmental restoration. Looking forward, here is a link to the restoration plan that was unanimously approved in 2012: http://www.coastalmasterplan.louisian...
Profile Image for Chana.
1,583 reviews144 followers
March 12, 2009
Another favorite book. I learned a lot reading this book and enjoyed every word. I'm working 'how to preserve coastal Louisiana' into every conversation. I read a lot of this book out loud to my husband, we laughed so hard about some of the scenes, and I cried too. Even though we don't eat oysters, shrimp or crab I brought my kids to the seafood counter for a little education on these creatures and where they come from. Then I bought a CD of songs from the New Orleans area to benefit the people who suffered in the hurricane. No one in the family is surprised anymore when I start talking or singing about the bayou. This author is capable of teaching very complex ecological information in a fairly simple and highly entertaining way, and you feel it in your heart. Too bad no one seems to be listening.
Profile Image for Patrick Dean.
Author 2 books18 followers
January 3, 2015
This is an outstanding piece of writing about Southern Louisiana, its ongoing environmental devastation, and the vivid, tough, endearing people who live there.

Tidwell pulls no punches about the tragedy caused by the loss of Mississippi River siltation, thanks to a century of misguided Corps of Engineers behavior. However, the book offers a realistic sense of hope, mainly by way of its fascinating portraits of the Cajuns, Vietnamese, and Houma Native Americans who struggle not only with the demands of their ways of living, but also with the very real possibility that those ways will disappear.

The crescendo for me is the chapter on the writer's time spent at Papoose Plaisance's fishing camp, a shack on stilts at the edge of the bayou marsh. Tidwell's evocative description is beautiful and powerful.

Highly recommended.

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