Travel journalist Tidwell (Amazon Stranger, 1996, etc.) takes a lingering, eye-opening look at the bayous and marshlands of West Louisiana.
Initially intent on documenting the lifestyles and mores of today’s Cajuns, heirs of the French settlers known as Acadians who were tragically uprooted from maritime Canada in the 1750s by the conquering British, the author discovers more than predictable nostalgia for an oft-probed, fading tradition. With their boats, nets, and bayou camps, he realizes, these proudly stubborn people are essentially feeding America by delivering more shrimp, crab, and other seafood than any other region, or even several combined. But with their culture slip-sliding away, Tidwell finds many Cajuns strangely resigned to an even more disturbing fact: the actual ground they live on is disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 25 square miles (roughly the size of Manhattan) per year. The more he grows unabashedly enamored of the Cajuns’ work ethic, their good-humored, independent nature, and welcoming rituals in which ambrosial gumbos seemingly appear out of thin air, the more exercised he becomes over the idea that nobody seems to care (e.g., the national media isn’t reporting) that a unique American resource is literally going down the drain. In between night jaunts down the bayou to the shrimping “battleground” when the spring tides turn, the author looks for straight answers from the experts. It’s no surprise that decades of containing the Mississippi’s flood waters with increasingly massive levees has shut down the natural delta-forming mechanism; add a crazy-quilt of oil company pipelines, each with an attendant canal, and the marshland’s death sentence is final. Tidwell won’t quit until he finds a plan, and while there’s some hope for reversal, it’s arguable that this can be pulled off, even with massive Federal aid, in a state where political payoffs are a cottage industry.
First-rate report from a land even environmentalists forgot.