Today, as on all other days in Louisiana's bayou country, 50 acres of land will become water. In 10 months, a land area the size of Manhattan will be a part of the Gulf of Mexico. The main reason: Levees built to control Mississippi River flooding have deprived the wetlands of fresh sediments. In Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast, author Mike Tidwell says nutrient starvation threatens the source of a third of America's seafood and endangers an entire subculture of America.
Tidwell immerses himself in the Cajun world, with its zesty cooking, toe-tapping music, and ingrained passion for and reliance on hunting, trapping and fishing. Amid new friends who have never flown, owned a credit card or read a book, he finds the soul of bayou life in a shrimper's observation: "A bayou Cajun man, he loves two t'ings de most in de whole world: bein' on de water and bein' wit his family."Let's peek as Tidwell visits a tiny, tin-roofed house on stilts: Visitors pass through, each chiming in that the Leeville Bridge is going to be repainted. Everybody asks about the boy born to Tim's second cousin Nikia across the street. Tim's nephew comes by to make sure everything's OK with the new outboard because he'll be running Tim's crab traps. Yes, there's a TV set and it's on, but it doesn't stand a chance. Who could possibly follow the banter of a TV quiz show with so many kinfolk coming and going? Tidwell's writing style makes it easy for readers to feel his new Cajun friends are their friends, too, and to wonder if their way of life must vanish because the rest of the nation doesn't care enough. An active environmentalist, author of five books and four-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Award, the highest prize in American travel journalism, Tidwell outlines expensive solutions but says the main question is whether sufficient willpower can be mustered to tackle the problem.
Alan Prince is the former travel editor of the Miami Herald.