Review of Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell

May 27, 2014Bayou Farewell

Eco News Network enjoys sharing reviews of books relating to eco related news and topics. Today, Aidan Kelly shares his review of Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell.

If a population doesn’t place value on biodiversity or other environmental qualities, it may have no incentive to repair a deteriorating habitat. So, in order to save that habitat from complete destruction, an advocate might instead share the important human qualities of the endangered region, with the hope that readers will be motivated to change for the sake of preserving cultural diversity. This is Mike Tidwell’s strategy in his book “Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast.” Written for a general audience, the story surveys Cajun society through detailed character depictions and evokes a premature nostalgia for a disappearing world filled with unique natural and cultural entities.

During an open-ended assignment for the The Washington Post, Tidwell found himself taken aback by both the biological diversity of the bayou ecosystem and the rich culture of its human inhabitants. Also shocking was the evidence that both of these distinct features of Louisiana were quickly sinking beneath the waterline.

Since the first large-scale levee projects were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1927, the deposit of sediment into the bayous via flooding and tributary flow from the Mississippi River has been almost completely restricted. The halt to this process, which had built up coastal wetlands for thousands of years, has allowed the tidal inflow of salt water to wear away at the still-settling soil. As the land erodes and falls beneath the encroaching saltwater, ecosystems are compromised and entire communities gradually lose their livelihoods.

The Louisiana bayous are home to a diverse array of life from crustaceans and fish to birds and alligators. Shrimp and crab species in particular serve as essential sources of income and nutrition for many Cajuns. If that were not enough, the landmass also softens hurricane impacts for inland populations concentrated in and around New Orleans.

Bayou FarewellA staunch environmental activist, Tidwell returned repeatedly to the bayous with the hope that he could portray its intriguing inhabitants to the world before they disappeared. In his depiction the rugged, kind-hearted shrimpers work long hours for low pay, love what they do and care little for the world outside the wetlands. Beyond the French-descended Cajun community, Tidwell peeks into the distinctive lifestyles of Houma Native American Indians and Vietnamese immigrants, who also live and work in the bayou country.

Tidwell never goes too long without returning to land loss. His imagery of dying plant life and sunken graveyards, and his emphasis on reduced catches for shrimpers and fishermen, far outweigh his few hopeful predictions for the future. The work conveys a sense that, while this community population is aware of the danger, it continues to live in the moment and represses their fear of the change in progress.

Tidwell points out extensive inactivity by national politicians, by local Louisiana government, by the Cajuns themselves, and by those with voting, protesting and volunteering power. To increase awareness and motivate policy that could fund a Mississippi River diversion to rebuild the wetlands, Tidwell has given his readers two strong reasons to appreciate the Louisiana coastal wetlands: for the abundant beauty of diverse wildlife within, and if not that, then for the peculiar, yet charming cultures at risk.

Since Bayou Farewell’s publication in 2003, devastating effects made the extent of the damage clearer, and since then some programs have been established, though not the large-scale projects for which Tidwell advocates. Read about current coastal restoration projects here.

-Aidan Kelly

Photo Credit: Flickr/finchlake2000, Kris Krüg,

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