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Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coastby Mike Tidwell
Synopses & Reviews
"You want to do what?" says Papoose Ledet, his balding head sticking out the forward hatch of a whitewashed shrimp boat. He's changing the oil of his 671 Detroit diesel engine-and that's all I see: his head sticking up out of the foredeck.
I stand opposite Papoose on a wooden wharf, my backpack hanging from my shoulders, my sleeping bag held on by bungee cords. I explain my idea of hitchhiking down the bayou on boats just as two of Papoose's sons whiz past me. They're carrying bundles of green shrimp netting and various ropes to be employed during the night's trawling just ahead. A gaggle of laughing gulls hover noisily overhead.
My idea makes no sense at all to Papoose judging by the look on his face. He pulls himself out of the forward hatch and walks slowly toward the gunwale nearest the wharf, eyeing me intently, wiping grease from his hands with a rag. His sun-weathered face squints in the midafternoon June heat, sending remarkable creases from just below his eyes all the way to his jawline. We don't shake hands.
"You ever been down de baya before?" Papoose asks in his heavy Cajun accent. Down here the word "bayou" comes out "baya" and "down de baya" means, in effect, "our home," chez nous, that watery rural Louisiana place located at the very end of the world just the way locals like it. Not too many outsiders, lost or otherwise, wander this deep into the region. And certainly none walk up asking for rides aboard working shrimp boats.
"No," I tell Papoose, lowering my backpack to the wharf. "This is my first trip down here."
"What about shrimpin'?" he asks. "You know anyt'ing about shrimpin'?"
"No," I say again, confessing my knowledge of Cajun fishing customs is nil. "Mais, je parle un peu de français," I say, hoping to establish a connection. "And I have a great love of boats and I'm happy to work as an unpaid deckhand."
Papoose's facial expression still doesn't budge.
"I just want to float down the bayou with you," I say. "That's all. It doesn't matter how far you're going. I'm just traveling. I just want to get downstream."
Suddenly he looks a bit less confused. He doesn't exactly smile, but the idea starts to sink in. "Just travelin', huh? Like a tourist?"
Well, okay den. Why didn't you say so? Put your pack in de cabin."
I see his hand, still stained with engine grease, suddenly outstretched toward mine. I cross the wharf and shake it.
"I can take you as far as Leeville, an hour and a half downstream. I'm going shrimpin' down dere right now."
Papoose is the first fisherman I've met, after a brief search, who's heading my way-and just like that, in the melting swelter of the South Louisiana sun, I have my first ride. Papoose unties from the dock and we begin floating down the sleepy olive-green water of Bayou Lafourche. His quick invitation to board belies the myth of bad-tempered swamp people hostile to all outsiders. In reality, bayou Cajuns turn out to be some of the most hospitable people I've met anywhere.
"Bayou" is a Choctaw Indian word meaning sluggish, slow-moving stream, and this one, Bayou Lafourche, is maybe two hundre
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, heintroduces 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 thesalinity 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 theGulf of Mexico.
Part travelogue, part environmental expose, Bayou Farewell is the richly evocative chronicle of the author's travels through a world that is vanishing beforeour eyes.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Mike Tidwell knew nothing of the disappearing bayou country when he first visited the Cajun coast of Louisiana, but the evidence was all around him: the skeletons of oak trees killed by the salinity of the groundwater, whole cemeteries sinking into swampland and out of sight, telephone poles in deep, standing water. Thanks to human hands, the storied Louisiana coast was eroding, subsiding, and joining the Gulf of Mexico—-making it the fastest disappearing landmass on Earth. Yet no one seemed to know how to talk about the problem. Tidwell, a celebrated travel and environmental writer, decided to begin the much-needed conversation, and this vivid, elegiac book is the result.
Tidwell introduces us to the surprisingly varied population of the area: the Cajun men and women who work the seasonal shrimp harvest, the Vietnamese fishermen, the Houma Indians driven to the farthest ends of the bayou by the first European settlers. He describes the food, the music, the culture, and the life of all those who live along the bayous. And under his keenly observant eye, the bayou itself becomes a compelling character—-reminding us of how much we stand to lose if we fail to address the problems facing this most vibrant of places.
Part travelogue, part environmental exposé, Bayou Farewell is the richly evocative chronicle of the author's travels through a place and a way of life that are vanishing virtually before our eyes.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Mike Tidwell is the author of four previous books, including In the Mountains of Heaven, Amazon Stranger, and The Ponds of Kalambayi. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Tidwell has published his work in National Geographic Traveler, Reader’s Digest, Washingtonian, and many other publications. His frequent travel articles for the The Washington Post have earned him four Lowell Thomas Awards, the highest prize in American travel journalism. He lives near Washington, D.C., with his wife, Catherine, and their son, Sasha.
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