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Losing Ground

Losing Ground: Identity and Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana

David M. Burley
Foreword by Sara Crosby
T. Mayheart Dardar
Thomas Dardar
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Losing Ground
    Book Description:

    What is it like to lose your front porch to the ocean? To watch saltwater destroy your favorite fishing holes? To see playgrounds and churches subside and succumb to brackish and rising water? The residents of coastal Louisiana know. For them hurricanes are but exclamation points in an incessant loss of coastal land now estimated to occur at a rate of at least twenty-four square miles per year.In Losing Ground, coastal Louisianans communicate the significance of place and environment. During interviews taken just before the 2005 hurricanes, they send out a plea to alleviate the damage. They speak with an urgency that exemplifies a fear of losing not just property and familiar surroundings, but their identity as well.People along Louisiana's southeastern coast hold a deep attachment to place, and this shows in the urgency of the narratives David M. Burley collects here. The meanings that residents attribute to coastal land loss reflect a tenuous and uprooted sense of self. The process of coastal land loss and all of its social components, from the familial to the political, impacts these residents' concepts of history and the future. Burley updates many of his subjects' narratives to reveal what has happened in the wake of the back-to-back disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-489-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Sara Crosby

    My grandma wrote a book about Grand Isle, the only inhabited island off the coast of Louisiana and our family home for over two hundred years. She called her bookSeven Miles of Sand and Sinand kept it close beside her living room chair in a Square Deal note pad with “39¢” penciled on the cover. Fortunately for the reputations of our neighbors, she never quite got to the sin part, but she does describe the island as a “paradise … plentiful of all God’s beauty and his gifts.” In one of my favorite passages, she muses that “[l]ong...

    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-14)

    In the early winter of 2003, Cheyenne, a woman in her early fifties, told a story about her home.

    When you build a house, you expect your house to last fifty years. You are going to pass your house down to your kids. But if they don’t do something about the erosion, this will not be here in fifty years. Because that was a field where my husband used to play right across that cement road, and it’s marshland right now. If it wouldn’t be for that cement road, my yard would be marsh. They have a certain type of...

  6. 2 LOSING LOUISIANA: A Meditation on Coastal Land Loss
    (pp. 15-26)

    In late August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina and then Hurricane Rita, a few weeks later, capitalized on the effects of coastal land loss. More recently, in September of 2008, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike took advantage of the cumulative loss. The storms’ impacts were made all the more severe due to more than 1.2 million acres of land lost since the 1930s (LCA 2004). Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and barrier islands served not only as a vital ecosystem and resource basin for the nation, but also as a buffer which weakened storms as they moved inland. The land slowly breaks down hurricanes,...

    (pp. 27-38)

    The communities within the parishes from which interviews were collected—Jeferson, St. Bernard, Terrebonne, Plaquemines, Orleans, and Iberia parishes—have long histories, with some existing more than two centuries since European settlement.¹ Over this time, these communities have always faced some sort of change due to hurricanes, development, and erosion. However, the unabated disappearance of coastal land over the past two generations was part of the overall physical and social context in which residents developed their conceptions of place. Their attachment to coastal Louisiana and their speciic communities developed in a particular historical context, which in the case of this...

  8. 4 THIS IS OUR HOME: Attachment to the Coast
    (pp. 39-58)

    We all know that certain places are special to some people. Because of the special meanings that some places hold, people often get attached, and this is certainly the case in coastal Louisiana. As in a remaining handful of locations around the U.S., many of those living along Louisiana’s coast have called their place home for generations. European settlement started during the beginnings of the nation and evolved uniquely from the rest of the United States, giving it further symbolic meaning for community members to develop an attachment towards. Notwithstanding its distinctiveness, the way attachment occurred in Louisiana was it...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 59-109)

    The attachment of residents to Louisiana’s coast drives their experience of the land’s disappearance. A significant portion of their self-perceptions developed either through direct interaction with place or where the coast and its communities served as a setting that helped to shape personality, as well as the surrounding social milieu. This occurs as a reciprocal process where much of the time the physical and social elements of place overlap and perceptually become fused together. This perceptual combination then informs people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions to the loss, which itself is multifaceted with its political, bureaucratic, economic, natural, and personal...

  11. 6 SAVING PLACE: Residents and Their Environment
    (pp. 110-131)

    Why should alleviating Louisiana’s coastal residents’ anxiety and fragility be a concern or goal? This might sound like a rhetorical question except for the fact that many would proclaim that this anxiety and sense of fragility is an unfortunate outcome of any significant change. Their refrain would be “change is hard,” and they would liken the stress to growing pains that will recede as people and society adjust and account for these changes. In her eloquent foreword, Sara Crosby referred to this in her fellow Grand Islanders’ reluctance to ask for assistance due to the retort “Why don’t you just...

  12. AFTERWORD: The Path Ahead
    (pp. 132-135)
    T. Mayheart Dardar and Thomas Dardar

    At no time in the memory of the current tribal population have the Houma people faced a trial such as the one confronting us today.

    In recent years four major hurricanes have impacted the United Houma Nation, Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008. In both instances they hit within weeks of each other, back-to-back blows that have challenged the strength and tenacity of the Houma people.

    Hurricanes, in themselves, are not a new obstacle to the tribe. We are coastal people who have lived in south Louisiana for centuries. There are those who wonder why...

  13. APPENDIX General Data, the Interview Guide and Methodology
    (pp. 136-152)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 153-158)
    (pp. 159-163)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 164-166)