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Losing Ground

Identity and Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana

David M. Burley, Sara Crosby, T. Mayheart Dardar

Publication Year: 2010

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.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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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pp. ix-xii

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 book Seven Miles of Sand and Sin and 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 ...

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pp. xiii-xv

I would first like to lovingly thank my wife, Susannah Bridges, and my son, Max Gisleson. Susannah, with her advice, artistic eye (book cover and pictures selected for the book), passion for southern Louisiana and all of life, and playful exuberance, has been a source of continuous support. Likewise, Max continues to teach me about life and myself. His generous and humor-...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-14

Cheyenne owned a small seafood distribution business along with her husband in St. Bernard Parish (in Louisiana parishes are like counties in the rest of the U.S.). They lived in coastal Louisiana, but it is not as if they lived on or near a beach. There is no cliff or real shoreline. You can’t see the Gulf of Mexico from where Cheyenne lived. Her home and community were on ...

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2. Losing Louisiana: A Meditation on Coastal Land Loss

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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 ...

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3. Communal Histories

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pp. 27-38

The communities within the parishes from which interviews were collected—Jefferson, 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. ...

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4. This Is Our Home: Attachment to the Coast

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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 dur-...

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5. Seeing It for Themselves

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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 ...

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6. Saving Place: Residents and Their Environment

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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 ...

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Afterword: The Path Ahead

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pp. 132-135

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 we live in such a “vulnerable place.” The answer, of course, is quite simple; our vulnerability comes from a century of unchecked development that has swallowed the natural defenses that once protected us ...


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pp. 136-152


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pp. 153-158


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pp. 159-163


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pp. 164-166

E-ISBN-13: 9781604734898
E-ISBN-10: 1604734892
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604734881
Print-ISBN-10: 1604734884

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2010