Its Louisiana home has loomed large in my imagination for years. Even though my parents have visited -- and they did bring me some nice gifts -- I have not yet been closer than a quick zip along Interstate 10 during our 1997 move from Texas to Massachusetts.
I recently learned a lot about the environmental geography of the island from a beautifully illustrated essay by Times-PIcayune journalist Tristan Baurick. As the title implies, his article Tabasco's homeland fights for survival in Louisiana against storms and rising seas is in part the all-too common story of a coastal community defending against the effects of climate change. It is also, however, a richer story of a family that has developed a complex relationship with its land for a century and a half.
The island is more of a hill, a salt dome that is one of the highest points along the Gulf coast, and that continues to provide not only a home for the production of Tabasco Sauce but also one of its three ingredients: salt. Its status as an island is as vague as the land-sea boundary of Louisiana itself, about which I wrote in Tough Shape a couple of years ago.
|Image: Justin Secrist USDA|
The family may have redeemed itself in the wildlife area with its efforts on behalf of the snowy egret, whose feathers were once in such demand that it was hunted nearly to extinction. It would not have been the first abundant bird to have been extirpated by overuse, as was the fate of Martha and the passenger pigeons. The family's introduction of egrets and its ban on hunting them in just its small Louisiana property is credited with the eventual restoration of the species.
At the time of this writing, an even more important "ark" for birds is under threat elsewhere on the Gulf Coast. The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge -- near my former home on the Rio Grande -- is currently threatened by hostility toward wild lands in general and a foolhardy plan to build a border wall in particular.