Naturally Phenomenal Happenings

Margaret Lovecraft, Acquisitions Editor

Tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding—it has been a volatile spring in the U.S. and worldwide.

On May 18 here in Baton Rouge, we saw the Mississippi River crest at 45 feet, the highest level since the historic flood of 1927. Without the levees, Baton Rouge would be inundated at a river level of 35 feet. As William Percy, in Lanterns on the Levee, recorded in the year 1927, “The greatest flood in American history was upon us. We did not see our lands again for four months.” In 2011, we are depending on those levees to hold!

Then for more meteorological excitement, on June 1, hurricane season begins. This year will be one to watch no matter what, according to Barry Keim, Louisiana’s state climatologist and coauthor of Hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico (which is full of fascinating data and history, by the way). The U.S. coastline has not been hit by a major hurricane (meaning a category 3 or higher when it comes ashore) since Wilma hit southern Florida in 2005. That’s the good news. But the U.S. has also never—since official storm record-keeping began—gone more than five years in a row without being hit by a major hurricane. So we’ll either set a new record this season or we’ll see something big land somewhere on our coastline. Those of us near the Gulf Coast favor the record-breaking alternative.

Other than floods and thoughts of future hurricanes, spring is a glorious season in Louisiana, with ideal temperatures and riotous flowers and green everywhere. In the relatively quiet offices of LSU Press, the serene green covers of four new regional books greet the eye. Probably it is a coincidence that these books all have green-hued jackets—created by different designers at different times.

Ray Neyland’s Field Guide to the Ferns & Lycophytes of Louisiana, a slim paperback, transports us to a world of delicate greenery—and other colors too. Louisiana’s amazingly large array of ferns, the second largest in the U.S., varies in size and appearance far beyond the front-porch potted kind.

Lake Douglas’s Public Spaces, Private Gardens explores the rich history of New Orleans’s urban greenscapes. Audubon Park, City Park, Congo Square, Jackson Square, secluded gardens, and even the neutral grounds—we appreciate and enjoy them, of course, but rarely consider how they have developed over centuries. A multiethnic collaboration, the designed landscapes of New Orleans are unique in the U.S.

Spring can unleash the desire to explore, and the treasures and surprises of the local region called Acadiana—22 parishes in size—are impossible to exhaust. Historic homes, pastoral countryside, essential waterways, wildlife, townlife, music, cuisine, and churches—just to mention a few highlights. Now is a good time to visit—in person or via the new book Acadiana, by historian Carl Brasseaux and photographer Philip Gould.

A more far-flung adventure may be had in Look Away, Dixieland, by James B. Twitchell. I doubt you’ll want to retrace by car this road trip from Waycross, Georgia, to Coushatta, Louisiana, but why should you? It’s more fun to drive it with Twitchell, and you don’t have to pay for gas. Part travelogue, mystery, history, tragedy, and comedy, the book’s subtitle says it all: A Carpetbagger’s Great-Grandson Travels Highway 84 in Search of the Shack-up-on-Cinder Blocks, Confederate-Flag-Waving, Squirrel-Hunting, Boiled-Peanuts, Deep-Drawl, Don’t-Stop-the-Car-Here South.