|When David James Duncan was growing up in suburban Portland, Oregon, he had no river to call his own, so he would routinely create one by flooding his mother's garden with a hose. He would then revel in his creation until he received the inevitable scolding. The poor kid couldn't help himself: "Running water ... felt as necessary to me as food, sleep, parents, and air," he explains. In time, he exchanged his nozzle for a fly rod and went in search of grander gardens, eventually developing an "interior coho compass" which he has traveled by ever since. |
As any reader of The River Why knows, Duncan is a master of the art of writing about fishing--which is also to say life, since the two for him are indelibly linked. But these essays deal with far more than leaky waders and rising trout. Part memoir, part activist treatise, My Story As Told by Water is Duncan's love song to wild places and the creatures which inhabit them. The book's highlight is his powerfully convincing essay "A Prayer for the Salmon's Second Coming," in which he argues that saving salmon is crucial to both man and fish alike: "A 'modern Northwest' that cannot support salmon is unlikely to support 'modern Northwesterners' for long," he writes. In this elegant demand for the removal of four Snake River dams (out of 221 on the Snake/Columbia system), Duncan declares the wild salmon "a holiness, a divine gift," a role model rather than a resource: "Salmon are a light darting not just through water, but through the human mind and heart. Salmon help shield us from fear of death by showing us how to follow our course without fear, and how to give ourselves for the sake of things greater than ourselves."
He also ruminates on the true meanings of "place" and "home"; offers a fable on the 1872 Mining Act, "the most anachronistic and devastating piece of 'corporate welfare' in the world"; and details how Montanans rallied to prevent a giant mining company from extracting gold near the Blackfoot River, the setting of the Norman Maclean classic A River Runs Through It. All in all, My Story As Told by Water is a moving collection by an exquisite writer endowed with wit, compassion, and the rare ability to appeal to both emotion and reason in equal measures. --Shawn Carkonen