Thursday, December 31, 2015

The River by Helen Humphreys

Elegant. Poetic. Nature writing / fiction / memoir / meditation. Gorgeous book design: small, square format; translucent dust jacket; lavish full colour illustrations made up of contemporary and archival photos as well as historical images of flora and fauna. Helen Humphreys' The River is a gem.

Humphreys documents Depot Creek, the river near her home in Ontario, across years and across seasons.

"The test for how to tell if it's too cold for swimming is to plunge your hand into the river and if the bone in your wrist aches, then the water is too cold to enter."

"The British naturalist and writer Roger Deakin once said that watching a river is the same as watching a fire in the hearth. Both are moving and alive, and the feeling from watching them is a similar one." That feeling is beautifully evoked in The River.

Throughout the book, Humphreys incorporates fictional vignettes based on true stories, similar to those in her earlier nonfiction / novel / short story collection, The Frozen Thames. In The River, these all have environmental themes. They feature characters like a 19th century plume hunter, froggers, hungry boys shooting robins for their supper, and children catching fireflies for NASA in 1965. Two London women joining forces in their opposition to the barbaric fashion of feathered hats. Teenagers cooking at a frog festival where local population depletion necessitates frog leg imports from Indonesia.

"The blackbird sings after every sip of water."

The River makes my soul sing.

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