Book Review: River by Colin Fletcher, One Man's Journey Down The Colorado River, Source to Sea
River by Colin Fletcher
A Review of River: One Man’s Journey Down The Colorado River, Source To Sea by Colin Fletcher
I will admit here and now: I am a book hoarder. I much prefer to hold a book than to read an online book. Not that I won't read online books, just that I prefer the real deal. I am always searching for a new author or book to read that may interest me. In my search I will buy both new and used, from retail giants and tiny self-owned stores, to dollar stores and local recycling centers. Don't turn up your nose at the latter for it has given me some of my most astonishing finds, such as a first edition classic entitled "From Here to Eternity".
Some years ago in a local dollar type store I ran into the book I will speak about now. The overleaf interested me, so I picked it up. Once home I opened it and began to read.
Colin Fletcher was an Englishman by birth, but spent much of his later life in the United States, traveling. This is the story of his floating down the Colorado River from the source to the sea. He describes the journey extremely well and carries you along with him for the trip. He begins by traveling to the high reaches of the Rocky Mountains, to a small valley high above the tree line. There he spends a few days, to determine which lake and spring will be his starting point. He also spends this time to set in his mind the focal point of beginning; to carry this with him for the entire journey. There are multiple small ponds and tiny springs which could be the start of the mighty Colorado River and it takes time to determine which will be his starting point.
Once he has determined the source to his satisfaction he sets forth hiking along the tiny stream, crossing and re-crossing it as it flows. In time, it grows, not unlike a child grows with experience and input. As it grows, he relays the changes and sights seen to the reader. After some miles, the now fledgling river grows to a point where he can now float on it rather than walk beside. It is at this point he becomes one with the river, and merges himself with it for the full distance.
Over the months, Fletcher relays both the small instances he comes across, and the large. It may be the moose standing in the river, or the family of ducks seen; or it may be the temporary death of the river as he comes to one of several reservoirs created by man along the Colorado’s length. His description of the bathtub ring around the lake brought to me a realization that something was here before the lake, and still remains unseen today. In my words, something created by man destroyed something created before man. While these lakes brought power and money to a previously barren area it took something which cannot be replaced: an innocence in a wonderful location.
In another book by a pair of my favorite authors, Doug Preston and Lincoln Child entitled Thunderhead, they speak of the mighty man made lake burying the river. Along with the river many location previously inhabited by native Americans, the Pueblo's and Anasazi Indians were lost. I think of this each time I read River as we cannot say what all was lost when the river was dammed. For everything gained something is lost.
Fletcher also relays some of the history of the Colorado River. The water flowing in its banks represents some of the most litigated water in the world. Time and again, the water is removed from the river to be brought out onto previously barren plains and used to create cropland. Later, the remnants of the water once removed is returned to the river, only to be used again and again in this manner. Laws are in place to stop someone from removing too much from the river, so as to allow those downriver to use it at a later point.
He recalls those first travelers down the river, the party of John Wesley Powell. On his travels he recognizes locations where Powell stopped and took the first pictures of the river those many years ago. Again, his recollections and recognition of Powell takes you the reader with him back into history. Fletcher may be one of the best I have read in this capacity. You are there with him as he floats along. You are in the raft as he takes on the many whitewater challenges alone.
His travels through the majestic Grand Canyon have to be read to truly be appreciated. He is one man, alone against a mighty river. He does have some insight from others traveling along the river, but he runs the rapids alone with only you as an unwitting passenger. The high canyon walls trap you both within as he relays some information of those who have gone before him, including Powell and his party. To think of those men entering the canyon, not knowing if they would survive or even where the river came out, the courage they must have had is staggering to say the least.
Eventually, both Fletcher and the once mighty Colorado arrive in the ocean. The river is but a sad remembrance of what it once was, relegated to a quickly diminishing trickle in places, barely enough to float a raft upon.
I call this book my “centering” book, for it has the capacity to slow life down when I need it most. I can read and travel along with Fletcher as he discovers wonders unseen by my eyes, yet vividly portrayed in my mind. Once or twice each year I pick it up and allow it to carry me to that lonely, wonderful place that I may never encounter other than by this book. I know that you will feel the same way should you decide to travel along with us.
Should you find yourself sufficiently intrigued to read this wonderful book, you might also read other works by the author. These include The Man Who Walked Through Time, a book about his traveling down a portion of the Grand Canyon on foot; The Thousand Mile Summer, about his hiking the border of California; and The Winds of Mara which details his year in Kenya's Serengeti Plain and Great Rift Valley. All are worthy of your attention.