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9781578050499

My Story as Told by Water

Duncan, David James

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In his own words, David James Duncan was "struck by a boyhood suspicion that rivers and mountains are myself turned inside out. I'd heard at church that the kingdom of heaven is within us and thought, Yeah, sure. But the first time I walked up a trout stream, fly rod in hand, I didn't feel I was 'outside' at all: I was traveling further and further in." An estimated three thousand river walks later comes My Story as Told by Water, in which Duncan braids his contemplative, activist, and rhapsodic voices together into an irresistibly distinctive whole, speaking with a power and urgency that will recharge our national appreciation of the vital connections between our water-filled bodies and this water-covered planet.

Offering a wide-ranging, contemplative exploration of the rivers that touch his life, Duncan backs his insights with a fierce defense of the sacred cultures and fauna that living waters sustain. With a bracing blend of story, logic, science, and comedy, he dissects the hollow industrial platitudes that lead to the ruin of publicly owned rivers for private profit. Standing up for the river made famous by the pen of his neighbor, Norman Maclean, Duncan exposes America's anachronistic federal mining policy and the devastating cyanide technology to which it has led. As an advocate for the bankrupted fishing towns, Native tribes, and unraveling web of life of the Pacific Northwest, he lays bare our biological and religious obligation to breach four of the Columbia and the Snake rivers' 221 massive dams to save wild salmon. Yet Duncan centers even his darkest explorations in the joys, gratitude, and wonder that walking rivers, rod in hand, provides him.

Here is a brilliant writer revealing captivating speculations on being born lost, on the discovery of water, on wading as pilgrimage, coho as interior compass, and industrial creeks as blues tunes. Here are rivers perceived as prayer wheels, dying birds as prophets, salmon as life-givers, brown trout as role models, wilderness as our true home, wonder as true ownership, and justice as biologically and spiritually inescapable.

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Review:

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

From the Back Cover:

"Original, skillful, and funny as hell."-Ian Frazier "My Story as told by Water is the real McCoy, vivid and important, full of urgent news about living on earth."-Thomas McGuane

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