Sunday, December 15, 2019

River Life: The Minnesota

Image result for canoeEnvironmental & Science Education
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

To paddle a river, beginning to end, is to know that river in a much different way than paddling parts of it.

Darby Nelson's recent book (with Dan Hickman), is about paddling the Minnesota River from west to east with his paddling partner for life, Geri. The journey was the completion of a childhood dream. Nelson spent part of his childhood on its banks in Morton and has been smitten ever since.  Sadly, as Geri notes, it is his last book about water and being on it. 

So where do you start, dip the paddle in a river and paddle on? This turned out to be not as simple as it sounds. It is no spoiler alert to tell you that it begins in South Dakota but where does Nelson begin and why. I'm not about to spoil his description of the search and the decision.
His insight about where rivers begin is one I appreciate. The very beginning of "a river," he writes, "is less specific a place, a single geographic place, so much as it is a quiet beginning of myriad contributors that give and sustain the life of a river." 

So for some five years he and Geri paddled its length (335 miles) and he tells us about this journey in For Love of a River: The Minnesota (Beaver's Pond Press. Edina). The book is Nelson's biography of this oft-overlooked river. He writes about the river's sweeping panorama, its stones, the history with big ice that shaped it, its rich soils, the river as a land of lakes, the people, the bleak, wretched and cruel war (Dakota vs. US), and the transformation of its vegetation.

Nelson also includes portraits of six magnificent river advocates whose contributions to bettering the river are in service to something greater than themselves. They could see the possibilities in this river and then have done something (many things) to work toward them, achieving many things along the way.  They did this work, in part, for love of this surprising river.

The Nelson's also include another way of knowing this river through measurements, reporting Secchi disc readings along the way.  Secchi readings are a quick way of measuring turbidity (cleanliness). You can decide on how soupy the river is or isn't.

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