Book Review: Down the River

Edward Abbey (1982)

Whenever I travel on vacation, I like to bring along books that have some connection to the place I’m visiting. That’s how I was introduced to conservationist and author Edward Abbey. When I went to Zion National Park in Utah back in ’99, I took along Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, which has since become one of my favorite books, and one that I often recommend to others. My recent trip to the Grand Tetons seemed the perfect setting to read a second book by Abbey, which I had waiting on the shelf. Down the River is a collections of essays written by Abbey, float trips taken through canyons, adventures in the wilderness, cautionary tales about the unspoiled West.

Abbey is such a gifted writer that his descriptions of going down the river, many rivers, put you right there in the boat with him. His style is spare but very evocative. Some essays vividly took me back to the red rocks and big blue sky of Zion National Park. It also fit very well as reading material in Grand Teton, since rivers (and lakes) were all around us.

Here’s a passage that resonated for me when I read it in the middle of all that natural beauty:

We reach the mouth of the canyon and the old trail uphill to the roadhead in time to see the first stars come out. Barely in time.  Nightfall is quick in this arid climate and the air feels already cold.  But we have earned enough memories, stored enough mental-emotional images in our heads, from one brief day…to enrich the urban days to come. As Thoreau found a universe in the woods around Concord, any person whose senses are alive can make a world of any natural place, however limited it might seem, on this subtle planet of ours.

From the essay “Aravaipa Canyon” by Edward Abbey


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