Down the River, by Edward Abbey, pub. by E.P. Dutton, New York, 1982, pb, 242 pp. The first word is that this is not a paddling or camping book. He is a good author, and it is well written, but the title does give the impression that there is something here that isn’t; that is unless you are looking for some whitewater rafting or Sportyaking, and even that is just mentioned in passing. The book is a series of short stories or essays on a variety of topics. The message here is the same as in “Freedom and Wilderness,” which is a call against the stripping and development of the American West.
Abbey is capable of producing some memorable smiles. For example, he complains about the conspicuous and attention-zeroing sound produced by opening a can of beer. He supposes it “would be helpful if some clever lad invented a more discreet, a more genteel mode of opening beer cans. A soft, susurrate, suspiring sort of …s i g h… might serve nicely. A sound that could pass, let us say, for the relaxed, simple, artless fart of a duchess.” Now there’s an image to conjure every time you open a beer!
Some other topics are the court proceedings for trespassers and protestors at an atomic weapons manufacturing plant, the beauty and simplicity of the family farm, Thoreau, bears, glaciers, river rafting, fire tower employment, and Sonora, Mexico. My favorite was the story on the mining ghost town of Bodie, CA. However, if paddling is what you are after, and you have gone to the tab in the right margin for the “Paddlers’ Reading List” and copied it, you may wish to draw a line through this title. It’s good reading, but off target for us.