Cover photo credit: goodreads.com
One Inch Above The Water: Running Away on America’s Rivers, by Jim Payne (pub. by Lytton Pub. Co., 2008, 294 pp., pb)
I love books. I find that plunging into a new book is much like meeting new people. Some are engaging, delightful, entertaining, and they draw you in to become part of their world. Others are dry, standoffish, and cold. Finally, there are those that are flat-out burdensome. In such a book I find myself getting to the last page only out of a sense of obligation, especially if I’m supposed to write a review of the book. I don’t know if anyone reads the reviews, but I take it as commitment of sharing---inviting you to share what I’ve enjoyed, or saving you time that would better be invested elsewhere. This is a book that is friendly, engaging, and one you will enjoy.
The author is someone many of you will identify with, or at least I did. He was a political science professor at Yale, Wesleyan, and Johns Hopkins, and as he put it, he got tired of writing books no one would read. So, at the age of 57, he decided to run away from home. Well, he didn’t really, as he was still married, but he did plan several trips of a week to several weeks duration. He got a Klepper pack canoe that was more conducive to travel, especially when mass transit was involved, and took off to experience something more natural than a classroom or office. He did the Potomac River, starting at Washington, D.C.; the Columbia River, from Canada to the Pacific Ocean; the Hudson River and Lake Champlain from New York to Quebec; the Florida Keys; and the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to New Orleans. He said, “My answer to the futility of worldly accomplishment was to balance work with play, to paddle over the horizon in search of adventure. Each day I paddled, this formula was making more sense.”
As a professional writer, he has that ability to take you on the trip with him and feel as though you are sharing the experience. You share the struggle against the current and waves, and the discomfort of being wet, food-bored, and never knowing where you can stop to rest or sleep. But you also get to meet the interesting people along the way, to enjoy the humor in unusual experiences and dilemmas, appreciate our nation’s history in many ways, like sleeping in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bed when all he was just looking for a spot of grass for his tent, and being uplifted by the stillness and beauty of nature. He discovers that the joys, memories, and rewards of a trip are somehow proportionate to the struggle, and even the discomfort. One evening while cowering under a tarp in a deluge, he looked across at some moored yachts, their occupants warm and dry as they watched TV. Instead of being jealous, he felt sorry for their lack of adventure and dulled senses. To really enjoy life, he said, is to step outside of your comfort zone and experience it.
Unlike some books about paddling around the world, or Australia, or South America, while they may be interesting to read and marvel over, they are way beyond the ability or inclination of 99.9% of their readers. This book is a good outline for trips that involve a high sense of adventure and interest, are actually within about anyone’s capability, and reasonable in both the realms of time and finances. This is a book of stories you will enjoy spending the time with.