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The Huron River: Voices from the Watershed

de John R. Knott

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"The Huron River . . . was called 'Cos-scut-e-nong Sebee'. . . . [It] is a beautiful, transparent stream, passing alternatively through rich bottoms, openings, plains, and sloping woodlands, covered with heavy timber." ---History of Washtenaw County, Michigan, 1881 The Huron River---stretching 130 miles through three counties---has inspired numerous writers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Contained here is a collection of new poems, essays, and stories, accompanied by maps, photographs, and illustrations that celebrate the Huron River. Over twenty locally and nationally known literary figures, including Alice Fulton and Charles Baxter, have contributed to this volume. In addition, the work of biologists, naturalists, and even an arche-ologist have been included to give a richer sense of the physical and cultural environment. Each of these writers reminds us that our lives are more intertwined with the river and its watershed than we might think. The Huron River opens with these words: "Watersheds are the oldest and most durable markers of place. . . . These boundaries affect our lives by defining our natural environment, not only its topography but its soils, its plant and animal life, and to some extent its weather. The water that sustains most of us is the water that flows through our local watershed." And the river's strength is wondrous unto itself. "The water will always be there, and it will always find its way down," writer Gary Snyder tells us. The river is sometimes visible, sometimes not; yet it "is alive and well under the city streets, running in giant culverts." John Knott is Professor of English, University of Michigan. After working as a bookseller for twenty years, Keith Taylor now teaches writing part-time for the University of Michigan and works as a freelance writer.… (mais)
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I knew nothing about The Huron River: Voices from the Watershed until I received it as a gift. It was an exceedingly appropriate selection: rivers are probably my favorite type of body of water, and at the time the Huron River was literally in my back yard. (Plus, it was one of the few books I was given that season.) I flipped and browsed through the book several times before actually settling down to read the thing in its entirety. Even then, I didn't devour the book, but only consumed a bit at a time, stretching it out over several months.

The Huron River collects a wide variety of contributions. I expected there to be maps, essays, poetry, and short stories, but hadn't anticipated color photography, transcripts and reprints of archival materials, or music. Editors John Knott and Keith Taylor bring together thirty-two contributors and nearly forty individual works. The book is vaguely organized to follow the course of the river and its watershed, beginning with Milford and Big Lake and then meandering along until reaching Pointe Mouillée and Lake Erie. The entire watershed and the Huron River itself serves as the main focus of the book in general but in a few entries they play a more important role as significant background scenery. The Huron River collects the work of artists, biologists, naturalists, poets, archaeologists, and storytellers all in one volume.

Despite the impressive array of contributions, The Huron River seemed a tad repetitive at times--perhaps one of the reasons I took so long to completely read it. However, the book was very well suited to pick up, read a section, and put down again to come back to later. It was difficult to know which entries were fiction (if any of them were) which frustrated me at the time I was reading. But ultimately, that probably doesn't matter much. Either way, they capture salient expressions of people's interactions and reactions to the river and its watershed. I do wish that there had been a few more maps included, particularly marking the specific areas discussed in the book. Even though I've lived in the Huron River Watershed for several years, I'm not comfortable with where everything is and therefore felt a bit lost trying to place things. (Granted, I lived in Ohio for most of my life and have the same trouble--so maybe it's really more my issue than the book's.)

I enjoyed perusing The Huron River very much--it really is quite a nice collection. The sections on the Ann Arbor-Ypsi area understandably interested me the most since that's the part of Michigan I'm most familiar with, but it was enjoyable to visit other areas of the watershed as well. I particularly liked the inclusion of archival excerpts and photographs. Even though the book was a finalist for a Great Lakes Book Award in 2001, I'm not sure how well it would be appreciated by those who don't live in the area. But, for those of us who do, it's a treat.

Works included: "Belonging to the Watershed" by Paul Rentschler; "The Huron River" by Jay Stielstra; "The Huron River Past" by John M. O'Shea; "Walking through Time and Space: A Natural History, of Sorts" by Michael A. Kielb; "Mary and Wilbur" by Thomas Lynch; "Island and River" by Daniel Minock; "Images" by Carl R Sams II; "The River along the Lakes" by Pamela Reed Toner; "A Late Sunday Afternoon by the Huron" by Charles Baxter; "On the Huron River Drive" by Craig Holden; "Water-borne" by Linda Gregerson; "The Local Mysteries; Drifting Home with the Birds and the Fish" by Keith Taylor and Richard Tillinghast; "Huron Hex Hatch" by Paul Seelbach; "What We Bring to the River, What the River Brings to Us" by Richard Tillinghast; "Borrowed Soul" by Bob Hicok; "Take Me to the Water" by Tish O'Dowd; "Looking Backward" by Julie Ellison; "View" and "Little or Nothing" by Ken Mikolowski; "Balancing" by David Stringer; "Witness" by Nicholas Delbanco; "The Permeable Past Tense of Feel" by Alice Fulton; "Buried in Water" by Janet Kauffman; "Our Lady of the River" by Laura Kasischke; "Serious Fishing" by John Knott; "Starting from a River" and "The Drowning of the Rhea" by Stephen Leggett; "Clamming on the Huron" by Gerald P. Wykes; "Pointe Mouillée" by Macklin Smith; "Learning to Punt" by A. L. Becker; and "Back Home," "Before the Freeze," "Between Freeways," "Carryover," "Black Ice," "Floating over the Lines," "Contradictions," and "The End of the River" by Keith Taylor

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  PhoenixTerran | Mar 29, 2009 |
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"The Huron River . . . was called 'Cos-scut-e-nong Sebee'. . . . [It] is a beautiful, transparent stream, passing alternatively through rich bottoms, openings, plains, and sloping woodlands, covered with heavy timber." ---History of Washtenaw County, Michigan, 1881 The Huron River---stretching 130 miles through three counties---has inspired numerous writers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Contained here is a collection of new poems, essays, and stories, accompanied by maps, photographs, and illustrations that celebrate the Huron River. Over twenty locally and nationally known literary figures, including Alice Fulton and Charles Baxter, have contributed to this volume. In addition, the work of biologists, naturalists, and even an arche-ologist have been included to give a richer sense of the physical and cultural environment. Each of these writers reminds us that our lives are more intertwined with the river and its watershed than we might think. The Huron River opens with these words: "Watersheds are the oldest and most durable markers of place. . . . These boundaries affect our lives by defining our natural environment, not only its topography but its soils, its plant and animal life, and to some extent its weather. The water that sustains most of us is the water that flows through our local watershed." And the river's strength is wondrous unto itself. "The water will always be there, and it will always find its way down," writer Gary Snyder tells us. The river is sometimes visible, sometimes not; yet it "is alive and well under the city streets, running in giant culverts." John Knott is Professor of English, University of Michigan. After working as a bookseller for twenty years, Keith Taylor now teaches writing part-time for the University of Michigan and works as a freelance writer.

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