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ONE ROUND RIVER by Richard Manning

ONE ROUND RIVER

The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot

By Richard Manning

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-4792-1
Publisher: Henry Holt

 The Blackfoot River is in trouble, and its woes are described with anger and clarity by Manning (Grassland, 1995, etc.) in this elegiac account. It would be trouble enough that Montana's Big Blackfoot ends in a Superfund site (one of the nation's oldest, with no current hope of reclamation). But that, as Manning makes clear, is only one of the problems the river faces. Logging has denuded hillsides and filled the river with silt; cattle cluster alongside the river, leveling vegetation and tromping the banks and bed; new homes are springing up along its length, and with them comes a poisonous infusion of pesticides and fertilizers from lawns. Even if most of these problems could be successfully resolved, there is still the issue of a resurgence of gold mining in the West, where economies conspire to spawn rape-and-run operations unfettered by laws and regulations. Manning angrily describes what current mining practices would mean to the Blackfoot: Cyanide would be used to pull the metal from the soil, ammonium nitrate (a fertilizer) would be employed for blasting, and another monster hole--like Butte's immense Berkeley Pit-- would be excavated too close to the river. As he describes the grassroots resistance to mining, Manning makes it clear where he stands. ``I haven't the slightest interest in providing balance to this story,'' he says, for along the embattled river and its environs he still finds a stunning, regenerative natural world one that mining, he believes, would destroy, perhaps forever. It is Manning's special talent to raise landscapes--grasslands, headwaters--to exalted status through prose that is ardent and uncompromising: ``How can you ask me to trade clean rivers and my mountains for your Rolex watch?'' Now that gold is the master, the ancient rhythms receding, Manning hopes that nature won't become a bit of history along the Big Blackfoot.