Canoeing the Columbia River
Email this review


 A middle-age canoeist braves the hazards of boulders, bears, and barges in this narration, which occasionally hits snags, of a 1,200-mile solo voyage on the mighty river. Cody, a novelist (Richochet River, 1992) and public relations writer for the Bonneville Power Administration, is best when describing the adventure of canoeing the river. Possessing modest wilderness skills, he journeys from the river's relatively pristine source at Columbia Lake in British Columbia through a series of wind-plagued reservoirs, encountering the few remaining rapids not drowned by the 14 dams along the river's length, before reaching its immense mouth at Astoria, Oreg., after a voyage of 82 days. Cody's unpretentious prose captures the apprehension he feels in bear country, his feverish paddling for shore when violent winds descend on the river, his delight in surprising a coyote at his campsite or witnessing a family of mountain sheep, and his travails in battling currents, circumventing dams, and communicating with sometimes unfriendly river folk. Yet he does manage to interview a wide variety of people whose livelihood depends on the river: dam operators, sturgeon fishermen, fish hatchery workers, an octogenarian who helped build Grand Coulee Dam, an old woman who still traps furs, tugboat captains, Native American salmon fishermen, and a host of other fairly colorful informants. Cody's account lags when he feels compelled alternately to lament and to justify the changes to the river wrought by European Americans (for a more detailed discussion of this subject, see William Dietrich's Northwest Passage, p.TK); and his thumbnail historical sketches, while interesting, often leave the reader aching to push off once more. Some digressions, though, are worth it, especially his descriptions of the mammoth dams and of their capacious reservoirs. In the end, though, one is impressed not so much by the scale and scope of the river but by the courage and fortitude of an ordinary person. Despite a few slow stretches, good reading for the armchair adventurer and a guarantee of some vicarious thrills. (7 maps, 12 drawings)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-41768-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995