Susan Carol Hauser

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

River Book Forthcoming

In River Book on October 20, 2010 at 4:31 pm

My Kind of River: Seeking Passage on the Mississippi will be published June 2011 (not 2012, as previously posted) by the Center for American Places, Columbia College Chicago. It is a creative nonfiction narrative about transformation in water and in our lives, based on a trip down the Mississippi River on a trawler/houseboat.

Seeking Passage is a story about river qua river: literally, it is about how the Mississippi moves and where it goes; metaphorically, it is about how the Mississippi serves as a rich metaphor for our lives and where we go. It is about the river that we have not lost, the river that can still bring meaning to the human drama, and that readers can discover through this story.

Many people yearn toward the Mississippi River and its destination. In 1997, I followed my yearning by taking this boat trip. My river experiences – those leading to the journey, the journey itself, and the return home – are the overt subject of Seeking Passage. The undercurrent is the story of the river itself, of the water and the manner of its going, of the rivers of our lives, and of transformation. As with the river, the undercurrent is all.

The book is contemplative creative nonfiction, in the sense of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, Henry Beston’s The Outermost House and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. The reader goes from the trickling beginnings of the Mississippi to the encompassing embrace of the Gulf of Mexico, from uncertainty about the destination, through encounters with fear, to a sense of well-being:

I expected to feel sad at reaching this conclusion, but it does not feel like an ending. I can understand holding this as a thought, the movement of water as perpetual transformation, but did not expect to feel it. When the water reaches the Gulf, its work is not done. Although the insistence of the river has vanished along with its constraining banks, its meaning remains grounded in the water that accommodates the complexity and the mystery of our experience: the river and the sea have intent and purpose enough for all.

Along the way, I encountered the will and insistence of the river, contemplated the changes manifest in its 2,500 mile plummet to sea level, and found meaning at every turn:

Before seven, I am up and off the boat. I walk around and around on a circular path that rings a park by the marina, glad that I can keep the boat in sight, as though it might leave without me, or even disappear as though it had not ever been there. Bill and Bob are still asleep. Although it is cold, fifty degrees, I sit outside for awhile, hands under my folded arms, and watch the sun in an audacious display as it breaks into being in the clear sky above the eastern tree line. The moisture that usually tempers the morning light shivers down close to the water. The trees are crazy with birds chirring and chirping, some calling “phiew phiew,” a sound I almost recognize from the woods at home. A great blue heron flies in from somewhere, right toward me, then diverts and lights on a driftwood branch, branch and bird held in silhouette by the sun that is now liberated above the tree-mad horizon.

Seeking Passage differs from other books about Mississippi River journeys in its focus on the river and the water, and on the larger journeys of our lives. The reader is invited onto the boat, sees the river from the boat, rather than from bridges and overlooks, and participates in the author’s experience of the river. In the end, it is a book about hope and peace of mind, about destination and destiny.

Helen Bonner, author of First Love Last and Cry Dance, says this about Seeking Passage: “If you are tired of fast-paced, extreme, exaggerated fiction and nonfiction, and would like to spend some time slowly descending the Mississippi River with exquisite, poetic company, this is your book. You will arrive at the Gulf of Mexico refreshed, and with new insights into love and the river.”