Reading the West 12-21-09
The title of this book caught my eye at the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association trade show in Denver in September, so even though the publisher’s rep told me it was not a book about the West, I still picked up an advance review copy. I’m glad I did for this is truly a great story.
The two coots of the book are David E. Morine, the author, who from 1972 to 1990 was head of land acquisition for The Nature Conservancy, and his college friend Ramsay Peard, a retired businessman. The friendship began when the two were in college; they discussed canoeing the Connecticut River from its source to the sea, but years went by and they failed to undertake the trip.
Then after Peard’s retirement, the idea was resurrected. These two 60ish men may have had the desire for an adventure, but they had no interest in camping out, cooking over a fire, or, as Peard put it “crapping in the woods.” Instead they would traverse the 400 miles of river from the Canadian border to Old Saybrook, Conn., by relying on the kindness of strangers.
They intended to stay each night in a home near the river with couples or families who invited them in; they would rely on these strangers to provide them with meals … and beer. As Peard would tell them, they didn’t care what of beer, so long as it was cold.
Now admittedly these two travelers did not leave all to chance. Using their connections they set up arrangements in advance so each day they knew with whom they were going to find their bed and board. Even so, their adventures weren’t always predictable. They missed their take-outs; once they arrived at their planned home to find it populated with lots of little children (a situation they did not particularly like, so they moved on). They stayed with folks who were conservation minded, family farmers, a lesbian couple, and some who had lost children to accidents, or in one case a murder.
This book is subtitled “A Story of Friendship” and it is that, for sure, but as Morine writes, the idea of traveling 400 miles in a canoe with someone you have not been around for 20 years can be challenging … the length of the canoe can “shrink” as tensions rise.
Because of Morine’s longstanding work in the area of conservation, this book is certainly about that subject, too. He relates efforts by land conservation groups to protect habitat, open spaces and natural areas along the Connecticut. He writes of preserving 40 acres and I guess in a state as small as Connecticut that is significant (though by Wyoming standards it is barely a blip).
You don’t have to know anything about the Connecticut River – or even give a whit about conservation in that area – to enjoy this book. In places it is poignant and other sections are laugh-out-loud funny, so much so that I’m sure I annoyed the man sitting beside me on a recent flight from Baltimore to Denver when I couldn’t help laughing as I read the book.
Every once in a while you need to get away from tried-and-true stories and read something a bit different, and I can highly recommend “Two Coots In a Canoe.”
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