Chris Dombrowski’s The River You Touch – Making a Life On Moving Water is a memoir set in Montana and Michigan. As a poet and purveyor of literature, Dombrowski is a transplanted Midwesterner that discovers his love of Montana rivers. His memoir centers around raising a family while balancing careers as a writer and river guide.
As a river guide, Chris is quite successful and has many wealthy clients. Knowing nothing about running rivers and caring nothing for fishing, the terminology of both I largely glossed over. However, the adventures he has and the experiences he recounts are superbly written and enjoyable. I was worried, given his dual occupations and the title of the book, that he would be overly metaphoric about rivers. Thankfully, there is only a sprinkling of this and it is mostly fresh poetic diction.
The Montanan landscape of mountains and rivers full of wildlife come alive across the pages of The River You Touch. What caught my attention even more was his trials and tribulations at becoming a father and being a provider for his family (his wife Mary and eventually three kids). Dombrowski expresses his fears at fatherhood and worries about raising environmentally aware children. He often laments on his family’s impact on the environment, including his own.
After several failed hunting trips and the gas used in the process, he calculates the money he could have saved by simply procuring store-bought meat. Although not a hunter myself, he does a great job of bringing the reader into the field with him. I truly appreciate ethical hunters but also understand that not everyone can hunt for their food. However, having respect for your food sources, wherever they may be, is vital and attainable. And he shows this respect truly.
He also explains how much better wild game is, including fish. I personally dislike fish and haven’t had a lot of game other than venison jerky (and bison, but that’s mostly store-bought). However, this “better tasting” meat he always seasons with an onslaught of spices and other ingredients, making me feel like some of that natural taste needs to be masked away.
The whole memoir mostly follows a trajectory consisting of the births of his three kids. His wife’s second pregnancy lands her on bed rest for many weeks, a harrowing experience that I can relate with. Not long after this difficult pregnancy, they are surprised to be pregnant yet again. This is where Dombrowski’s writing is at its best. He struggles to come to terms with the financial burden of raising the kids while balancing his demanding seasonal duties as a river guide. And despite being away nearly all day long during his busiest times, he tries to make up for it by spending lots of time outdoors with his kids.
Then out of the blue, he moves his family to Michigan.
While this was largely a financial move, I still struggled to fully understand why he did this. The new job, to teach at a prestigious boarding school in the Upper Peninsula, was the obvious reason. Plus, it was closer to aging family members. But it happens fast in the memoir and he appears to almost instantly regret the decision. He meets some interesting people in Michigan, but the longing to return to Montana is constant and they quickly move back.
The River You Touch – Making a Life On Moving Water is a book that goes beyond being merely well written (which it is). It is alive with wonder at the natural world and our place in it. We belong to the earth and the earth belongs to us. In our short time on it, we should be unafraid to fully be part of the natural world in its abundant offerings.
Birdfreak.com received a review copy of The River You Touch – Making a Life On Moving Water from the publisher, Milkweed Editions.