Sep 22, 2017

Journey on the James

Three Weeks through the Heart of Virginia
by Earl Swift

It was written because a journalist decided to paddle a canoe the entire length of the James River- from one of its beginning trickles of a stream- the Jackson- high in the mountains -down to the broad river mouth. Twenty-two days, some four hundred and thirty miles. The first part of it he hiked alongside the stream, then tried floating an inner tube (the water was usually too shallow at first). Canoed most of it and kayaked the last day when water infused with tide and buffeted by wind got too choppy. He talks about finding ways around dams, and muses on pollution probably caused by the paper mills, power plants, factories, etc on the water's edge. Talks about devastating floods from times past. I liked the parts about the personal river trip, the efforts to find camp sites (glimpses of wildlife were brief. I bet the creature that stole their cup was a raccoon), arrange portages, even just locate food in the small towns they passed through. He had a photographer accompanying him in a car- to meet up at prearranged points along the river, document the trip with photos, etc. There's brief descriptions of local folks they meet along the way, and a lot more about deserted towns- gradually abandoned when river travel gave way to rail and highways- and local history. Especially revolutionary war history. I wanted to read it mostly because I like canoeing myself (I know what he's talking about when he describes the estimated paddling difficulty by class levels), enjoy the descriptions of scenery, and thought it would be nice to learn a bit of Virginia history (since I didn't grow up here, I didn't get that in school). But for some reason the last forty pages were hard to get through- it just wasn't quite as engaging anymore.

It was originally a local newspaper series. What I gather from the notes in the back is that a lot of the history stuff was added in, to flesh it out in book form. For a book detailing a day-to-day river trip, especially with all the historical points of interest, it really could have used a map. And I was a bit surprised at how few photos were included- considering he had a photographer along.

Rating: 3/5                    239 pages, 2001

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I would definitely want a map in a book like that.