Down the River
It is a book mainly about the river. It's a journal about a raft trip, a travelogue down through literature and history as well as down a great waterway; and for those tempted to repeat the experience, it is a useful guide.
It's about midAmerica at mid-Twentieth Century, and about travelers on the river, from earliest memory till 1957, and what they experienced with each bluff, town, person, incident, or historic event along the way.
In sharp focus, is the story of three young college professors exploring Huck Finn, Mark Twain's river, and themselves-whacking together a raft from a sodden old dock, and then pushing off onto a calm surface only to be suddenly embraced by a strong current taking them completely off course, and in subsequent days, being swept along through searing heat, drenching rain, wild hurricane winds. and swarms of mosquitoes. It's about getting hung up on wing dams, about colliding, or nearly-colliding, with channel buoys or swiftly-propelled barges, about often rowing like crazy madmen to avoid some horrible unanticipated obstacle and when luck held, being saved in the nick of time by a johnboat or a lone car on a back road which just happened to be in the right place at the right time to spare them certain disaster. It's about making arduous treks in the night searching for food, getting lost in darkness, stumbling through cornfields, or perhaps kneedeep in gumbo in ditch bottoms alongside the river, while carrying cameras, sacks of groceries, water jugs, and other purchases, and unable to find where the raft was moored, and about encountering a host of pleasant and helpful as well as unhelpful riverfolk. Also, it's about the male menus that the threerafters devise. And sometimes, it is about the sociable moccasin, the inquisitive black snake, and the agile rattler, which wanted a lift, and about idyllic landscapes, enchanting sunsets, and a peace that only the river can give.
Davidson writes, "While picking up sticks for a fire, I crossed the head of the island. It was almost dark now and I looked across to Hannibal, where lights shone cheerily. I suppose my mood, like that of the gregarious Huck, should have been a little wistful, but instead, the sense of adventure, of reliving in a small way the marvelous joys of Huck's real fiction, made the contrast between my feeling and his, great. The air about me contained a host of witnesses. The real island and real Hannibal were suddenly and without effort the idyllic, fictional Eden of boyhood, and across a shining river lay St. Petersburg. Something had begun, the end of which we could not see."
Among other things, it is about a delightful friendship that goes sadly awry.
Beautifully written in the old 20th century style, it evokes nostalgia for the distant past from memoirs of that ghostly "host of witnesses" who accompanied them on their raft, The Mysterious Stranger.
E. T. A. Davidson, "the nautical young lady ›who ̈ chanced a frying pan and a kettle."
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