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To make the gods laugh, tell them your plans

Well, I had planned on continuing my new series on environmental classics with Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a favorite book by a favorite author in a favorite place. But only nine pages into a rereading of it and I got sidetracked by Kevin Fedarko, who just wrote a thoroughly enjoyable book called The Emerald Mile. As I was drawn into this compelling tale of running the Colorado River, I thought, “No problem. I’ll do a joint Abbey-Fedarko review. It’s a perfect fit.”

I tore through The Emerald Mile like the Colorado River at flood stage, but no sooner was I finished than I was snatched up by a completely different yet just as engaging book, called Farmacology, by Daphne Miller, M.D. (more on The Emerald Mile below).

Farmacology is subtitled “What innovative family farming can teach us about health and healing.” What could easily have been another hopeful yet insubstantial book is in fact well-thought-out, well-written, surprising, and inspiring. And it’s written by a serious yet open-minded doctor. She visits farms of many stripes and applies their lessons to our physical well-being, and to be certain she starts off on the right foot, pays a visit to Wendell Berry. “The critical question you need to ask in both health care and farming is: ‘What is the pattern you are making?’” suggests Wendell. “Is the pattern going to be that of a factory or that of a forest or the native prairie?”

Those of you who remember my reviews of The Wild Life of Our Bodies and An Epidemic of Absence in this space in October of 2012 know that I’m fascinated by the complex patterns that Wendell is referring to, especially when they occur right under—or even in—our noses. Enter the next book that grabbed me, Cooked, by one of the most important nonfiction writers working today, Michael Pollan. Pollan, too, explores the wild life of our bodies, via the wild life of our foods, as he moves out of the fields and into the kitchen. With the assistance of some charismatic friends he explores “the natural history of transformation”—how we use fire, water, air, and earth to cook. It’s a great read; more and better than you’d expect.

Pollan, a journalist and teacher, is above all an excellent storyteller. This trait he shares with the aforementioned author of The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko. I was immediately hooked by Fedarko’s story—or stories, for there are many in his book. Within about twenty pages we get lessons on the geology and history of the Grand Canyon area, then before we know it we’re witnessing two cliff-hangers: Will the gigantic new dam hold back the rapidly rising Colorado River, and How will Kenton Grua’s clandestine quest to set a speed record for a dory ride down the heart of the Grand Canyon turn out? Fedarko’s weaving of storylines is masterful, and the real surprise ending came when I found out he’ll be in town for a reading! If you’re a fan of river running, the Grand Canyon, hydropower, the Southwest, or quality storytelling, come to the Raven Bookstore on Friday, September 6 at 7 pm for what I’m sure will be a wild ride.


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