I remember rolling under the canoe; the way the water muffled the roar of the rapid and softened the sun’s glare. All around me were bubbles, millions and millions of them, rushing along at the same speed. We are like this – souls traveling through space. We are born in the tumult of the river, carried along by forces we cannot control. And we’re also beautiful in the way we hold the light, murmuring to one another on this journey toward the surface, our short spiraling lives.
I stayed under for a long time, safe from the waves crashing overhead. The water ran warm and deep. There was no need to panic, but my air was running out. I kicked out of the thigh straps and burst into daylight. –Page 208
The quotation from page 208 is but one example of the excellence of the narrative prose which fills John Manuel’s book from beginning to end. The river in this passage was Tennessee’s Ocoee, portrayed as an ultimate challenge for canoeists a river generally reserved for Kayaks and White Water Rafts.
The author’s trip down the Ocoee is the climax to a journey that begins on the peaceful waters of the Chagrin River near his parent’s home in Cleveland, Ohio. Along the way he canoes such well known waterways as the Allagash (Maine), the Nantahala (North Carolina), and the Chattooga (Georgia). This last was the whitewater backdrop for the movie Deliverance based on James Dickey’s novel of the same title.
The Canoeist is neither a how to manual for boaters nor a simple recounting of whitewater adventures, though many adventures appear among the stories. Manuel skillfully weaves in the story of his family and his career along the way. Within the pages he recounts emotional distance from his father, a hard nosed businessman who taught him canoeing skills but never understood his career path as a conservationist working for nonprofit organizations, or his later decision to become a writer.
Manuel also recounts the friendships he gained along the way and the courtship of his wife Cathy, a strong canoeist in her own right. He tells the reader about his son and daughter, and his determination to maintain a healthy relationship with them and not repeat the separation between him and his father.
Manuel’s ability to weave these many stories into a unified whole reveal his skill as a gifted writer. The canoeist is an enjoyable read.