The River You Touch
“We are matter and long to be received by an Earth that conceived us, which accepts and reconstitutes us, its children, each of us, without exception, every one. The journey is long, and then we start homeward, fathomless as to what home might make of us.”
When Chris Dombrowski burst onto the literary scene with Body of Water, the book was acclaimed as “a classic” (Jim Harrison) and its author compared with John McPhee. Dombrowski begins the highly anticipated The River You Touch with a question as timely as it is profound: “What does a meaningful, mindful, sustainable inhabitance on this small planet look like in the Anthropocene?”
He answers this fundamental question of our time initially by listening lovingly to rivers and the land they pulse through in his adopted home of Montana. Transplants from the post-industrial Midwest, he and his partner, Mary, assemble a life based precariously on her income as a schoolteacher, his as a poet and fly-fishing guide. Before long, their first child arrives, followed soon after by two more, all “free beings in whom flourishes an essential kind of knowing […], whose capacity for wonder may be the beacon by which we see ourselves through this dark epoch.” And around the young family circles a community of friends—river-rafting guides and conservationists, climbers and wildlife biologists—who seek to cultivate a way of living in place that moves beyond the mythologized West of appropriation and extraction.
Moving seamlessly from the quotidian—diapers, the mortgage, a threadbare bank account—to the metaphysical—time, memory, how to live a life of integrity—Dombrowski illuminates the experience of fatherhood with intimacy and grace. Spending time in wild places with their children, he learns that their youthful sense of wonder at the beauty and connectivity of the more-than-human world is not naivete to be shed, but rather wisdom most of us lose along the way—wisdom that is essential for the possibility of transformation.
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Praise and Prizes
“A heartfelt memoir of life and fatherhood in Big Sky country . . . Through a collection of vignettes, the author shares his concerns for the environment, the effects of the appropriation of land from Native inhabitants, and the emotions the landscape stirs in him. ‘The angler standing in the river is not so much absolved of time as disburdened of it, able to shirk its weight’ . . . Nature lovers will be captivated by Dombrowski’s lyrical descriptions of the land and its wildlife, while parents are sure to relate to his familial challenges and sacrifice. A beautifully and poignantly written tribute to a beloved landscape and its spirit.”
“The River You Touch is a personal guide like no other . . . a lyrical, visually rich, once-in-a-lifetime river trip. . . . Packed with thought-provoking narrative that may guide you to being a better human.”
"An intimate collection of related vignettes that ruminate on an outdoor life along Montana's stunning rivers and [Dombrowski's] challenging interior struggle over providing a dependable living for his growing family . . . Populated by a panoply of gorgeous images—'I was nineteen—the Yellowstone flowing around my hips swept quicksilver-streaked beneath the vast moonlit snowfields of the Crazy Mountains'—this is a complex, candid meditation on parenting, fishing, writing, and living in a manner that will stir the blood and fire the intellect."
“Nature writer Dombrowski evokes both wilderness splendor and the hardscrabble effort of living paycheck to paycheck in this exquisite work. In lyrical language replete with vivid imagery, Dombrowski reflects on his 25 years as a fly-fishing guide, his uncertainty over writing and poetry, his impending fatherhood and ‘fear of ushering children into a periled world’ . . . he renders his love of the natural world in incandescent prose: ‘the land itself . . . a blessing, yes, but also a kind of passage, a shaft of fall light shone down on a trace path that leads out of a previously impenetrable wood.’ Punctuated by the frank candor of a writer weighing sacrifice and art, this introspective memoir will hook fans of A River Runs Through It.”
“In slow, eddying prose, [The River You Touch] mines an ordinary life for evocative reflections on family, friendship, and the meaning found in a rugged landscape . . . Suggesting that, like a river, a life well lived includes ‘headlong shots through roaring box canyons’ in addition to ‘the hypnotic, elliptical movement of water running back on itself,’ The River You Touch is a profound, moving memoir that contemplates the earth, family, and community in its tributes to the intimate beauty of western Montana.”
“A lyrical exploration of a beloved place and lifestyle steeped in the natural world, by a writer for whom quality of life supersedes the need for financial security. Will appeal to readers who relish memoirs that skillfully intertwine nature, the American West, and fishing.”
“Midway through The River You Touch, poet and naturalist Chris Dombrowski tells us, ‘To truly fathom a river, is to know it from its headwaters to its mouth…’ To truly fathom a life—one’s place, community, family, history, purpose on earth—is the sacred pursuit of this moving and beautifully written memoir. Here is the story of a man attempting to reckon with his cultural inheritance, his vocation, his past, and his responsibilities to family, land, and history. Along the route, he continuously encounters reminders of his own mortal smallness and, simultaneously, the numinous interconnection of all beings. Like the river, Dombrowski’s story is complicated and enlivened by all it touches, ‘an extension of everything upstream and down’—from the joys, doubts, and terrors of parenthood; to the precarity of making a life in art; to the rivers and mountains that are both his source of sustenance and place of worship; and the fraught layers of histories that map over it all. By the end, I’d fallen hopelessly in love with Dombrowski’s Montana, not just its rivers and mountains, but the unforgettable cast of characters that populate his world—from children who speak in beguiling riddles to crusty old hunters whose colloquial panache rivals the naughtiest Shakespeare. Dombrowski brings a near-religious attentiveness to the details of his world, both our wise guide and awe-struck fellow-passenger.”
"Heartfelt, moving, and gorgeously written, The River You Touch is a love song to the rivers of Montana, a love song to a way of life. Dombrowski writes with tenderness and insight and with a deep, personal gratitude to the rivers that have taught him who he is--a husband, a father, a fisherman, a poet, a person who loves the earth as well as mourns it. What a tremendous achievement."
“In the way a fable points us toward rightness, so The River You Touch leads us to a necessary truth: that deep knowledge and love of a place shapes us in all the ways we will need to survive. With poetry, vulnerability, and crisp storytelling, Dombrowski takes us into a wild, river-thrummed Montana, and into the stormswept territory of marriage and family. It’s a journey with a guide who knows the country at a cellular level, and whose bafflement and wonder renews our own. The magic of the book is that I came away convinced that learning to love a trout, or an autumn snowfall, or a wolf crossing a river, would teach me to love a friend or a partner in pain—and so to love and be connected to all beings. Damn.”
“With The River You Touch, Chris Dombrowski has established himself at the forefront of American writers of place. This beautiful, clear-eyed, tender memoir is as intimate as a love letter, brimming with wise observations on family, parenthood, home, duty, and passion. The Montana within these pages is wild and rugged, yes. But it is also as gentle as a cold stream running through your fingers or a child sleeping in your arms. I loved this book.”
“You won’t soon read a more beautiful book, nor one so earthy, wise, delicious, and alive. This is not a book about fish or rivers or Montana or parenting. This is a book, to paraphrase another poet, plain and simple, to break open the frozen sea within.”