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.”—from The River You Touch
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
“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.”
“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.”