Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon

Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon

by Ann Haymond Zwinger
     
 

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Every writer comes to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with a unique point of view. Ann Zwinger's is that of a naturalist, an "observer at the river's brim." Teamed with scientists and other volunteer naturalists, Zwinger was part of an ongoing study of change along the Colorado. In all seasons and all weathers, in almost every kind

Overview


Every writer comes to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with a unique point of view. Ann Zwinger's is that of a naturalist, an "observer at the river's brim." Teamed with scientists and other volunteer naturalists, Zwinger was part of an ongoing study of change along the Colorado. In all seasons and all weathers, in almost every kind of craft that goes down the waves, she returned to the Grand Canyon again and again to explore, look, and listen. From the thrill of running the rapids to the wonder in a grain of sand, her words take the reader down 280 miles of the "ever-flowing, energetic, whooping and hollering, galloping" river.

Zwinger's book begins with a bald eagle count at Nankoweap Creek in January and ends with a subzero, snowy walk out of the canyon at winter solstice. Between are the delights of spring in side canyons, the benediction of rain on a summer beach, and the chill that comes off limestone walls in November. Her eye for detail catches the enchantment of small things played against the immensity of the river: the gatling-gun love song of tree frogs; the fragile beauty of an evening primrose; ravens "always in close attendance, like lugubrious, sharp-eyed, nineteenth-century undertakers"; and a golden eagle chasing a trout "with wings akimbo like a cleaning lady after a cockroach." As she travels downstream, Zwinger follows others in history who have risked—and occasionally lost—their lives on the Colorado. Hiking in narrow canyons, she finds cliff dwellings and broken pottery of prehistoric Indians. Rounding a bend or running a rapid, she remembers the triumphs and tragedies of early explorers and pioneers. She describes the changes that have come with putting a big dam on a big river and how the dam has affected the riverine flora and fauna as well as the rapids and their future.

Science in the hands of a poet, this captivating book is for armchair travelers who may never see the grandiose Colorado and for those who have run it wisely and well. Like the author, readers will find themselves bewitched by the color and flow of the river, and enticed by what's around the next bend. With her, they will find its rhythms still in the mind, long after the splash and spray and pound are gone.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Winner of the 1995 Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction

"Tracing the seasons of the canyon through a full year, Zwinger paints a dynamic portrait of an immense, ever-changing ecosystem. . . . Zwinger's skills as a naturalist are matched by her lush, poetic prose style."—Audubon

"She shares her love of the canyon with the heart and soul of a poet."—Booklist

"A delightfully guised natural/cultural history lesson of the area. Heartily recommended."—Library Journal

"A joltingly beautiful study of the canyon and its river. . . . This extraordinary book places Zwinger squarely among the best of today's nature writers."—Kirkus Reviews

"Readers will find Zwinger's account as educational as any text and as engrossing as a novel."—Publishers Weekly

"A book that will enhance everyone's Grand Canyon experience, whether they're hiking the canyon trails, running the river, merely gazing into the void, or reading about it at home. Downcanyon is an infinitely readable gem."—Western American Literature

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It is no wonder that some of the most beautiful writing comes out of the Southwest. With its stark contrasts of pastel skies and vivid geology, it can be difficult to capture the essence of this region, but a few accomplished writers have been able to do justice to this wondrous place. Hidden beneath the innocuous title, Downcanyon (just another raft trip down the Colorado?), is Zwinger's narrative, one reminiscent of the elegant writing of E.O. Wilson. Part of a team of volunteer naturalists and scientists studying environmental impact along the Colorado River, Zwinger (Run, River, Run) was involved in counting and observing Bald Eagles in the canyon. Returning time after time, she describes the changes of the seasons and man-made additions like a huge dam. She creates an intensely rich experience from the weaving of a spider web, and her recollection of summer in the canyon is a scalding, shimmering sensation. ``In summer, passing close to these sepulchral walls is like skirting the flank of a dragon. Rock made of seething, molten magma still pulses heat out more than a millennia later when its flat faces tilt to the sun like solar collectors.'' Downcanyon is a perfect blend of history, natural history and outdoor writing, nicely embellished by the author's sharp sketches. Readers will find Zwinger's account as educational as any text on the subject and as engrossing as a novel. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Zwinger states in her preface that she has written about "what catches my eye and piques my interest, the delightful details of a rich river world." She has done an excellent job of sharing with her readers "the joys thereof." Over four seasons, Zwinger accomplished several trips on Colorado River as it flows through Grand Canyon, from mile 0 at Lees Ferry to mile 278.5 at the Grand Wash Fault. Her colorful and vivid language and occasional gentle humor, as she details tiny ants, spider webs, ancient Anasazi culture, or enormous basalt cliffs, is outstanding. Zwinger has the ability to involve, teach, and share with her reader. Her own observations are intertwined with descriptions from extensive research, making this work a delightfully guised natural/cultural history lesson of the area. Heartily recommended for public and academic libraries. [This was a winner of a 1995 Western States Book Award.Ed.]Nancy Moeckel, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, Ohio

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780816515561
Publisher:
University of Arizona Press
Publication date:
07/01/1995
Pages:
318
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author


Ann Zwinger has written and illustrated many books, including Run, River, Run, which won the John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and in Audubon, Orion, and other magazines.

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