bookinglibrarian's Reviews > Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River

Voyage of a Summer Sun by Robin Cody
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's review
Feb 17, 2011

it was amazing
Read from February 14 to 16, 2011

If you’re looking for the best book to read about the Columbia River, this may be it. And even if you’re not, I highly recommend Robin Cody's book for anyone interested in understanding this vital artery of the environment, ecology & economy of the Pacific Northwest.

For some reason in the mid 1990s, there was a spate of books published about the Columbia River and over the years I have been trying to determine which one to read, which one offered the perspective I sought whenever I’ve spent time on the Columbia. However, I couldn’t decide and while perusing the tables at the University Bookstore, I came across this book, also published in the mid-90s, but which I had never heard of.

Why do I recommend Cody’s book? I think because it’s from the perspective of the river, or as close as a human can experience the river, in all its dimensions. Cody has the credentials, both as a Columbia native, a longtime river dweller & explorer, and as a writer for, among other entities, the Bonneville Power Administration, one of the major transformers of the river as we know it.

In the summer of 1990, Cody paddled a canoe the length of the river from its source in British Columbia to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean. He passes, with the river, through a landscape of fire and ice: deserts, mountains, coulees, the gorge, orchards, farmlands, parks, forests, fish hatcheries, towns, Indian reservations, paper mills, aluminum plants, the Hanford nuclear site and of course, multiple dams. He experiences blistering sun, tremendous thunderstorms, raging winds and gentle rain. He encounters many kinds of wildlife—bears, moose, deer, beavers, eagles, geese, white pelicans, mosquitoes, gnats, salmon, carp, sturgeon, and there are places where he sees none of these creatures. He talks to all types of river people along the way, including Indians from multiple bands, farmers, fishermen, engineers, restaurant workers, park rangers, wind surfers, store owners, newspaper publishers, kids, campers. And the Columbia arguably impacts them as much as their actions have impacted it, for the real story is about how humans have dramatically changed this river, channeling its energy into ours.

I’m not sure Cody’s Columbia story would be much different 20 years later. Yes, there are art installations by Maya Lin along the river commemorating spots of the Lewis & Clark expedition and its legacy. Tour boats now explore the Hanford Reach, the looming Trojan nuclear plant is gone and numerous vineyards are among the agricultural offerings along the river’s shores. Perhaps there is more concern about the still-endangered salmon and certainly greater awareness of other environmental issues. However, I wish there was more serious consideration of restoring Celilo Falls, for while it’s debatable whether a river the size and complexity of the Columbia can have a single soul (for lack of a better term)—in fact, Cody’s journey indicates otherwise—the restoration of the Falls would be a step in redeeming what we humans have done.

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