Dec 062006
Authors: Geoff Johnson

One need not be an activist to enjoy “Pulse of the River,” a collection of essays, stories and poems. Edited by Gary Wockner and Laura Pritchett, it is a book filled with quality literature and compelling activism.

The book’s literature is written as love letters to, defenses of, and musings about the Cache la Poudre River. It is divided into four sections: “Maybe I’m in Love,” “A Kind of Vertigo,” “Spiral of Our Life,” and “Our Bodies Are Rivers.”

Of the more than 30 authors featured, several are CSU professors, including John Calderazzo (creative writing), Bill Tremblay (creative writing), Ellen Wohl (geology) and Todd Mitchell (English).

“I’m happy we have young, intelligent, literature-savvy activists (for the Poudre),” Calderazzo said of the book and its contributors and editors. “It’s exciting.”

As a person who wants to be a fly-fisherman, but lacks any and all necessary patience, drive, ambition, and lack-of-laziness, this reviewer particularly enjoyed an essay by J.D. Phillips: “Rejecting Fast-Food Fishing: Angling the Upper Cache la Poudre.”

Phillips expresses his passion for the upper Poudre River, which cannot be accessed easily by car. It is, as the essay’s about-the-author portion puts it, “without beer bottles, without eroded banks, without stocked trout, without dams..”

The narrative recounts Phillips’ first visit to an out-of-the-way spot on the Poudre where he didn’t see another angler once (contrary to the hordes of anglers one might see in warm-weather months on the lower Poudre).

Upon reaching the river, Phillips finds rising trout – one after another – trout that don’t retreat quickly upon feeding at the surface. He doesn’t fish them, though. He blissfully wiles the day away at the riverbank, and he does not cast once.

“Some fish are too easy,” he writes. “And I couldn’t bring myself to wreck the scene by dragging a flailing trout through the river.”

Wockner’s piece, titled “Against the Current,” is a call for policy change regarding the way the Poudre (and water in the West in general) is treated. A narrative of his experiences enjoying and exploring the river with his daughter, Julia, weaves through the piece.

In discussing his love for the Poudre, Wockner is particularly eloquent: “.it’s not a humble soft love. It’s a manic running love. It’s an angry love. It’s a fighting love.and like all good love everywhere, it is relentless.”

Whether someone is an avid Poudre River enthusiast, be it an angler, kayaker, hiker, cliff jumper – whatever – or someone who’s only seen the river when attending a show at the Mish, I think it’d be hard for them to say that he or she doesn’t have a vested interest in the river.

Todd Simmons, editor of Matter, a Fort Collins Literary Magazine and a contributor to the book, said college students, though a transient population in terms of Fort Collins, have no reason not to be concerned about the Poudre, and, for that matter, all rivers.

“(College students) drink the water and they should be concerned (about the Poudre’s well-being),” Simmons said. “They will face this (sort of thing) wherever they go.”

As I said at the beginning of this review, the literature stands on its own merit. A reader doesn’t necessarily need to be an ardent activist for the Poudre River. He or she needs only to enjoy good writing. Pick this book up and be amazed at the wealth of good writers Northern Colorado has.

Staff writer Geoff Johnson can be reached at The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.

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