by Ann Haymond Zwinger
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.