Herman Melville begins Moby Dick by noting the way humans seem almost magnetically attracted to water. "There is magic in it," he writes. "Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream." George Handley would, no doubt, agree with this observation. His Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River is a gentle, slow, and deeply thoughtful book built on this special human relationship with water. Handley uses the Provo River as the locus for a series of contemplations on what it means to be a friend, father, husband, son, brother, grandson, and great-great-grandson in a particular landscape, as well as within a particular religion and community. But in the process of exploring this very specific river from its headwaters to its arrival at Utah Lake, Handley meanders through some unexpected tributaries. In the prologue to the book, Handley writes that "whenever I sat down to write about the watershed, I found myself increasingly unable to separate place from story, outdoor recreation from ecological and spiritual restoration, the present from the past, and, even against my will, the historical from the personal." The way those side channels become tangled is both the beauty and the strength of this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but like most reminiscences, Home Waters occasionally suffers from a little too much "navel-gazing." And like a lot of first books, sometimes it bites off more than it can chew. But these relatively minor problems are a small price to pay for a book that consistently offers refreshing insights and new ways of thinking about the world. Handley does not write the boisterous and strident prose of Edward Abbey, but he is always readable and reasonable. Readers who cherish the works of Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams, or Wendell Berry will definitely enjoy Home Waters and are likely to find a new author to watch. And readers who want to know what a Mormon environmentalist looks like need look no further.