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Friday, March 04, 2005

Book Review: The Realm of Rivers: Alabama's Mobile-Tensaw Delta, by Sue Walker and Dennis Holt

As you know, Dennis and Sue came to our January meeting to show us their new book. I have just finished reading it, cover to cover, and I have to praise it even more enthusiastically than I did at the meeting.

We all saw and heard during the meeting that this book was a unique artistic achievement. The photography and the poetry capture, in exquisite detail, the experiences we've had as a club while paddling the Delta. The poetry and pictures are the soul of this book.

But wait! There's more! The book includes stories and legends of the Delta, including various perspectives on the Fort Mims Massacre. There is a brief chronology of the role of the Tensaw in Baldwin County history. There are delightful essays on the Delta experience, including quotations from writers from several centuries. A series of essays portrays the living -- human -- legends of Stockton and the Delta. The book closes with an informal "master class" in photography by Dennis Holt, explaining how he caught and produced a few of the dozens of unique Delta photographs included in the book.

The Realm of Rivers includes some errors that one would inevitably expect to find in a book published by a small press. Big publishing houses have an army of fact-checkers and proofreaders that were not available to these local authors. For example, the feeding habits of the white and brown pelicans are reversed in the book (whites feed passively, while browns dive for food). My copy of the book cut off the end of Dennis's notes on photographic methods. And I think the book's dates regarding the construction and dedication of the Causeway are inaccurate, but I can't figure out how to check them, so it's not surprising to me that the authors and editors couldn't do any better than I did.

The sweetest information of all, for me, was about the heritage of eating at the Stagecoach Cafe in Stockton, which is described in poetry, narrative, photographic, and interview form in this book. I cannot guess how many pounds of food we have consumed at the Stagecoach before and after our club's Delta paddles, enjoying the excellent food and the companionship of our paddling buddies. But I never realized before reading this book what a venerable tradition such "pigging out at the Stagecoach" is, dating back to the days when it required nineteen stage horses to make the journey from Stockton to Montgomery. I now feel as privileged as I am pleased to partake of the Stagecoach's sumptuous seafood buffets and legendary corn pudding.

We are blessed indeed to have this vast wilderness in which to paddle and such artists to chronicle it. Personally, I'm sending a copy of this book to everyone I know who wonders why anybody would be crazy enough to go paddling with alligators. Now they can eat their hearts out wishing they were with us without my wasting my breath trying to explain it.

The Realm of Rivers is available at Dennis's gallery, the Morning Light Gallery & Studio, 410 Fairhope Avenue, Post Office Box 1272, Fairhope, AL, 26533, 251-990-6444, and at area bookstores.