Today I would like to revisit my old Bibliophilia series, with a book that made me discover a number of personal connections I had with it, even before I got to know the author personally: Watershed Redemption by Diana Hartel.
"Can You Give My Mom a Review?"
The first time I received a copy of this book was at the end of my epic bike journey, when I visited my good friend in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. She was excited to tell me that her mom had just published a book, and if I could give her a positive review (on that former online bookstore that by now has become the worlds biggest retailer). How could I not! But still, I wanted to write a bit more than just "great read, awesome book, so full of insight", and all that general jazz. So I started flipping through the pages.
Familiar Places and People
What struck me right away, was that the first chapter focused on the Klamath River in Northern California. The same river I had fallen in love with, as I cycled along its banks from Happy Camp all the way down to Weitchpec. Excitedly, I started reading it, and was happy to see places and even people's name mentioned that I have seen, known, or met myself in person. By then it was no surprise that un-damming the river for the salmon runs, as well as prescribed burns to prevent wildfires, were two issues both the author, as well as my friends I visited on the rivers, held very highly. It would be another two years before meeting Diana, but already I felt a deep connection with her.
The Rio Grande, the Hudson, the Chattahoochee, and the Mississippi
Once past the Klamath, I started exploring the other four watersheds in the book, in the order which I thought I would be able to relate to best. Living in Mexico, the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo as it's called here), kind of offered itself, and I was not disappointed. The imminent border issues recalled into vivid memory the stories my wife keeps telling me each day when she's venting from work. She is a human rights lawyer, specializing in migration issues.
In addition to the obvious problems the border causes, not only to human culture but also to wild nature, that chapter also examines nuclear power, from the first atomic bomb developped in Los Alamos and detonated in White Sands, to nuclear power plants contaminating poor Latino neighborhoods on both sides of the border.
Ecology, History, Epidemiology, and Personal Accounts
The chapters about the other three rivers fell further and further away from my personal experience, but Diana managed to tie connections in a way I have to tip my hat to. She addresses the history buff in me, mentioning tidbits of information about Atlanta's sewage treatment systems, the way the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and operated, or early victories in protecting the Hudson River. She expands on pieces of family anecdotes her daughter had told me, setting a vivid backdrop for the actual protagonists of her book, the rivers. Most interestingly, she includes scientific information, ranging from botany and zoology to the field she is specialized in: epidemiology.
Talking about science, you can't publish anything without citing your sources. Even here, Diana provides more than you'd expect. In her bibliography she not only mentions the works and authors she's relying on, but she writes a paragraph of review, putting the author and their work on the map. This makes me want to actually look them up and read them. I've never encountered this before, but I believe everyone should do it!
A Mosaic, a Collage, a Tapestry of Words
Taking a step back to enjoy a long look at the big picture, it becomes clear that Diana's book is not a scientific reading, a rousing activist literature, or a collection of historical and personal anecdotes. Instead, it is a beautiful combination of all of this. She ties in her personal experiences at Standing Rock with the displacement of native peoples all along the Mississippi, and elsewhere. She tells about her great-grandfather moving across the plains, along with his generation of white settlers, while she's explaining how the Mississippi was forced into concrete by the Army Corp of Engineers. She combines personal accounts of working for the CDC in Atlanta, or doing AIDS research in New York City, with explaining the natural ecosystems of the Chattahoochee and the Hudson. She addresses the population of the Mexican Gray Wolf, while introducing people who dedicate their lives to protecting them, as well as other species, including humans, whose habitat the border cuts across.
Get The Book, Check Out the Author!
In the end, I would say that this beautiful book expresses Diana Hartel just as I have gotten to know her: a scientist, an activist, a witness of our times, but more than anything, an artist. Although her preferred medium are visual arts, specifically painting, with Watershed Redemption she does a wonderful job at creating a complex painting using words and stories. If I managed to perk your interest, please get a copy here (where I still haven't published a review, since I haven't made any purchases recently), and feel free to look up Diana's online presence. Her paintings are just as beautiful as her writing.
You may also be interested in the other book reviews in my Bibliophilia series:
My 12 Most Recommendable Permaculture Readings
Another 12 Permaculture Books - Specialized Readings
Riane Eisler – The Chalice and the Blade
William McDonough and Michael Braungart - Cradle to Cradle
Charles Eisenstein - Sacred Economics
Ken Kesey - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Charles C. Mann - 1491
Tom Wolfe - From Bauhaus to Our House
Ideas and Concepts of Daniel Quinn
B. Traven - The Death Ship and The Cotton Pickers
Books by Wladimir Kaminer
Remembering the Good Doctor Gonzo - Hunter S. Thompson
Tom Wolfe - The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Robert A. Wilson Expanding His Readers' Minds
Gary Jennings' Head-dive into Mexican History