River of the Angry Moon

by Mark Hume

Published by University of Washington Press

176 pages, 1998

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Portrait of a River

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


It is a lovingly rendered portrait of a river. A year-in-the-life biography of the Bella Coola River in British Columbia's Chilcotin region, penned by a writer with both affection for his subject and a great deal of talent. The result is the sort of book Thoreau might have enjoyed: peaceful and succinct; poetic without being pedantic; enlightening without the chest-beating found in many books on outdoor topics.

The river is fed by the sky. It runs over a bed of shattered mountains, through the dreams of a great forest and into the mouths of ancient fishes. It starts in clouds as grey and heavy as the sea and ends in a windswept estuary haunted by ghosts. It is a place where white swans dance on dark mud flats and salmon lay fragile eggs in nests of stone.

River of the Angry Moon is a quiet little book, one whose passions are laid out in stately tones. And there is passion here; for the river itself, the life it carries and the damage being done to that life and that river by the humans that have passed its way. Fortunately for the reader, the passions never outweigh the poetry. Author Mark Hume resists any urges he might have had to find a soapbox, relying instead on his own journalistic virtuosity to carry the story he chose to tell. It works. In the 176 pages of this slim volume, Hume manages to convey his affection for and understanding of his subject. A nicely executed section of Field Notes at the end of the book rounds things out very well. Here, balanced against Hume's poetic words, are the cold hards: the months of fish returns, the months of spawning; pen and ink illustrations of the indigenous salmon in both their ocean phase and the monstrous spawning male phase. There are lists of aquatic insects, indigenous trees, wild berries, and birds in all seasons.

The field notes confirmed my initial impulse when I began the journey that is reading this work: to wait for summer, then find my way to the Bella Coola; find a tree and recline in its shade in view of the water with the book in my hand and all in sight of the River of the Angry Moon. | December 1998


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of Mad Money.