My brother and his family gifted me with something wonderful and truly local to their southern-Minnesota home. To many people, the term ‘River Rat‘ might seem less than kind, but those in the know know better. The book is a compelling telling of the life of Kenny Salwey, following him through a year of making a life in a swamp adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River, and the peculiar view of life that this provides. For example, the year doesn’t commence according to the unreasonable dictates of the calendar why would anyone start a year in the middle of winter?), but in March, when the ice begins to melt and the ground produces life once again. Throughout the year, we join Kenny as he fishes for trout and catfish, traps fur, hunts for deer and mushrooms and ginseng, catches turtles in the winter, and ‘makes wood’ (my favorite chapter, and one that made me nostalgic for childhood trips with my brother and dad and grandpa to lay up wood for the fireplace). Like a turtle, Kenny makes his slow and steady way through the year as he shows us about sustainable and simple living.
Too, the book reminded me of the famed ‘Watermen’– folks who live on the coast, and who are adept at all the forms of sustenance and recreation that the ocean provides. They surf, fish, spearfish, paddle, dive for shellfish, and otherwise provide for themselves from the ocean’s bounty. It’s a challenge and comfort to imagine being sustained and entertained by the world around you.