It is, in the end, a matter of perspective: A river lays down a dividing line, or it suggests confluence and flow. A river offers refuge from time, or a better measure of it. Rivers are float and force. They are circumscribed by their banks but never fully tamed. Rivers are where we go to lose and find ourselves.
In the summer of 2001, Akiko Busch — a mother, a writer, a woman on the verge of fifty struggling with the recent loss of a close friend — sought “a divide that could be crossed.” Busch had been swimming since the age of three, when her father introduced her to a garden pool in Bangkok. Ineffably, she was drawn to the idea of swimming across the Hudson River, and this was what she set out to do, just a few days shy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Her intent becomes the starting place for her graceful book, Nine Ways to Cross a River.
Swimming across the Hudson was no great feat of athleticism, Busch readily acknowledges. Indeed, “it was about nothing more and nothing less than the possibility of getting there, somewhere, from here.” And yet this late August swim propelled Busch toward what became a tradition of finding rivers to swim across and musing about the place of rivers in our lives. She swam across the Delaware River and reflected on calamities and calm. She swam the Connecticut River and thought about the constancy of change. She stood on the banks of the Susquehanna River and contemplated courage. She made a diagonal trek across the swirling eddies of the Mississippi. And woven in with all of this are river histories and ecological truths, the lines of poets and the cautions of engineers, the science of springs and karst landscapes, the conversations that she had with the local folk who have grown up near and on their rivers.
Nine Ways to Cross a River is lovely, thoughtful, and economical. It puts rivers right where rivers belong — in the forefront of our thinking.