American rivers are among the most diverse and challenging in the world, and for many the excitement and escape they offer develops into a lifelong pursuit. In Downstream Toward Home, Oliver A. Houck recounts his six decades exploring America’s waterways,from unnamed creeks and Louisiana swamps to the rivers of western canyons and the Alaskan tundra.
This engaging travelogue leads readers down over thirty-two rivers found across the country. Along the way Houck provides quiet observations as he finds footprints of red wolves on a sandbank or paddles through an aqueous forest of cypress trees. Collectively, these moments of adventure and introspection reveal his distinct and extraordinary vision of the national landscape.
From the thrill of approaching rapids to the peace of resting on a shoal, Houck’s narrative draws from history and personal experience subtly to remind us how each body of water plays an outsized role in its surrounding environment.
At once a journal, a primer, and a guide, Downstream Toward Home is an invitation to create our own experiences on America’s rivers.
A law professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Oliver A. Houck has been involved in river conservation throughout his life, beginning as general counsel to the National Wildlife Federation in the early l970s. He has served on litigation boards of the Environmental Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife, and several committees of the National Academy of Sciences. Named the Louisiana Conservationist of the Year, Gambit magazine’s New Orleanian of the Year, Tulane University’s Distinguished Teacher of the Year, Houck has also received two National Educational Press Association awards for children’s literature. He was most recently honored by the Environmental Section of the American Bar Association with its Distinguished Achievement Award.
Praise for Downstream Toward Home
“The former ‘Louisiana Conservationist of the Year’ can still engage readers as we accompany him on a lifetime of river journeys. In a book filled with bite-size anecdotes, several stand out as truly remarkable, not simply because of their subject matter but because of Houck’s unique and often mystical take on the world.”—Aspen Times Weekly
“Downstream Toward Home is a moving voyage along the rivers that Oliver Houck has known, loved, and for which he has fought and sometimes despaired. These episodes chart a progression in the soul of an ecological visionary. The man is a law professor and writes like an angel.”—Jason Berry, author of Render unto Rome
“For many people, river trips like those that Houck writes about here would be opportunities to vacate their shore-bound lives for a time, a chance to get away. But for Houck, they are opportunities to go home, to go inside by going outside—to witness nature while also witnessing for it. His prose has all the grace and nonchalance of a good river. Water lifts his words the way it buoys up his canoe. Once you start reading Downstream Toward Home, you are headed into the heart of a continent.”—Wayne Franklin, author of James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years
“Oliver Houck’s adventures and mishaps are full of humor, meditation, occasional danger, and constant surprises. A long-standing river defender, these are also empowering accounts of the rescue of rivers for their own sake, which turns out to be our sake too.”—Brent Blackwelder, Founding Chair of American Rivers and President Emeritus of Friends of the Earth
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