Reading Water: Lessons from the River

2002 Foreword INDIES Finalist, Nature Book of the Year.

Back in print: Reading Water: Lessons from the River (2021, second edition) by Rebecca Lawton.

Reading Water is " . . . a seasoned depiction of the nomadic culture, empty canyons, and wild western rivers that define and haunt her. Honest in her assessment of the psychological costs of a gypsy life, artful in her understanding of currents and seasons, Lawton depicts the rivers taking away as well as giving . . . " — David James Duncan, author, The River Why and My Story as Told by Water

"Reading Water is both mirror and map, a reminder that a life can take the shape of the river itself—fierce and tender, restless and serene, asking us only for our unwavering fidelity to living, moving water." — Ellen Meloy, author, Eating Stone and The Anthropology of Turquoise

Rebecca Lawton begins this literary float trip: "My first view of the river looked like this—a long, blue being at the bottom of a steep canyon." Jump in the raft and join this "whitewater gypsy" and naturalist as she rows you down some of the American West's greatest rivers. With her, you'll come to understand rivers and their impact on the human emotional landscape in a deeper sense. Reading Water offers seekers not only thrill rides on whitewater, but also sees rivers as rich ecosystems and emotional wellsprings. Lawton views water through various lenses: the hydrological, spiritual, and personal. Even armchair river runners will find much to love about this book—its affection, adventure, wisdom, and sense of place.

"Rebecca Lawton doesn't just read water, she understands it, speaks it, lives it, and loves it. The finely crafted chapters in Reading Water reflect the wisdom and sharply tuned senses that a life spent on the water can nurture. Lawton's book examines everything from the loss of her mother to marriage, friendship, and work through a shimmering, water lens that reveals remarkable depth." — Pamela Michael, cofounder of River of Words and The Gift of Rivers

You've read about famed explorers and early boatmen whose legendary strength fills book after book. Now dive into this classic about an early woman river guide whose love of reading water and quest for understanding the underlying science took her all over the West.

For those who have navigated America's great rivers by boat—and for those who wish they could—this book shares deep knowledge from a writer who not only guided on rivers in the 1970s and 80s but also trained and worked as a fluvial geologist.

As Lawton writes, "The river taught me instinctive responses in an unparalleled mentorship that led me throughout the American West every day for more than a decade. Being on the river taught me to read water—to psyche out where rocks hid in riffles, find safe passage in inscrutable rapids, and keep moving in flatwater sections."

Living in the river community, allying with water, Lawton became part of an enduring subculture of people changed forever by rivers. Twenty years after this book's first publication, the insights learned from dedicated river guides and from Lawton's own observations of flow and currents are more timely than ever.