“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Far Appalachia: Following the New River North, by Noah Adams (Delacorte Press, 2001)
In Far Appalachia: Following the New River North, Noah Adams provides his readers with a collection of anecdotes about what is perhaps one of the last pristine landscapes in all the southern United States.
Mr. Adams is best known as the host of the National Public Radio show “All Things Considered” where, for more than 20 years now, he’s offered his wry take on … well, just about everything. But while his on-air gifts may be limited to commentary, in Far Appalachia, Adams also shows himself to be a pretty fair sketch artist, giving us glimpses of the people and views along the New River’s free-flowing trajectory.
The river begins 5,500 feet above sea level, starting near North Carolina’s Snake Mountain and flowing north through Virginia, finally joining the Gauley River in West Virginia.
In the book’s preface, Adams tells us how his own journey began: “I had the good fortune of being able to leave work for close to a year, to follow the New River on its course out of North Carolina. It’s a river I’d wondered about — you cross it fast on I-77 and I-81 in Virginia, and I-64 in West Virginia, with no chance even to see the water. One day, looking at the atlas, I noticed the thin, blue traces of the New, and realized the river could be the slower way into the country that I’d been looking for.”
The preface gives a strong hint of what’s to come. Adams trims his experience into vignettes — short, graceful literary sketches of the author’s singular pilgrimage following the river by bicycle, on foot and atop river rafts as he enters the country the river has entered and meets the people the river has met.
One extra touch Adams thinks to include in each chapter is the latitude and longitude of the particular section of river he’s discussing, to help readers follow his route. Adams refers to his musings as “just the angel’s share” — referring to what the “whiskey makers of Scotland and then Appalachia call the tiny amount of the essence that escapes from the still as vapor into the mountain air.”
Here’s a taste: “The New River after Allisonia starts being sweet. Claytor Lake is downstream from here a few miles and the calming effect of the big dam reaches this far back. You could rent a house here and fish through the hot days and fool around in a canoe or jonboat, and in the half-light before dawn imagine the early N & W freight trains rolling past.” And, “Tell me something better than coffee in the morning on the river when the sun’s come over the ridge and there’s a scrim of white fog across the water.”
On talking to a coal miner at the Beckley mine in West Virginia: “There’s natural gas in these mines. Same kind of gas you have in your homes but there they add something to it so you can smell it. In here you can’t tell it. But the birds have lungs like we do, only tiny. So you’d carry that canary in and keep listening for it all day.” The implication is clear: The bird stops chirping, there’s lethal gas in the mine.
Adams is a native of Ashland, Ky., so I’m sure such stories weren’t news for him. Some have compared this sweet little book to another one on nature: Walden. And indeed, it seems possible that the author wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” — at least for one year. I think he’s done just that.
[Noah Adams lives with his wife in Takoma Park, Md. He’ll appear at Malaprop’s (55 Haywood St.) on Sunday, April 22, to read from Far Appalachia. 3 p.m. For more information, call 254-6734.]
Poetry in motion
To celebrate National Poetry Month, Carrie Gerstmann hosts poetry readings by contributors to Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry on Saturday, April 28 at Malaprop’s. 7 p.m. This anthology, published in English and Russian, is a cooperative effort between the sister cities of Durham, N.C., and Kostroma, Russia. Keith Flynn, Susan Snowden, K. Culley Holderfield, Glenis Redmond, Thomas Rain Crowe and Betsy Humphreys will read. In addition, Malaprop’s will feature a different poet’s work each day of the month.
Starting Thursday, April 5 and running every Thursday through May 3, UNCA’s Dr. Rick Chess hosts “The Self and Soul in Contemporary American Poetry” at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the West Asheville Branch Library, the program will be held in the West Asheville Baptist Church, next door to the library. All reading and listening materials are provided. Call 251-4990 to register.
Wednesday, April 4, Malaprop’s: Daniel Quinn reads from his novel, After Dachau. This is a ticketed event. Tickets are $21 and include a free copy of After Dachau. 7 p.m.
Thursday, April 5, Malaprop’s: Louise Franklin Sheehy discusses her book, I Haven’t Talked about this Before: The Story of a Family’s Journey into the World of Cancer. 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 8, Malaprop’s: Gail Godwin reads from her debut nonfiction book, Heart: The History of an Idea. 3 p.m.
In conjunction with the Godwin reading, Malaprop’s celebrates the installation of a special glasswork, commissioned by the bookstore to honor writers with Asheville connections such as Fred Chappell, Wilma Dykeman, John Ehle, Gail Godwin, Robert Morgan, Elizabeth Daniels Squire and Thomas Wolfe. Reception following.
Wednesday, April 11 and Wednesday, April 25, West Asheville Branch Library: Join UNCA scholar Barbara Rhymes as she wraps up “One Vision, Many Voices: Latino Literature in the U.S.,” a reading/discussion series on diversity within the works of several writers of Latino heritage. Discussed April 11: Down these Mean Streets, by Piri Thomas. Discussed April 25: Growing Up Latino, edited by Harold Augenbraum and Llan Stavans. The series is free and books are available for participants. 7 p.m. Call 251-4990 for more information.
Friday, April 13, Malaprop’s: Darryl Wimberley reads from his novel, A Tinker’s Damn. 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 14, Malaprop’s: M. Scott Douglass reads from his new poetry collection, Auditioning for Heaven. 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 15, Malaprop’s: Tommy Hays hosts the monthly Writers at Home regional-author series. This month: Margaret Brown and Virginia Redfield. 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 21, Books-A-Million on Tunnel Road: Robert Clay signs his books, My Heart’s Memory and Within these Walls. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 299-4165.
Saturday, April 21, Malaprop’s: John Lee discusses his new book, Growing Yourself Back Up: Understanding Emotional Regression. 2 p.m.
Sunday, April 22, Malaprop’s: NPR’s “All Things Considered” host Noah Adams reads from his new book, Far Appalachia: Following the New River North. 3 p.m. (Book reviewed.)
Thursday, April 26, Malaprop’s: Andrew Harvey discusses his new book, The Direct Path: Creating a Journey to the Divine Using the World’s Mystical Traditions. 7 p.m.
Friday, April 27, Malaprop’s: Kay Leigh Hagan discusses her new book, Vow: The Way of the Milagro. 7 p.m.
[Bill Brooks teaches the Blue Ridge Writers Program at A-B Tech. He is the author of 10 novels.]