A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River
George B. Handley
Nature and Environment / Literature
People who flyfish know that a favorite river bend, a secluded spot in moving waters, can feel like home—a place you know intimately and intuitively. In prose that reads like the flowing current of a river, scholar and essayist George Handley blends nature writing, local history, theology, environmental history, and personal memoir in his new book Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River.
Handley’s meditations on the local Provo River watershed present the argument that a sense of place requires more than a strong sense of history and belonging, it requires awareness and commitment. Handley traces a history of settlement along the Provo that has profoundly transformed the landscape and yet neglected its Native American and environmental legacies. As a descendent of one of the first pioneers to irrigate the area, and as a witness to the loss of orchards, open space, and an eroded environmental ethic, Handley weaves his own personal and family history into the landscape to argue for sustainable belonging. In avoiding the exclusionist and environmentally harmful attitudes that come with the territorial claims to a homeland, the flyfishing term, “home waters,” is offered as an alternative, a kind of belonging that is informed by deference to others, to the mysteries of deep time, and to a fragile dependence on water. While it has sometimes been mistakenly assumed that the Mormon faith is inimical to good environmental stewardship, Handley explores the faith’s openness to science, its recognition of the holiness of the creation, and its call for an ethical engagement with nature. A metaphysical approach to the physical world is offered as an antidote to the suicidal impulses of modern society and our persistent ambivalence about the facts of our biology and earthly condition. Home Waters contributes a perspective from within the Mormon religious experience to the tradition of such Western writers as Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams, Steven Trimble, and Amy Irvine.
George B. Handley is a professor of humanities and comparative literature at Brigham Young University. He is the author of two books of literary criticism: Postslavery Literatures of the Americas and New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott.
Read George Handley's blog which is based on themes he discusses in Home Waters
Click here to listen to George's interview with Marcus Smith for KBYU's "Thinking Aloud"
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Praise and Reviews:
"Wallace Stegner wrote: 'No place, not even a wild place, is a place until it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry.' In this fortunate pairing of place and poet, we learn about Utah’s Provo River—a paradox of wildness and extinction, pioneering and restoration. We learn that the river is embedded in community—Mormon community—a fact inseparable from the place. And we learn about the poet who attends to this river, a man who turns out to be an insightful scholar, an exuberant fly fisherman, a devout pilgrim, and an expansive guide as these home waters descend from the High Uintas through defining stories of family and identity, to pour down the Jordan River to the Great Salt Lake."
—Stephen Trimble, author of Bargaining for Eden: The Fight for the Last Open Spaces in America
"With his poetic writing, Home Waters…is an enjoyable read and is a must-have for any spectator of nature."
—Utah Historical Quarterly
"BYU professor of humanities and comparative literature George B. Handley offers an invigorating draft of mountain waters for nature and gospel lovers.... You'll enjoy this masterful book, which is destined to become a classic in Latter-day Saints studies."
"What a pleasing book. George Handley has calmly scripted a place-based masterwork. Home Waters engages knotty questions of conservation through the familiar pattern of a year on the land....and offers a useful lens for readers of contemporary ecocriticism."
—Western American Literature