Early on in his book, Darby Nelson lays bare the challenge he’s up against.
“Especially among metro-area residents, the Minnesota River Basin is commonly perceived to be nothing but a dirty river flowing through corn and soybean country.”
That doesn’t make the river sound like something to get excited about, but Nelson helps change perceptions for the better with his new book, “For Love of a River: The Minnesota” (Beaver's Pond Press, 256 pages).
Nelson and his wife, Geri, paddled the length of the river in segments as well as took side trips to lakes in the basin to offer a far better perspective on the state’s namesake river.
“For Love of a River: The Minnesota” gives readers lots of reasons to be excited about the river, especially those unfamiliar with it. The book offers their excitement at discovering scenes like those in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as they paddled amidst granite outcrops in the upper reaches of the river near Montevideo, Granite Falls and through Renville and Redwood counties.
They traversed over 330 miles on the river, camping on its sandbars and at primitive campsites while enjoying the wildlife and the beauty and solitude of its wooded shorelines. They made stops in towns, New Ulm and Mankato among the most prominent. But even amidst the bustle of the metropolitan area, they found that the river retains its wild character. The land through which it runs remains part of a protected wildlife refuge.
Nelson celebrates the advocates for a clean river that he and Geri met along the way. He introduces us to folks like Patrick Moore and Del Wehrspann in Montevideo and Scott Sparlin in New Ulm, and tells readers about how they have made things better.
He makes it a priority to write about the Dakota people and their history and ties to the river today throughout the book.
The author reminds us too of those who paddled these waters and make it possible for us to enjoy them today. Eric Sevareid and Walter Port’s epic book “Canoeing with the Cree” in the 1930s helped establish the river as the starting point for great adventures. Clyde and Shirley Ryberg traveled the river by catamaran in 1957 and led the way for its designation as one of the state’s first water trails.
“For Love of a River: The Minnesota” does not fail to call attention to the river’s problems, either. The author expresses his disappointment as he points out the practices he encounters along the way that are responsible for the river’s problems.
He points out the challenges. This river basin offers some of the world's richest soils, thanks to its glacial and prairie legacy. We are losing this soil to erosion.
Nelson starts his book by offering an easy-to-understand look at the incredible geologic forces that created the river. It is a mere trickle of the Glacial River Warren that carved its path.
Nelson’s love for the river started early. He spent his formative childhood years on it, growing up in Morton. He is an aquatic ecologist and biology professor emeritus at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. He served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives and was a charter member of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
His first book, “For Love of Lakes,” celebrates his love for our lakes and takes on what writer Tom Meersman of the Star Tribune called the “paradox of why people love lakes, but continue to do things that ruin them.”
There is some of that paradox running through “For Love of a River” as well, but Nelson's focus is on making it clear why this river is so worthy of our love and protection.
Nelson was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment when he began his research for this book. It is the work of Nelson, his wife Geri, and editor John Hickman, a longtime river advocate. The Nelsons called on Hickman to help turn Darby’s original manuscripts into the final version. In a note at the book’s end, Geri credits Hickman for his ability to find Darby’s voice.
The book was released last October, and the Nelsons are available to speak to groups about it and the river. The book is available online with information at their website: http://www.darbynelson.com/