By John D’Onofrio
A disclaimer right up front: I love adventure stories. Just devour them. From Endurance to Touching the Void, I’m a sucker for pulse-quickening, what-the-hell-happens-next tales about those rare modern (or not so modern) heroes that push the envelope in the pursuit of some magnificent obsession. Stories of derring do. People who put practical considerations aside to pursue a dream, damn the torpedoes.
But, here’s the thing. I also love contemplative nature writing. The meditations of Barry Lopez, David James Duncan, Terry Tempest Williams. The elevation of what is often considered minutia, the focus on what – at first glance – appears ephemeral but at the end of the day is revealed to be of bedrock importance and significance. Writing that helps me to recalibrate my own over-stimulated senses, to see the trees for the forest, as it were.
And thus, I was intrigued when I first heard about Anything Worth Doing, a new book from Idaho-based writer Jo Deurbrouck published by Sundog Publishing. The book tells the true tale of a pair of friends – whitewater raft guides Clancy Reece and Jon Barker, and their complicated shared obsession with experiencing the wild rivers of Idaho on a previously unimagined level. Part heartfelt buddy story, part hymn to wild places, part adrenaline-pumping page-turner, Anything Worth Doing is the complete package.
Deurbrouck, a “recovering river guide” herself, expresses a love and depth of perception for the sights, sounds, and sensory experiences of wild rivers that is born of an obvious well-examined connection, a connection that transcends the intellect. The river runs through her veins.
Augmenting this poetic exaltation of the sensual river music, she weaves in the intersecting stories of two unlikely friends, who seem to be linked simply by one thing: an all-encompassing devotion to the river. Clancy Reece (his personal credo: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing” gives the book its title) is a somewhat enigmatic anti-hero; a man that has sacrificed much of what most of us consider necessary – material comfort, relationships, predictability – in favor of a life lived according to his own terms and passions. Reece is the embodiment of that most time-honored literary figure: the noble dreamer.
Jon Barker, the Type-A half of the duo, is driven by forces that seem clearly to be beyond his control. Reece waxes poetic. Barker cracks the whip. Together, they find that they can do amazing things in the water.
The story follows the arc of their shared experiments in river-running the still untamed Salmon River. They simply cannot take no for an answer. Like all books of the genre, the central question is “why”? And Deurbrouck dives deep in pursuit of answers to this question. Her lyrical celebration of the wild power of nature combines with an insightful exploration of what it means to embrace the elemental in a complex world. The book builds to a fever pitch, as Reece and Barker seek to achieve a kind of impossible union with the river, an attempt that results in inevitable tragedy. The journey that leads to this conclusion is told in breathtaking style, bringing Anything Worth Doing to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Like the river itself, this fine book is deep, fast, and full of surprises.
Anything Worth Doing is a 2012 National Outdoor Book Award winner. To learn more about Jo Deurbrouck and Anything Worth Doing visit http://www.jodeurbrouck.com/