Another Way the River Has: Taut True Tales from the Northwest

Robin Cody

Oregon State University Press

 A kingfisher hovers in mid-air over the water, makes an arrow of himself and dives—plunk—spearing a fingerling and splash-flapping to a low limb. He points his beak skyward and swallows the fish in one neck-stretching gulp, then takes a couple of small bows, as if to say There, that’s how it’s done.

                          from Another Way the River Has



Elegant, vernacular prose captures Northwest spirit


Reading this book you get the impression that Robin Cody is one of those rare individuals who actually stops and smells the roses—or watches river otters; a man who observes, and reflects thoughtfully on what he observes.

His book reminded me of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, or Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, or, even closer to home, South of Seattle, Jim LeMonds’ memories of growing up in the northwest woods around Castle Rock.

One senses in Cody a kindred spirit to Thoreau sitting out on Walden Pond, while the rest of us are living our “lives of quiet desperation.”

The author of Voyage of a Summer Sun, which received an Oregon Book Award, Cody has been an English teacher, a college dean, and a school bus driver. 

He is a storyteller of things that he loves—rivers, and creatures of the rivers, and the special needs kids he drives to school each day.

In prose that is at once both vernacular and elegant, he covers a range of subjects dear to his northwest heart: from loggers’ lore to the Pendleton Round Up and the cowboys who travel the rodeo circuit (“eight second athletes,” he calls them—the amount of time required to stay on a bronco who is royally pissed off); exploring the rivers in his boat, The Turtle; and driving a “short school bus” while telling his favorite special kid stories with a unique twist: “Snow White and the Three Bears” or “Snow White and the Beanstalk.”

A true northwesterner, he has a healthy disrespect for the U.S. Forest Service and for all government bureaucracies (“It’s got so a man can’t pee in the woods anymore without filing an Environmental Impact Statement”) while also aware of the short-sighted impulse of making the fast buck at the expense of wilderness (“We could lose what is unique about this place. We could submit to the great Western theme of destroying what we love most.”) His take on evolution is simple and eloquent: “Organisms, over time, inherit the stuff that works.”

He describes a friend who was killed in the woods when his Cat rolled over and crushed him as possessing “the serenity of a man who knows who he is.”

My hunch is that this could describe Robin Cody as well.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (April 15-May 14, 2010). Reprinted with permission.