If you have never read a memoir of a river, then Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart is a must. In my mind, Kephart is known for two things: writing wonderful Young Adult novels and loving Philadelphia and its surroundings. (Just took a break to sit outside under the porch overhang, listening to the rain and Natalie Merchant, sipping Kahlua. Very enjoyable! I’m back now.)
Although not novels in verse, her books have a poetic quality to them. So it is with Flow, which is not classified as YA, but may appeal to teens. The River begins its memoir by describing its youth. “Blueback herring and eel, alewife and shad muscle in to my wide blue heart, and through… The stony backs of snapping turtles on the shore, muskrat, shrew, and from the unlanterned forest, the bark of a fox, the skith skith skith of snakes over leaves…..” Poetry in motion, literally, as the River winds its way from it source to the Delaware River.
The River conveys to the readers the joy it feels as people stroll its banks and see their reflections in its clear, blue waters. It conveys its frustration and dismay as its waters get diverted to Philadelphia homes, as it becomes the receptacle of all the detritus and refuse from the stockyards, smelters, anthracite processors that supported the Philadelphia populace. It is angry as its route gets altered to serve the needs of the population. As if human, it is disheartened with its inability to save a drowning person and becomes joyous when it, indeed, does get a struggling swimmer to the opposite shore.
Emotions are a funny thing. The beauty of nature can elevate us and the ugly results of our neglect can deflate us. The River is perplexed that something man-made can be seen as more beautiful than what nature has provided us. (I would feel the same way.)
Flow is not only a tribute to a beloved river but it is a tribute to Ms. Kephart’s writing ability. She has truly brought a river to life. I’m tempted to tackle her book Ghosts in the Garden next. Hmmm!
P.S. Ms. Kephart has put footnotes at the bottom of many pages so that you get a sense of historical context of the region as you read the memoir.