Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River
Handley draws his title from what fly fishermen call a stretch of water they return to again and again, and his subtitle from Isaiah’s prophecy of “a year of recompenses.” Handley sees this as a prediction of “payback” for humanity’s obedience or disobedience to ecological law, whether we receive a blossoming desert or desolation. In the preface he writes that recompense means to “weigh together, to bring back into balance.” Through twelve chapters, Handley records his personal recompenses during four seasons on the Provo River watershed, but his essaying also strives to make sense of and judge his own and other’s acts. He further describes his responses as idiosyncrasies, or subjective impressions. The book is an “exercise in thinking like a river.” He writes that watersheds “gather tributaries from upstream and connect all that is above, beneath, and beside and give life through unseen processes of exchange.” Through the book he essays his own life’s stream.
This is not pure natural history, but also personal essay, human history, spiritual autobiography, social commentary, and analysis of theology from the perspective of a literary critic. He writes, “I found myself unable to separate place from story, outdoor recreation from ecological and spiritual restoration, the present from the past, and even against my will, the historical from the personal.”
Everything is included: losing a friend, surviving his brother’s suicide, loving a woman, raising children, settling into a place, fishing the river, and meditating on the nature of his relationship to God. The essays are holistic in that he considers his being as if thinking is bound to breathing and to sensing the spiritual nature of the world. They are synthetic in that they create new thoughts from rubbing old ones against each other. He reads his own life with remarkable objectivity, and through articulate and graceful sentences. He writes these are my “songs of praise and my lamentations—Isaiah’s recompenses, then—for a watershed I undyingly love.” Home Waters is a unique manifestation of the best memoiristic writing Mormons have produced.