Floating through a powerful world

Dear persevering reader,

When my husband Sam and I set out on the Copper River last week in a 14-foot raft, I knew we would travel through wild, beautiful places. It was an opportunity for me to get to know a landscape that I have been walking through in my imagination for months. What I didn’t yet comprehend was the powerful nature of this river.

Earlier this year, I was awarded a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation to enable me to float the river to research my next novel. We went armed with a camera, a write-in-the-rain journal, field identification books, maps, freeze-dried food, the report of an 1885 expedition up this same river, chest waders, rain gear, and a rifle for bear protection.

We launched the raft with the help of a friend near Chitina, Alaska, and spent the next week floating to Cordova, toward the ocean. Every second, the Copper discharges more than 400,000 gallons of icy, silty water. In that deep gray beneath our raft,  thousands of sockeye salmon swam toward their spawning grounds.

About half-way through the 80-mile trip, seals began to appear. They would surface and bob near the raft, their eyes wide and watchful. Occasionally one would have a salmon in its mouth. One morning, they awoke us from our tent with their playful splashing in the river.

Wherever we pulled out on the river bank, we saw sign of bears. Tracks in the sand, piles of scat, bloody salmon remains in the bushes. We tried to camp where there was the least amount of bear traffic, but it seemed inevitable that we would eventually see one. Not far from Haley Creek, there she was — a female brown bear with two cubs. She walked along the beach, stopping occasionally to eye us and wait for her cubs. I could have watched her all day from that safe distance, but the river swept us away.

We encountered every kind of weather — sunshine that scorched our faces, winds that kicked up sand storms and white caps on the river, drizzly rain. Sam rowed us around giant, swirling eddies, through Abercrombie Rapids, and between house-sized icebergs from Miles Glacier. We floated through towering canyons, past waterfalls and sand dunes, ancient glaciers, and the decaying remnants of a  railroad that brought copper out of the mountains 100 years ago. In the distance, we heard glaciers calving and it sounded like canons being fired.

All the while I had the growing realization that this place was relentless, that no matter feats of engineering or little rubber rafts, this river was rushing, cold and silty, to the ocean just as it has for thousands of years.

At one point, Sam and I watched the wind obliterate paw prints across a sand bar.

“Tracks don’t last long around here,” he said.

Cheers!

Eowyn

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chickaloon Jenny
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:15:35

    Your descriptions inspire visions – drop what you are doing and start the book!

  2. Lidwien Biekmann
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:17:17

    Awesome…

  3. Christy Thomas
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:25:18

    What a fantastic voyage!

  4. Nana
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:26:47

    Oh Eowyn..this looks/reads amazing!
    Stuck in the city for the whole summer, i can only dream a place like this..*dreamy sigh*
    If this is the stunning stting of your next story, i can already tell I will fall in love with it.
    Thank you for ‘taking’ me to the Copper River with you! :)

  5. Eowyn Ivey
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 19:26:57

    Terrific to hear from you all! It was an incredible trip, and I was looking forward to being able to share it with my favorite readers.

  6. Yaya
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 05:42:52

    What an amazing experience. Wonderful pictures and description. Papa and I are really relieved that it is over and you are home, safe and sound.

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:07:14

      Dear Yaya, your comment made me smile. Mom said you wouldn’t mind hearing about bears and calving glaciers once we were back home. It was exciting! Love to you and Papa.

  7. Carol Heffley - Colden,NY
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 11:13:05

    Dear Eowyn, All of us knew of your upcoming adventure on the Copper River. How wonderful to be able to read about it. I can not wait for “The Snow Child” to appear in print. I will be at our winter house in SE Arizona and have plenty of time to read. All the best on your next adventure, Carol Heffley

  8. Mr Baer
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:18:24

    Hope to dip a few of those salmon tomorrow as we take our bikes, BOB (beast of burden, which is a trailer that connects to the bike, although Adrian is coming along and he rather fits the description of the BOB) and dip nets into the canyon. Salmon would be a plus, but we’re really going for the ride, scenery and a visit with Kenny Lake Carla. Wonderful pics, I could feel the glacial silt between my teeth.

  9. Eowyn Ivey
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:35:22

    Hello Carol! How wonderful to see you on here! Thanks to you, I was able to act like I knew what I was doing during my past two visits to NYC. Safe travels when you head south this winter.

    Mr. Baer — nice photo! Have a great trip down to the Copper. Wish you safe fishing and lots of salmon for Adrian to haul back to the truck. I still don’t think I’ve completely rid my teeth or skin of that Copper River silt, but it’s supposed to be good for your complexion.

  10. Carolyn McCann
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 03:05:31

    For a short moment you brought me with you on the river and experiencing nature. Just what I love in a good writer. Can’t wait for your first and second book. Stay safe.
    Carolyn McCann (friend of your grandmother in New York.)

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:25:01

      Hello Carolyn! Thank you for your kind words. Yaya has talked about you, and it’s so nice to get to visit with you on here. This is one aspect of writing this blog that I didn’t expect and that I really enjoy — connecting with people from all over the world.

  11. Carol Heffley - Colden,NY
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 04:30:46

    Dear Eowyn, I’m so glad you looked like a pro in NYC. Any comments on your lips? One of the dead giveaways that you are a non-new yorker is if you see a street that looks like Houston,it is not pronounced like the city in TX. New York natives call it House – TON, lord only knows why. I just treated myself to a Kindle this summer, I hope “The Snow Child” will have a kindle edition. Can’t wait for the big day !! All the best, Carol Heffley

  12. blhecker
    Aug 14, 2011 @ 12:23:46

    I’m so looking forward to reading your enticing entries! Barbara

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