By Joe Bongers

Last week I had a chance to discuss the book Crossing the Driftless with the members of the Nonfiction Book Club here at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha.  The title of Lynne Diebel’s book has a romantic sound to it even if one isn’t familiar with the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin, a part of our beautiful state untouched by past glaciations.  ‘Drift’ in this context is a nineteenth century term geologists use to describe evidence of glacial activity such as deposits of sand, gravel, and rocks carried from elsewhere by glaciers.  The Driftless Area, a part of the state characterized by high bluffs and deep valleys, has been shaped over the millennia by flowing water rather than by ice.  For visitors to Wisconsin – and even for some native Wisconsinites – this landscape is surprising to enter as it stands in such stark contrast to the state’s reputation as largely flat.

It’s against this backdrop that author Lynne Diebel and her husband – avid, long-time paddlers – set out to fulfill a shared dream of canoeing from Lynne’s childhood home in Minnesota to the home that they’ve shared together in Stoughton, Wisconsin for more than 40 years.  Their journey takes them down Minnesota’s Cannon River to the mighty Mississippi.  From there they go against the grain and make their way up the Wisconsin River.  As they paddle, the reader learns much about the human and natural histories of these waters and this landscape.  For centuries humans have sought to modify the rivers to suit their needs.  Sometimes these changes are successful, other times the river pushes back and asserts its relentless authority.

The members of the group enjoyed the book and many had personal adventures with the Driftless Area to share.  I’ve learned that reading and discussing books enhances the book festival experience and prepares you to make the most of your opportunities to engage with these authors.  The unique perspectives that others bring allow one to see a book more broadly than they otherwise might.

If you are drawn to books about the outdoors and the natural world, then be sure to pick up a copy of Crossing the Driftless at your local library.  Everyone is welcome to join us for the author’s presentation in Menasha on Saturday, October 13 at 1 pm.