Tuesday, March 11, 2008

John Daniel: Rogue River Journal, A Winter Alone

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
March 10, 2008

I met John Daniel at an authors and artists fair benefiting the Eugene Public Library. He told me Rogue River Journal was not about hardship and roughing it for the winter, but rather about his experiment with solitude and creativity. That sounded good, so I bought the book, and read it – but it wasn’t at all what I expected. John takes off in mid-November, 2000, and he sets up housekeeping in a small cabin near the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon, where he is soon snowed in – with no road out until spring. Rogue River Journal contains some interesting narratives of life at the cabin, encounters with various wildlife, local history, and living with no source of outside news, including who was elected president that fall. But…

This is also a book about John growing up, his relationship with his father, and about his father’s work as a labor organizer during the height of the American labor union movement. And from there it migrates into the story of John as a young man in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, where he lived a hippy sort of life in San Francisco and Portland, extensively enhanced his consciousness with drugs, and dealt with the Vietnam War.

I had trouble relating to these parts of the book. It was interesting to read about the early labor movement, but that wasn’t why I bought the book. And I wasn’t particularly interested in John’s childhood and his father’s assorted issues.

Things got more interesting to me in 1969 when John is trying to decide what to do about the draft. Support a war he thinks is wrong? Go to Canada? Go to jail? It made me recall what I was thinking about in those days – where my choice was to support the war but not kill anyone. (A little strange, I suppose.) Well, the book became a “page turner” for me as John indecisively muddled his way through the Vietnam War era. There was another outcome besides the three listed above.

Back at the Rogue River, John has to solve the problem of how a grown man gets away from civilization – leaving his beloved wife behind – for four and a half months. How does she know a bear didn’t eat him two weeks into the experience? How does he know she hasn’t been hurt in an auto accident? John is committed to not talk to another human for the duration of the winter. They come up with a solution.

It wasn’t what I expected, but I read Rogue River Journal to the end. John’s style is engaging, sometimes humorous, and easy to immerse into as I read a couple of chapters each evening. It got me thinking and wondering what I might learn from four months of solitude. (Arghh! How about one month of solitude?)

No comments: