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Michelle’s Pick of the Week: Brave the Wild River

Brave the Wild River: the untold story of two women who mapped the botany of the Grand Canyon by Melissa L. Sevigny is a narrative nonfiction “genre bender”. Part history, part adventure story, and part popular science work, this fun-loving book might be perfect to read during a camping trip.

Botanists Elzeda Clover and Lois Jotter made headlines in 1938 when they prepared an expedition with river boat navigator Norm Nevills of Mexican Hat, Utah. They were to travel through the Grand Canyon to collect and catalog flora and plant life. With them came zoology graduate student Eugene Atkinson, artist Bill Gibson, and Don Harris, a geologist of the U.S. National Survey.

Bulbs flashed as Jotter, Nevills, and Clover posed for photos in the nervous days leading into the trip. The river has been navigated by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. But, as far as the people surrounding Clover and Jotter were aware at the time, a woman had never done it. In fact, the last woman to try drowned.

The crew loaded into three boats: the Mexican Hat, Botany, and the Wen. They set sail starting on Green River in Utah with Lake Mead in mind as their end point. Clover and Jotter collected plants in their current location, got ready, made breakfast, and packed up before any of the men woke up. Their discoveries and observations are discussed in the book.

Author Melissa L. Sevigny

The crew faced dangerous rapids, boats that floated away or capsized, newspaper reporters aching for details, hot days, cold nights, bugs, animals, complaints, injuries, and flared tensions amid 24/7 exposure to the elements. There were times when the group was separated and did not know if the others were okay.

A New York Times article headlined “CANYON EXPLORERS SIGHTED BY FLIERS” published on July 8, 1938, the day the group arrived at Lees Ferry. They were four days late and had around 300 miles yet to sail.

Nevills Expedition was a one of the most captivating stories of 1938 that drew attention nationwide. Sevigny puts Clover, Jotter, and the greater field of botany in context with 1930s societal attitudes while illuminating how ecological laws passed at the time affect us today. Recommended for readers of popular science, hiking, history, and adventure stories.

Categories: Books and More

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