A Kentucky waterways story
By Ed McClanahan
A few months ago, Danny Mayer, the editor of the highly respectable rag you hold in your hand at this moment, told me he’d heard that back in the late 1950s, my friend Wendell Berry and I took a little three-day canoe trip down the Kentucky River, and asked if I’d be interested in writing a piece recollecting the experience for North of Center’s ongoing series about Kentucky waterways.
Yeah, sure, sez I, and blithely promised him I’d produce 1500 words for the July issue.
So the deadline is coming down, and I’ve got the 1500 words, all right, but somehow I haven’t even got around to mentioning my trip with Wendell yet. (Our canoe itself does make a cameo appearance, although Wendell is nowhere in sight.) What I’ve found myself writing instead is a far more ambitious undertaking, a meditation about my father and me, the surface of which is barely scratched by my measly 1500-word opening salvo. Clearly, this story wants to become a much more expansive piece of writing, and therefore I’m obliged to do my best to make that happen.
My and Wendell’s canoe trip will still be in it, though, and because my dad eventually became a sort of mini-mogul in the river transportation business, it’s still a Kentucky waterways story too—just not exactly the one I intended to tell.
Anyhow, here’s what I’ve got so far: