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"America has two main traditions of nature writing; the exploratory, initiated by William Bartram, who traveled from Pennsylvania to Florida in the late 18th century to write about alligators and other exotica, and the local, whose great exemplar is Henry David Thoreau. In Temple Stream, novelist and nature writer Bill Roorbach has written a hybrid of sorts, an exploratory account of his local woodlands as a microcosm of the natural world. Roorbach lives with his wife and daughter near Farmington in western Maine, on the banks of the book’s eponymous stream, and has reconnoitered this cataract on foot and by canoe from its source in the hills above his house to where it empties into the Sandy River.
His book is a quiet marvel in a genre that's tough to master without reaching for the poetic and tripping instead into the sentimental. Roorbach knows the names, habits, and life cycles of trees, plants, fungi, birds, insects, mammals, even stones, and extends his taxonomy to include his eccentric neighbors. Ms. Bollocks, for example, his onetime winter housesitter, finds creative ways to gouge Roorbach for cash. Huge, intimidating Earl Pomeroy lives beyond the end of the road, abjures indoor plumbing, abhors yuppies, doesn't much care for Roorbach, poaches timber, beaver, and whatever else he feels like poaching, and roars through the narrative like a chainsaw. The vivid depictions of of nature, however, are the book's strongest suit. Roorbach has won the Flannery O'Connor Award for his fiction. And his nonfiction is every bit as lyrical."
--Anthony Brandt, National Geographic Explorer, September, 2005
"A quest for the headwaters of a small stream in Maine becomes an obsession bound up in a celebration of life. Writer and sometime novelist Roorbach (The Smallest Color, 2001) begins his narrative as a teacher at Ohio State who finds himself, along with his wife, Juliet, longing to be at the summer home they are refurbishing near Farmington, Maine, whenever their inconveniently separate careers keep them away from it. This is a dilemma; so is the fact that her biological clock is ticking, yet the professor (now Contemporary American Letters, Holy Cross)is fixed on the idea of finding the source of Temple Stream, a nearby "pocket paradise [of] birdsong and beaver work." But there are obstacles, like the moose-sized Earl Pomeroy, a lumbering (in all senses of the word) local who develops into Roorbach's fated nemesis--and firewood supplier--beginning with his colorfully articulated theory that yuppie academics on research sabbaticals are somehow ripping off honest taxpayers. His initial confrontation with Pomeroy crystallizes the Down Maine antipathy that anyone from "away" will immediately recognize--a friend will later explain that even after 30 years' residency, he and his wife are still regarded as "full-time summer people." Sourcing Temple Stream goes on, however, summer and winter, the author dragging his canoe past beaver dams and paddling long-abandoned millponds, crossing the same ponds frozen on cross-country skis, consulting flawed antique maps, etc., until the objective is reached. In the meantime, a baby girl arrives and Earl Pomeroy gets ugly. Rich and colorful language flows, too, as Roorbach notes that the local Walmart has "metastasized" to a Superstore in only a few years, and at another point a cluster of teenage boys arrives on scene "looking like they'd just said yes to drugs." Deft and evocative, making small adventures loom joyfully large.
Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey
Reviews of Temple Stream
"Following seasonal milestones -- the summer solstice, autumnal equinox, winter solstice and vernal equinox -- as well as his own ravenous curiosity, nature writer Bill Roorbach introduces readers to his beloved Temple Stream, a small, seemingly insignificant waterway in rural Maine near Farmington.
Adjacent to his cabin, the Temple accommodates industrious beavers, slick frogs, countless birds, scores of fish and muskrats. Its shores harbor minks, poplars, wildflowers, coyotes, foxes and an odd assortment of humans, including Earl Pomeroy, a giant of a man with a grudge against outsiders.
Roorbach focuses on the wonders of this particular stream, crafting haiku from the simplest scenes. For example, after a temporary thaw has refrozen the stream's surface, he writes: "You hesitate -- it's like walking on stained glass -- the sound is vandal-loud in the streambed silence."
Entering Roorbach's attentive world, we can't help but witness the natural marvels that surround us -- humans and all.
--Bernadette Murphy, Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2005
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> "There is poetry in Bill Roorbach's prose, especially when he is writing about his home in rural Maine, its woodsy charms all the more precious to him during the period covered by this book, when he was not yet a permanent resident but only a summertime escapee from his teaching duties at Ohio State University. His lyricism lightly touched with irony, Roorbach recounts his backwoods mini-expeditions in search of the source of a nearby stream. He observes birds great and small, and enjoys the antics of beaver siblings wrestling and tumbling in the grass like Little Leaguers. He takes a wildflower walk with a botanist who envies the floral bounty within reach of Roorbach's door. He drops bottle messages into the stream and awaits their return as intently as a seer awaiting an omen. Neighbors are few but powerfully quaint and variably benign, ranging from an elderly woodland sprite to a cantankerous mountain man who clearly considers the "Professor" some obnoxious species of urban rube. Worth a book of her own is the double-talking tenant who elaborately explains why she no longer owes her (unpaid) February rent because it's now March." -- Amanda Heller | Boston Globe, August 28, 2005 ><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
"Roorbach has put his finger on a basic element of artistic creation:the desire to join with the things one loves. This, and nothing less,is the essence of TEMPLE STREAM." --Sally Eckhoff, Newsday, Sunday, 8/14/05
"Temple Stream is nature writing at its best. Roorbach is not some latter-day Thoreau forever bemoaning man's defilement of the once-pristine land. He accepts the stream and nature as he finds them,battered by civilization but stubbornly surviving. He writes about the rusted-out cars and graffiti-covered bridges he finds as respectfully as he does dewberry patches and hemlock glades." --Rob Levandoski, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Temple Stream will make you homesick for a place you've never been" --Playboy
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> "As he proved in his 2002 essay collection "Into Woods," Bill Roorbach is a brilliant guide to the natural world. Gracefully combining deep knowledge, lyrical description and wry humor, his writing draws you out of your chair and into a world of streams and meadows and trees and bugs and beavers. And it makes you want to stay there. Roorbach, an award-winning writer who teaches at Holy Cross, is particularly adept at revealing the magic in the mundane and the beauty found in nature that is stunning -- if we would only take the time to see it. In "Temple Stream," Roorbach tells us how the author, a professor of English, and his wife, Juliet Karelsen, came to live in Farmington, Maine, in an old house many times remodeled since it was built in 1874. There, with their dogs and baby daughter, they live on the banks of Temple Stream, and while it is just a minor tributary of the Sandy River, Roorbach makes his explorations sound as dramatic as if he were canoeing down the Amazon. The book abounds with fascinating information about the way streams such as the Temple fit into the overall system of watercourses that begin in tiny raindrops and end in the vast ocean. Here you will learn the ways and wherefores of those wily riparian engineers, beavers, whose discipline, efficient recycling of material and family values offer a lesson to us all. With Roorbach as guide, you will follow the Temple downstream and trek upstream to find its all-but-hidden wellspring. There is plenty of such natural lore here, but also something deeper and broader. Roorbach is searching for something. Partly it's a home he is looking for, and partly a sense of being at one with the natural world. It's a need to understand how things change, inevitably, in time's unstoppable march, yet how they essentially remain the same. It's about being a stranger and becoming a friend, about settling in and reaching out. And just like Shakespeare's Prospero in ``The Tempest,'' he conjures two spirits to help him on his quest to explore Temple Stream and understand its role in the area's history and ecology. His Ariel is Connie Nosalli, an elderly, spritely black woman who had been a teacher of biology on her way to earning a doctorate when she fell in love with a professor. He was Italian and a hydrologist. They married and bought land in Maine, and together pursued their fascination with the way water moves and carries things and changes the land. Roorbach meets Connie on the stream and sees her there many times thereafter. She offers wisdom and warmth, each encounter enriching his knowledge and their friendship. His Caliban is Earl Pomeroy, a composite character created by Roorbach, and one who embodies the dark side of rural life. Earl is moose-size and porcupine-prickly, far smarter than he looks and seething with resentment of newcomers to the woods, people he reviles as yuppies, wimps and fools. He and Roorbach embark on a clumsy dance, trying to find commonalities and considering friendship, yet all too > quickly falling back into rancor and suspicion. Earl is uncompromising and hermit-like, a living embodiment of the small-town mentality that reflexively rejects the new.
But at one point, he and the author come together. Fascinated by the currents and power of Temple Stream, Roorbach composes questionnaires and fits them into old beer bottles, just to see how far they'll travel and whether anyone will find them and reply. With Earl's help, he launches them into the stream. And in time, he does get answers, along
with a very special gift for his newborn daughter.
You might consider this book another message tossed upon the stream. In it, Roorbach is floating powerful ideas about nature and community. You would do well, he seems to say, to open the bottle, read the
message and, in your own way, respond."
--Carole Goldberg, Hartford Courant, Sunday, August 7, 2005
"With a voice as pure and true as the stream itself, Roorbach limns a lyrical yet precise portrait of the life teeming along one deceptively simple yet richly essential part of the natural world." --ALA Booklist
"Roorbach's writing is so immediate and compelling, his eye for the human condition so keen, that [Temple Stream] is in a class of its own." --Library Journal (starred review)
"[Temple Stream] should please literate stream walkers." --Publisher's Weekly