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Stars Upstream

Stars Upstream

I picked up a copy of Stars Upstream, Leonard Hall’s 1958 book about the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, at a used book store a year or so ago. It was the original 1958 version (cover above) published by the University of Chicago Press. (The book has since been republished by the University of Missouri Press and is still available.)

Leonard Hall and his wife, Ginnie, were makers of nature films, and Leonard was a columnist for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Stars Upstream is widely credited with kicking off the movement to have the two rivers protected by the government, a movement that eventually led to the creation of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

It’s enjoyable to read Hall’s account of their float trips on the rivers, which were much more arduous in his day than in ours–advance arrangements to be made, supplies to be gathered beforehand, pickup and dropoffs negotiated. Today if I want to float a river, I don’t even need to call ahead unless it’s a summer weekend (when only a fool would want to float a river anyway)–I drive down, and within half an hour I can be afloat.

The prose of Stars Upstream is dated, and Hall’s attitude toward the “mountain people,” as he calls us, walks the line of condescension and occasionally steps over it, as when he ascribes traditional farming practices to backward thinking. But as a historical account of the floating life of that era, it is well worth the read.

The Halls moved from St. Louis to a farm just outside Caledonia, a little town about 30 miles north of where I grew up, in 1945. He was a native Ozarker, born in Seneca, Missouri, over by the Oklahoma border. His efforts on behalf of preservation of the Ozark landscape cannot be overstated.