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Stepping Twice Into the River

Following Dakota Waters

by Robert King

2006 Colorado Book Award Finalist

"With books like these, we might hope that all of our small worlds can expand into broad-mindedness."
—Bloomsbury Review

"King undertakes a classic river journey, not in a land exotic to him but in North Dakota, his longtime home. And instead of traveling a fabled river, he follows the meandering Sheyenne, an 'intermittent,' even 'ephemeral,' waterway that threads across glacier-carved terrain that feels, as King notes in his low-key yet resonant way, remote even 'when you're in the midst of it.' His journey across the sparsely populated prairie inspires musings on why North Dakota's population is decreasing, and forays into little-known corners of the region's somber history. As he ponders the struggles of homesteaders and the cruel war waged against Native Americans, he captures the aura of a profoundly elemental place afflicted by both drought and flood. Although he's thwarted in his plan to canoe on the Sheyenne when he finds after a few days that more portage than paddling is involved, King absorbs 'the silence of the open land and mute river,' and acquires fresh understanding of the North Dakotan character, the life of a modest river, and the nature of change."
—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Every place has a story, even when the place in question seems to be in the middle of nowhere. . . . But from the beginning of Robert King's memoir cum natural history tale, we are told that this place is indeed the middle of somewhere, the whole continent, in fact, and even if it weren't, it would still have a story worth sharing...The stories of people who call Dakota home, even the downright strange ones, are shared with the compassion and heart of an observer who also cares deeply about his subject."

"As King does, we must keep setting out attention. Stepping Twice Into the River is a model for paying attention to local materials. King knows that North Dakota is not some Great Empty Nothing. What happens in North Dakota, what happened in North Dakota, these are important, telling, human moments. To lose them is a great loss. . . . The least a fellow can do, like King, is to look, and keep looking."
—The Middlewesterner

"King introduces a year-long exploration of nowhere—that is, North Dakota—and deftly leads us from reflections on the past of the entire Great Plains to reflections on the future of the area. Nowhere is also Everywhere; this writer's thoughts subtly encompass the history of decline and growth in the plains, and their relevance to the future - and this is the main topic of discussion everywhere in the West at this time."
Linda Hasselstrom, author of Between Grass and Sky

"Reading Robert King's Stepping Twice Into the River: Following Dakota Waters is stepping bravely into the past and seeing the true face of the North Dakota prairie. . . . His journey starts in the center of the state, where many towns reached their zenith in the early 1900s. Today, some are ghost towns. In these small, surviving communities, King pulls up a stool in small family cafes or friendly local bars and listens to the stories. . . . His adventure is beyond a hike in a reclusive land, it is understanding the mind and heart of the Prairie and seeing it come to life. It is well worth reading."
—Grand Forks Herald

"Philosophically invigorating . . . reveals disquieting cultural patterns."
—Great Plains Quarterly


What happens when an English professor takes a year off to explore a tiny prairie creek? Between mishaps with the canoe, long walks to the sites of Cheyenne villages and cavalry trenches, and gallons of coffee with isolated farmers, what happens is insight. In Stepping Twice Into the River, Robert King recounts his exploration of the "almost unnoticeable" along North Dakota's Sheyenne River, from its headwaters to river's end. With each experience along the way—tracing a military campaign, canoeing the river, visiting a ghost town and even trying to sleep in an ancient Cheyenne village—King examines a different aspect of the plains: Native American culture, pioneer society, religion, war, agriculture, and nature.

Blending travel narrative and poetic reflection, Stepping Twice Into the River takes readers on a journey through time, revealing both stability and change and offering prairie wisdom. An affectionate and shrewd observer, King illuminates the ordinary from the perspectives of history, science, and literature. In the hands of this gifted thinker and writer, local facts yield universal metaphor.


Robert King's poems, short fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Missouri Review, South Dakota Review, and Weber Studies. He has published five chapbooks and is the winner of the National Writer's Union Prize for Poetry in 2000. He lives in Greeley, Colorado.

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  • Publication Year: 2005
  • Pages: 216
  • Illustrations: 1 map
  • Discount Type: Trade
  • Author: by Robert King
  • ECommerce Code: 978-0-87081-792-2
  • Get Permissions: Get Permission

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