The River Is Mine
John Wesley Powell's 1869 Exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers and the Grand Canyon
a novel
by Ardian Gill

320 pages
Local Color Press
Trade paperback

Ardian Gill's novel unfolds from the pen of George Bradley, who in real life was the most consistent and entertaining chronicler of the 1969 Powell trip. Gill has studied Bradley's journal well and then extended it into a book-length story. Bradley is a loner, uncomfortable in the camaraderie of the other men, and spends much of his spare time to himself, writing. In Gill's version we get a far more detailed account of the daily work on the expedition, the rapids consistently taking up much of the day and leaving the men exhausted and in danger from dawn until dusk.

In camp, Bradley records much of the other men's conversations, and takes pains to write down the lyrics of the songs the men sing--actual lyrics of the songs from that era. It is hard at times to tell when Gill is using Bradley's real voice and when he is improvising. In other words, he does a good Bradley.

The real Bradley was constantly annoyed by Powell's lack of religion and failure to observe the Sabbath. Gill's Bradley follows this strain, yet gradually finds himself reassessing Powell's religion of science. One afternoon up Bright Angel Creek, he writes:

Ardian Gill is a novelist, photographer (NY Times, Brooklyn Museum of Art), erstwhile actuary, reinsurance broker, Army Air Corps (rose through the ranks to corporal), has three kids and four grandchildren, and lives in New York.

It's the sound of the river that does it. It takes hold of you like a child demanding attention. It's calmed Walter so he hardly prays in the boat anymore; it's kept Jack uncommon quiet, and it's made me sit and think... I used to think that if I did good toward man and served the Union and worshiped God, all would be well, but it turned out that it set my mind aroil the same as the rocks rile up the river, and sometimes I didn't know what to think. So far I'd always come back to faith in the Creator, but it was becoming more and more of a chore. It occurred to me that I hadn't prayed for over a week.