Take Me to the River: Fishing, Swimming, and Dreaming on the San Joaquin

Stories of life along the San Joaquin River

For ten years, Coke Hallowell and her daughter Joell asked people with deep connections to the San Joaquin, “What was your life like along the river?” With candor and enthusiasm, people responded. Fishermen, miners, immigrants, Native Americans, hunters, farmers, and environmentalists all clamored to be heard. The result is Take Me to the River—a collection of thirty-three deeply personal accounts of life along the San Joaquin.

These are stories that capture rare snapshots of river history: childhoods spent swimming in the river’s ice-cold waters, rafting downstream in a rickety boat with friends, spearing fifty-pound chinook salmon year after year, eating fresh figs picked right from a huge tree on the river-bank, dredging for gold during the Depression, building a coalition to restore the river’s health, sharing the very last meal before Friant Dam was built and the salmon runs stopped, and many, many fish stories.

Take Me to the River recounts the many trials—damming, overpopulation, climate change—and triumphs that a river undergoes in our times. Each story calls us to discover our own relationships with the natural world and, as a whole, Take Me to the River propels us toward a brighter future—one that holds the promise of restoring the health and vigor of the San Joaquin.

Advance Praise

“We have dammed the river. We have turned its meander into a straitjacket. We have sent its flow to distant parts. And now the Hallowells, mother and daughter, have captured the river's past as we've captured its snowmelt, only with patience and love.”

—Mark Arax, author of In My Father's Name and West of the West


“This volume is a reminder of why a river matters...environmentally, culturally, spiritually. The life and death and possible rebirth of the San Joaquin form an epic that every American should study and every Californian should revere. Thanks to the Hallowells' work, we can appreciate that overkill may be a national habit but it isn't a national necessity.”

—Gerald Haslam, author of Haslam's Valley and The Other California


“Without memories, a place loses its history, the past easily dismissed. A place is only as real as people remember it. Take Me to the Rivercaptures these memories and makes a river come alive. The voices are honest and authentic. They take us back to a time filled with history and stories of what was and perhaps what can still be.”

—David Mas Masumoto, farmer, columnist, and author of Epitaph for a Peach and Heirlooms


“The world evoked in these pages is fast vanishing--a way of life that most of us will never experience. But this book is by no means mere nostalgia. Take Me to the Riveris living, breathing, essential history. These first-person accounts from witnesses to a now almost forgotten world not only bring the past alive, they allow readers to feel, firsthand, the exhilaration of remembering. Here very personal oral histories are transformed into a universal tale. The San Joaquin may not be everybody's river, but these are surely our stories.”

—Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and Esther Stories, editor of Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives

About the Editors

Joell and Coke HallowellJoell Hallowell is a filmmaker, writer, and photographer living in San Francisco. Her collaborative films have been screened at various venues and experimental festivals, including the Harvard and New York Film Archives, the London International Film Festival, the Madcat Women’s International Film Festival, and the Chicago Underground Film Festival. She is presently working on Here Come the Brides, a book of oral histories and photographs that capture the stories of couples who were married in California during the few months in 2008 when gay marriage was legal. Coke Hallowell grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and has been involved in conservation issues for twenty-five years. In 1986 she was part of the San Joaquin River Committee, a grassroots group who rallied to protect the San Joaquin. She was the president of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust for twenty years and is currently chair of the board. She was also a founding member of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy and the California Council of Land Trusts and she currently serves on the Planning and Conservation League Foundation’s board of directors.