Adams finds old-fashioned America on the river
Listeners of National Public Radio are familiar with Noah Adams' rich, evenly paced voice from his tenure as co-host of All Things Considered. Now readers have an opportunity to discover Adams' other voice—equally self-assured, moderate and mellifluous—in his new book, Far Appalachia.
The work chronicles Adams' nearly yearlong personal journey into the heart of one of the oldest river valleys on the North American continent. Following the entire course of the New River from its origins on a remote hilltop in North Carolina to its mouth in West Virginia, he discovers along the way an old-fashioned stretch of America where the pace is easier.
"It's the clean air and the quietness out there that I like," Adams said in a recent phone interview. "I could easily live there . . . in North Carolina or Virginia. You sort of don't even notice until you drive four hours and you get out of your car and you say, 'Where's the noise?'"
Adams doesn't merely explore the modern New River in the pages of his book; he recalls the region's history from its frontier origins to its industrial past. Although he presents the story in a linear narrative, the book is, as he notes in his prologue, the culmination of 11 months of short explorations. Part of his goal, Adams said, was to acquaint readers with a part of the country they may know little about and to encourage them to visit. "Appalachia itself is such a huge subject that I've wanted to write about it for years," Adams admits, "but I couldn't find a way until I figured, well, here's a little way to do it. You can write a smaller book, and it's got a narrative and people know where it's going to end."
Adams said choosing a single place in the region to recommend would be difficult. "But I love Snake Mountain in North Carolina, and nobody goes there. It's such a beautiful, beautiful place," he said. "That's someplace people wouldn't think to go, and Ashe County is a lovely place to visit. I would have never gotten there had it not been for this book, and it's just a treasure."
Far Appalachia climaxes with the author braving the rapids of the Lower New with a group of whitewater rafters. Adams captures the experience of the foaming, thundering surges in remarkable detail. This feat is particularly impressive given that he had no prior experience rafting. Capturing the experience was a challenge, Adams admits. "You really are in deeper holes than you would appear to be from the bank," he said. "You just don't see that from the bank. And all of a sudden, man, there's that wall of water that's way over your head. And you don't appreciate that when you're sitting there on a rock someplace watching the rafters come down the rapids."
In addition, the seasoned journalist found himself unable to use one of the time-honored tools of his trade. "The situation in a boat," Adams said, means "you can't be writing notes, so I would have a microcassette recorder in a little waterproof bag and then wander away from the lunch crowd and just get a few things down and then try to find time that night to sit for about an hour and make notes."
Adams said he enjoys writing as a break from his radio duties but is not currently working on another book. "I always like to have something else going, but I think I'll try a few magazine pieces and just not worry about it and wait until a book demands to be written."
Whether working on books or his radio program, Adams said he keeps in mind a quote from producer-director James L. Brooks: "Ease is always an illusion.""When I do a radio story, and I've been satisfied with only a few over the years, and I hear it, and it sounds so simple, I think, How could it have been that much work?" Adams said. "That's when I know it was a good piece."
Gregory Harris is a writer and editor who lives in Indianapolis.