First published in Cottonwood Journal Extra on 9-25-23. Written by Nancy Steele.
Phoebe walked up and faced the audience, took a breath, smiled, and began reading: “scritch scratch, scritch scratch, squirrels play in the patch.” Thus began the first public reading of On the Verde River, the new book written by Phoebe Fox, illustrated by Jim Fox, and published by Friends of the Verde River. As she turned the pages and continued reading, Phoebe took us on a magical trip down the river.
The Verde River, with its meandering waters and abundant wildlife, is a source of inspiration for many who call the river and its surrounding communities home. It’s a place where the rhythm of life flows harmoniously with the natural world, and it’s this enchanting connection that Phoebe and Jim captured in their new book, On the Verde River.
Phoebe’s reading of the book at River Stories on September 7th was part of our River Stories gathering, a time to hear and celebrate the voices of the Verde River. Its beauty fosters a creative spirit in many of us. That afternoon, we heard from some of those voices, including painter Mary Rush, photographer Tom Crosby, storyteller Gary Every, river keeper Martin Balle, and musicians Trish Jahnke and Dan Dagget. We showed Isaac Dudley’s film, The Last Wild River, and the film produced by Arizona State University for our 2022 Resilience Prize.
With every story and song, we were transported to the river, maybe for an afternoon of plein air painting or a day sitting watching nesting black hawks. Martin told how he used his skills with a chain saw to clear dangerous strainers from the river. Gary told us about the lessons he teaches students and how the river can change lives.
“Out on the Verde, where the air is so clear,” sang Trish Jahnke, in her original song.
With each turn of the page, Phoebe transported the audience into a world where the scritch-scratch of squirrels, the graceful landing of herons, and the mesmerizing dance of spiders in the air became vivid and enchanting.
The story unfolds as a child and their family embark on a day-long adventure along the river’s edge. The family’s journey includes boating, fishing, and stargazing, painting a picture of the simple joys that can be found in nature.
The book’s poetic prose and beautiful artwork convey a message of appreciation and stewardship for the Verde River. It encourages readers, young and old, to cherish and protect this precious resource. Phoebe’s heartfelt reading on September 7th was also a call to action, reminding us of the importance of preserving the beauty and diversity of our natural world.
The journey of On the Verde River from a heartfelt poem to a published children’s book is a story in itself. It began when Phoebe, who owns property along the Verde River, shared her poem with us at a party in Phoenix. Phoebe’s mother had invited us to tell her friends about the importance of the Verde River. Phoebe’s love for the river and her gift for writing led to the idea of turning the poem into a book.
Phoebe’s offer was accompanied by another stroke of serendipity—the opportunity to collaborate with her father-in-law, Jim Fox, a talented watercolor artist. Jim’s illustrations breathe life into the pages of the book, adding depth and vibrancy to the storytelling.
However, the journey of “On the Verde River” didn’t stop with its publication. Friends of the Verde River had a grand vision to provide free copies of the book to every public and elementary school library in the Verde River watershed. This ambitious goal was realized with the generous support of the Gerald Rosenbluth Family Fund, ensuring that children and families throughout the region would have access to this enchanting tale.
As Phoebe concluded her reading, she directed the audience’s attention to the back of the book, where they could find additional information about the animals and plants featured in the story. This educational component adds depth to the book, turning it into a valuable resource for teaching children about the natural world around them.
If you’re eager to get your hands on a copy of the book for yourself or a young reader in your life, mark your calendar for September 30th—Verde River Day at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. This annual celebration is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the magic of the Verde River and secure a copy of this enchanting book. You can also purchase the book from our website.
In a world where our connection to nature often feels distant, stories and songs transport us and serve as a reminder of the wonders that surround us. When we listen to the Verde we are inspired to appreciate, protect, and cherish the Verde River—a vital lifeline that sustains our communities and enriches our lives.
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