In September 1999, Bill Roorbach tossed 10 bottles into Temple Stream. He stuffed a message inside each one; a plea to the discoverer began with the headline: “HELP (me study river dynamics and poetry).”

“Temple Stream” is just that, an exploration of river dynamics and poetry, the intersection of the human and natural worlds. Roorbach’s sharp eye follows the river as it links time and place. The chapters are organized by season (beginning with “Summer Solstice” and ending with “Winter Solstice”) and location (“Upstream Three: Lover’s Dam to the Twin Bridges,” or “Upstream Six: Our Place to Temple Village”). A single story is woven throughout the chapters, but the chapters read like essays, vignettes of life and its relationship to this water.

Roorbach lives in Farmington, where Temple Stream flows beyond the edge of his yard and “across the neighbor’s first hayfield.” He is not a native Mainer, a point his neighbors make often – in subtle and not so subtle ways. Despite his Connecticut roots, Roorbach writes about this place with the deep familiarity of someone describing home.

“Temple Stream” centers on the natural world, but Roorbach never journeys so deep into nature’s details that he forgets we (both him and the reader) crave the drama of other humans. The story of Roorbach’s family develops alongside the seasons. He and his wife, Juliet, decide they want to have a child. At the end of the book a new baby, Elysia Pearl, has her own relationship with Temple Stream.

“Temple Stream” was originally published by Dial Press in 2005. Since then, Roorbach’s writing has gained popularity and success. His 2012 novel “Life Among Giants” is in development as a drama series at HBO. “The Remedy for Love” is his most recent novel and was a 2014 Kirkus Prize finalist.

The new paperback edition of “Temple Stream” was published by Down East Books. It’s easy to imagine readers of “The Remedy for Love” reaching for the teal binding on “Temple Stream,” eager to soak up more of Roorbach’s words.

What they’ll find is the detail of a naturalist and the color and humor of a novelist. Plants and beavers are characters that hold their own right next to Earl Pomeroy (A larger-than-life neighbor with a disdain for property lines, banking, knocking and out-of-towners. He is also an unlikely co-conspirator in the message-in-a-bottle project).

As Roorbach prepares for fatherhood, his careful exploration of the landscape reads as a search for answers.

Nancy, a local friend, takes Roorbach on a botanical tour. The two search for and name the ephemerals that appear for a short time along Temple Stream. During this outing Roorbach remembers his mother, and the way she introduced him to plant names. He kneels next to Nancy, “the flowers were puffed, pretty, creamy yellow…two distinct horns making the legs of a little pair of short pants. We looked and looked more. I was a boy, a boy with his mother, and Mom knew the world.”

In his canoe on the Temple Stream, Roorbach notes that “lines on a map don’t translate into anything in nature.” Instead of lines, Roorbach has mapped Temple Stream in stories: skiing across an old mill pond, swimming with his wife, throwing bottles filled with messages into the water, the naming of his daughter. In one of Roorbach’s most interesting encounters along the Temple Stream, a woman gives him an explanation for the time he spends there. “That’s what’s so important about spending time where you want to be: you meet people of like mind, or at least you meet yourself.”

Heidi Sistare is a writer who lives in Portland. She attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and has published work in The Rumpus, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine and Edible Vineyard. Contact her at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @heidisistare

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