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Scratching River

By Michelle Porter
Subjects Life Writing, Family & Relationships
Series Life Writing Hide Details
Paperback : 9781771125444, 184 pages, April 2022
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781771125451, 184 pages, April 2022
Ebook (PDF) : 9781771125468, 184 pages, April 2022


Scratching River braids the voices of mother, brother, sister, ancestor, and river to create a story about environmental, personal, and collective healing.

This memoir revolves around a search for home for the author’s older brother, who is both autistic and schizophrenic, and an unexpected emotional journey that led to acceptance, understanding and, ultimately, reconciliation. Michelle Porter brings together the oral history of a Métis ancestor, studies of river morphology, and news clippings about abuse her older brother endured at a rural Alberta group home to tell a tale about love, survival, and hope. This book is a voice in your ear, urging you to explore your own braided histories and relationships.


"Michelle Porter’s Scratching River is a stunning and ruminative poetic work of creative non-fiction that moves across time, geography, Métis history, and kinship. Porter honours her Métis family and ancestors through past, present, and future poetics. The interwoven narratives wrap around Porter’s mother, Porter’s own story as a daughter and sister, and her relationship with her older brother, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and autistic, and abused in a rural Alberta group home. Scratching River illustrates the powerful journey of reconciliation, as Porter’s family reconnects amongst their ongoing movement, and relocation to find their way back to the river they share.
—Shannon Webb-Campbell, author of Lunar Tides and I Am a Body of Land

"This book is a kind of prayer, a 'map in words' that navigates the treacherous, uncharted territory of our collective souls—a necessary exploration if we are ever to land safely, solidly, truthfully, on future shores. A triumph, Scratching River is proof that the healing power of narrative is a gift a writer can transmit to readers. " —Sheree Fitch, author of You Won't Always be This Sad and Kiss the Joy as it Flies

"Like her astonishing brother does in this book, Michelle Porter takes me by the hand and runs with me into a new world. I have never been here before. The sad and heroic stories which she braids together flood my heart and stretch my soul. I love this book. "
—Andy Jones (CM), actor and writer

Michelle Porter’s Scratching River is both a reckoning and an elegy; a scathing, powerful roar against social injustice, the scars of trauma, climate crisis, environmental damage and, at the very same time, a love song to the power of family, Métis history, rivers, Bison, burdock, and the Métis storyteller and musician, Louis Goulet, who is her great-great-grandfather’s brother. Porter artfully braids together a portrait of her brother, Brendon Porter, who was horrifically brutalized in an institution for mentally disabled adults, with a rich understanding of the lives and habits of rivers, grassland, bison, and the threatened ecosystems of the prairies — to profound effect. Here also are wisdom and tenderness, stories full of dancing, hunting, travelling by ox-drawn cart, or Greyhound bus, and sleeping under the stars. Porter roves gracefully through the past, present, and future and proves herself a consummate writer for our times. Scratching River is a rare gift.

—Lisa Moore , author of This Is How We Love

Scratching River is a complex exploration of memory, trauma, erasure and moving on. ... As with her previous creative non-fiction book Approaching Fire, she weaves stories of landscape with personal family biographies into her memoir. ... A final delight is a bibliography that nods to academic protocols but rollicks forward in a unique and lively way. Mary Horodyski, Winnipeg Free Press

"In a single sentence, Michelle Porter lets us see her big brother and the river as one—the heart of the telling, tortured, forever in motion, compelling us to follow. This unity, swiftly as it is achieved, is the result of a life spent not just seeing but feeling everything on earth as part of a single being. This is a book of voices: human, animal, water, land, past, present, singing. This is a story of hard truths courageously told. We need it."
—Richard Harrison, author of On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood and Hockey Poems

"Gnarled and knotted, Scratching River is a bricolage of intimate memories, newspaper articles, investigative reports, a century-old memoir, and practical knowledge. It meanders and flows like an old river, burbling and rushing into a story of past and present, human and environment, colonialism and violence, justice and love."
—Sonja Boon, author of What the Oceans Remember

"This is a book on the move. It eddies through still-water ponds and tumbles over cataracts; it branches into ox-bows and branches again. One moment it speaks so quietly in your ear, and another, it breaks you apart. Scratching River is a wise and necessary work in these times in which we strive for reconciliation around contested readings of those words “home” and “land.” Braiding together varied voices and forms of attention into a deeply personal inquiry into place and belonging, Michelle Porter is making some of the most innovative and compelling creative nonfiction today. Scratching River is a magnificent achievement."
—Robert Finley, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador Creative Writing Program.