In “The Restorers,” the Susquehanna River Takes on a Life of its Own
Brook Lenker grew-up exploring Pennsylvania’s waters, and has spent his career educating, protecting, and advocating for the state’s natural resources. His many titles have included Manager of Education and Outreach for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Executive Director of FracTracker Alliance. Now, upon the May release of his debut novel, The Restorers, Lenker adds author to this list.
The Restorers tells the story of Reily Watters, recently divorced and seeking renewal and a sense of direction. He sets out in search of both on a 556-mile paddling trip upon the Susquehanna River. Among his fellow river runners, Reily encounters love, adventure, and purpose while finding himself compelled to act against a potential real estate development that threatens the river.
Lenker has crafted a story that draws upon his Pennsylvanian roots and passions for both conservation and the beauty of our state’s waterways. It is a story, Lenker says, that he spent 15 years toiling away at. But the roots of the story go much deeper, all the way back, in fact, to his childhood.
A Lifetime Spent on the Water
For Lenker, Pennsylvania’s waterways have been a vital part of his life: from his childhood spent with friends exploring the Manada Creek – a tributary to Swatara Creek and the Susquehanna – to his time spent sojourning over the waters of the Susquehanna River. It was during the mid-90s, while working for the Dauphin County Parks and Recreation Department, that Lenker says he discovered a love for creative writing.
While working on creative pieces for various parks and rec newsletters, Lenker started writing down stories based on his own childhood, like his explorations of Manada Creek. In 2004, after taking a position with DCNR, Lenker met a fellow colleague and writer who inspired him to begin writing fiction based in-part upon his childhood stories.
“It was a liberating realization: some of these stories I was trying to evoke from my childhood, I could fictionalize them or draw upon them for inspiration. All of a sudden I was inspired – I knew I wanted to write a novel,” Lenker recalls.
Aside from his childhood memories, Lenker also drew heavily upon his time spent helping to lead numerous river sojourns while serving at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
“The sojourning we did on the river was really impressionable – the places we went, the people we met along the way, the natural beauty we witnessed, the history we learned about – all of those things stirred up inside me,” he reflects.
In addition to the provocative and stirring natural experiences created while paddling the Susquehanna, Lenker adds it was common to watch romances, some that were quite endearing, form while on the sojourns.
Impacts to the River and What They Mean to Us
These memories, interactions, and experiences came together to inspire the idea of a story set on the Susquehanna that weaves together themes of environmentalism, adventure, and romance. Another piece of the story Lenker pulled from both his childhood and river running experiences was the main environmental conflict within the story: real estate development.
“As a kid exploring the countryside – on the fringe of suburban development – I saw places that would be transformed. You’d see stakes appear in a field and pretty soon that field was no longer a field – it was houses,” Lenker explains. “As I grew up, I remember seeing the encroachment of development and was always perturbed by it.”
The Restorers combines these themes – adventure, environmentalism, and romance – with a strong message of personal responsibility and taking action for both our local and global environments.
“Environmental engagement isn’t one-size fits all; we do what we can do. I don’t expect everyone to be able to make huge sacrifices to take action,” Lenker says. “But, generally, there is an ignorance about our environment and environmental issues and a malaise about getting involved.”
“If we don’t care about the land, nature, or tree next door when it’s taken by development or degradation, we can become desensitized to it,” Lenker adds.
That is why one of his goals and his hopes for readers of The Restorers is that they come out of the experience with a greater sense of responsibility and, at least, with a desire to use their voice to speak out for the environmental concerns – whether locally or globally.
“[The Restorers] is for anybody who likes nature, adventure stories, is an environmentalist, a paddler, or just anybody who wants to learn more about the Susquehanna and read a story that puts them on the river,” Lenker says. “I would also hope college-aged readers are attracted to the book because I really hope we get more young people outdoors and involved in environmental issues.”
Going with the Flow
Lastly, Lenker believes nature, and especially the ebbing and flowing currents of our waterways, act as a rejuvenating force.
“Slowing down, observing nature, and moving with the heartbeat of the river is a grounding and challenging experience,” Lenker explains. “A lot of religion is based in rituals where you purge yourself, and in a way, a river trip is a similar experience. I think rivers can be transformative. They can offer us a renewal of purpose and, in some cases, a renewal of faith,” he adds.
This theme carries The Restorers protagonist, Reily Watters, and even more hardened, self-absorbed characters, towards a stronger sense of purpose and concern for their environment and each other. In the end, many characters experience a renewed sense of reverence for nature and the life around them – something else Lenker hopes readers take away and go out to experience on their own.
Ultimately, Lenker’s aspiration is that The Restorers readers develop a deeper appreciation for the natural beauty surrounding them and are incited into acting, even if it is in small ways. He hopes the convergence of adventure, reverence, and renewal come together in a meaningful way.
“I still believe caring, concerned citizens can save the day. I’d like readers to develop an appetite to get out and explore and to care more about the world around them – both the natural world and the people around them. I’d like to see them going out, getting involved, and taking care of each other,” Lenker says. “Just like Reily Watters, I have hope,” he adds.
We are highlighting Lenker’s book not just for the fact that the Susquehanna River is at the heart of the story, but because of his continued involvement in protecting our water resources and engaging others in his quest. Lenker exemplifies what RiverStewards is all about and we welcome the opportunity to promote the works of others with similar vision.
Lenker would love for The Restorers to be used by local organizations as part of conservation and education events to help catalyze environmental engagement. Interested parties are invited to reach out to him via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Restorers is available for purchase in print or digital editions on Amazon now.