Goodbye to a River

Of all the places I've lived, none comes close to living on the banks of the Brazos River. Thanks to a low water dam below Waco, the water was normally a constant level and glasslike, begging me or teasing me to put on a slalom ski. But in the consistency, there was constant change that most folks never noticed unless they lived on the river. Of course, we could usually count on at least one flood each year when our pleasant Lake Brazos was again a raging river the color of refried beans. In those floods I've witnessed the water rise 18 feet in 8 hours, with uprooted 100 year old cottonwood trees bobbing downriver like twigs on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Being on the river is being closer to life and to death and rebirth, thus a little closer to God.

I reread Goodbye to a River by John Graves last month. The book was even better than it's first reading years ago. It's the account of Graves' November canoe trip down the Brazos from below Possum Kingdom Dam in Palo Pinto Country, navigating almost 200 miles of loops and coils, to just above Lake Whitney in Hill County. His trip, alone but not alone as he took his puppy, was taken in the 1950's just before the dam was built for Lake Granbury changing that section of river forever. So it was a farewell voyage of sorts.

While detailing his journey, he retells stories of violence among and against native tribes and of the courage and deceit that shaped this beautiful yet brutal part of central Texas. This book should be required reading for all true and wannabe Texans. To top it off, we get literary perfection from Graves like this.

Change. Autumn. Maybe--certainly--there was melancholy in it, but it was a good melancholy. I've never been partial to the places where the four seasons are one. If the sun shines all year at La Jolla, and the water stays warm enough for swimming over rocks that wave moss like green long hair, that is pleasant, but not much else. Sunshine and warm water seem to me to have full meaning only when they come after winter's bite; green is not so green if it doesn't follow the months of brown and gray. And the scheduled change is the promise of all the rebirths to come, and the deaths, too. In it is the only real unchangingness, solidity, and in the alternation of bite and caress, of fat and lean, of song and silence, is the reward and punishment that life has always been, and the punishment itself becomes good, maybe because it promises reward, maybe because after much honey the puckering acid of acorns tastes right. Without the year's changes, for me, there is little morality.

Wow. That'll preach.