It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Goodbye to a River


"To note that our present world is a strange one is tepid, and it is becoming a little untrue, for strangeness and change are so familiar to us now that they are getting to be normal. Most of us in one way or another count on them as strongly as other ages counted on the green shoots rising in the spring. We're dedicated to them; we have a hunger to believe that other sorts of beings are eying us from the portholes of Unidentified Flying Objects, that automobiles will glitter with yet more chromed facets next year than this, and that we shall shortly be privileged to carry our inadequacies with us to the stars. And furthermore that while all the rivers may continue to flow to the sea, those who represent us in such matters will at least slow down the process by transforming them from rivers into bead strings of placid reservoirs behind concrete dams.

"Bitterness? No ma'am... In a region like the Southwest, scorched to begin with, alternating between floods and drouths, its absorbent cities quadrupling their censuses every few years, electric power and flood control and moisture conservation and water skiing are praiseworthy projects. More than that, they are essential. We river-minded ones can't say much against them - nor, probably, should we want to. Nor, mostly, do we...

"But if you are built like me, neither the certainty of change, nor the need for it, nor any wry philosophy will keep you from feeling a certain enraged awe when you hear that a river that you've known always, and that all men of that place have known always back into the dawn of men, will shortly not exist.

"They had not yet done more than survey the sites for the new dams, five between those two that had already risen during my life. But the squabbling had begun between their proponents and those otherwise-minded types - bottomland farmers and ranchers whose holdings would be inundated, competitive utility companies shrilling "Socialism!" and big irrigationists downstream - who would make a noise before they lost but who would lose. When someone official dreams up a dam, it generally goes in. Dams are ipso facto good all by themselves, like mothers and flags. Maybe you save a Dinosaur Monument from time to time, but in-between such salvations you lose ten Brazoses...

"It was not my fight. That was not even my part of the country any more; I had been living out of the state for years. I knew, though, that it might be years again before I got back with time enough on my hands to make the trip, and what I wanted to do was wrap it up, the river, before what I and Hale and Satanta the White Bear and Mr. Charlie Goodnight had known ended up down yonder under all the Chriss-Crafts and the tinkle of portable radios.

"Or was that, maybe, an excuse for a childishness? What I wanted was to float my piece of the river again. All of it."

John Graves, 1959, Goodbye to a River

3 comments:

Pico said...

In requiem for the Mighty Murray River Michael? Australia's Prime Minister got together with all the State Premier's today to agree that given the dire emergency facing Australia's greatest natural asset, they would do bugger all of any substance to save it. The coming summer spells the end game I'm afraid. Sad, too sad for words.

tidal said...

Ya know, although I am one of various "canucks" on mt's blog, I never really appreciated Joni mitchell's "River" back when... I don't even think it penetrated my local radio station despite the "Can-con" requirements at the time... even if it did, I was probably more of a "Guess Who"/"BTO" guy... But now when I hear "River", I remember the rather special river that was across the road from the house where I grew up. Grade 1 to 13.

One thing I remember early-on is that it was a dirt road separating us from that river, and that to "keep the dust down", they used to "oil" the road in the springs. (If I recall correctly, erm, I later learned that the oil used was the waste PCB's from local industry, oh well...)... I vaguely remember having to clean our old cat "Puss" as he returned from his daily excursions to the river and come back all paw-covered in the oil... Later, in a civic "beautification" project, the city proposed to cut down all the natural growth along the river and turn the banks into basically big slanted lawns - which the city would mow for us!... My mom - the radical! shame on us for having such a kooky mom! - opposed this rather vehemently in the neighbourhood and at city hall, but to no avail... this is all 60's and 70's stuff... the river banks were completely transformed within just two years as the spring flooding practically washed away the now-denuded banks... and our old ritual of winter tobagganing was now impossible due to sheer drop-offs where there used to be a reasonable slope...

It's all grown back now, as they replanted and renaturalized the whole thing... and the road is long-ago paved... but this post just reminded of "river"... sorry for the diversion!

but for any "canucks" (or others!) still reading here on this general "topic"... and in an attempt to bridge back to the "music" part of this post... how classic/beautiful/prescient was this now-almost-20-year-old video from Bruce Cockburn???

Thanks to the host and all the regular posters!

Michael Tobis said...

Tidal, I just got back from Montreal, which is built on an island in the middle of a river. Texans have a very hard time understanding this concept.

Yes, there are squiggly blue lines flowing downhill on all the maps, and yes, these are all systems on which we can suddenly have a huge impact.

But Texas rivers, wonderful as they are, and Canadian rivers, wonderful as they are, are two different things.

Suprisingly different.

When I first got down here I had frequent dreams about moving to another planet.