goodbye mister graves

Last week, Texas lost an impossibly talented author with an unmatched writing style and wit.  He was 92.  A book that began as a magazine article became a Texas classic and an all time favorite of mine.  John Graves wrote Goodbye to a River in 1960 after completing a three-week canoe trip down the Brazos River, which he feared would forever be changed by the dams that were being proposed at the time.  It was his farewell to youth and an acknowledgment of the innocence lost therin whilst making way for progress.  Graves was the author who awoke a love in me for the streams and tributaries that span this great state, not to mention the history of the people who converged on these life-giving byways.  As it turns out, the first roads of Texas were traversed with a paddle.  He was the one author who showed me and so many like me – that a river does indeed have a soul.

At home at Hard Scrabble - photo by Michael O'Brien

At home at Hard Scrabble – photo by Michael O’Brien

Graves was an environmentalist by association and I can assure you that those who shared his love for this great land we call Texas would be destined to become fast friends.  I had the opportunity to meet him about five years ago and will forever lament that I did not bring my first run copy of this classic for his signature.
I was like a kid in candy store,  just hearing him discuss his work much less be introduced to the man.  As we say our goodbyes, we also play taps for yet another veteran of WWII.
Graves was injured on the island of Saipan and his experience as a Marine could often be found infused in his work.  William D. Wittliff, the screen writer who helped bring Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove to television perhaps put it best in a recent interview with the New York Times.  “He cared about things that were worthwhile caring about, and he wrote about them in a way that made you care about them.”
Whether it’s  trucking, writing or running an association,  you had better feed the soul in order to be successful.  Graves understood that like no other and wrote about it with emotion, authenticity and authority.  Although he spent time abroad in the Marine Corps and began his work in New York City, he came home to Texas to find his true voice – expressed in so many essays and so many literary works.  He will truly be missed.
“Neither a land nor a people ever starts over clean. Country is compact of all its past disasters and strokes of luck–of flood and drouth, of the caprices of glaciers and sea winds, of misuse and disuse and greed and ignorance and wisdom–and though you may doze away the cedar and coax back the bluestem and mesquite grass and side-oats grama, you’re not going to manhandle it into anything entirely new. It’s limited by what it has been, by what’s happened to it. And a people, until that time when it’s uprooted and scattered and so mixed with other peoples that it has in fact perished, is much the same in this as land. It inherits.”  – John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative 

3 Responses to “goodbye mister graves”

  1. May 29, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Hello, I enjoy reading all of your post. I like to
    write a little comment to support you.

  2. June 4, 2014 at 1:52 am

    Fantastic. That was very educational. Simply wanted to say thank you…
    Getting excited about the next good article. ( Please post faster haha)

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