John Graves says goodbye to more than a river

John Graves has died, just shy of his 93rd birthday. It was so long ago that he said Good bye to a River, the Brazos in November 1957. He paddled and remembered, visiting friends and strangers along the upper river. It was going to be dammed, but wasn’t as much as feared.


My son Philip paddling the Rio Grande in Big Bend.

This book is famous. If you have not read it, you need to drop whatever you are reading and get it. It will feel like it was written just for you, I imagine, for that is how I felt. John mourned and hunted, stayed dry, got wet. He talked and was quiet. He remembered his own trips on the river and those of humans before. More than anything he gave himself to the river and to the little dachshund puppy that came along. The little pup is just what this book needed to keep from being maudlin, just like Bryson needed Katz in A walk in the woods.


Dave and I above Pilant Marsh, in Brazos Bend State Park, far downstream from Graves’s Brazos.

Some books make you feel deeply what is important. It feels like John figured this out, so long ago and so early in his life. What does it feel like to write your best book, perhaps the best book of Texas (barring the very different Lonesome Dove of Larry McMurtry) when you are only 40? I wouldn’t know, but it looks like John kept a clear eye on the importance of an attachment to nature and to Texas.  I should be so lucky.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Environment, Literature, Rivers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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