“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