The only time we've paddled across a body of water in a canoe was in Girl Scout camp one summer in elementary school. We were terrified to wiggle or exert too much force, convinced after watching weeks and weeks of summer camp movies that we'd rock the boat and be tossed out into the murky green stinky water, ending up with moss in our hair and a fish in our floating sneaker.
If John Graves had any fears when he set off on his three-week journey down the Brazos River in the late 1950s, they were probably based on inclement weather, wild animals or running out of food. No moss phobia for him. Graves, whose journals became the now-legendary novel Goodbye to a River, wanted to document the Brazos' history, myth, commerce and people before nearly half a dozen dams were built between Possum Kingdom and Lake Whitney. While only one of the dams was completed, Graves is known for his portrait of life along the river.
Nearly 50 years later, Graves will talk about his famous excursion, the resulting book and his writing career that has included several other books about the Texas landscape such as Texas Rivers and From a Limestone Ledge. He'll travel from his home in Glen Rose to Arlington for its public library's One Book, One Arlington program, for which residents have been encouraged to read Goodbye to a River in honor of May's Texas Writers' Month. Graves, who received a lifetime achievement award from the Texas Book Festival in 2000, will answer questions posed by audience members and autograph copies of Goodbye to a River. Books will be for sale to benefit Arlington Public Library, which is celebrating its 80th birthday.
Some critics and historians have referred to Graves as Texas' Henry David Thoreau, equating Goodbye to a River with Walden. But Graves disagrees. He's no saint, he says. He was just a guy in love with a river.