In this town, if you say you don't think we should build a highway practically on top of the Trinity River through downtown, the people who want to build a highway on top of the river through downtown always say, "Well, what's your idea instead?"
As if that's the perfect squelch. And if you don't have an idea what to do with the river instead, it's taken as proof that you're an idiot and a dawdler. But what if you don't have an idea because you don't want to have an idea? What if your idea is nothing?
In fact it occurs to me every once in a while that our most magnificent challenge in this town is nothing. Leaving something -- anything, just one thing -- alone. Just to show we can do it. Nothing is the one thing we seem unable to imagine.
If there's a river at our feet, we argue all day long about what it needs to be instead -- a shipping canal, a highway, an amusement park. What if it were just a river? What about leaving it the hell alone?
Anybody can dig canals, build highways or put up Ferris wheels. Who can make a river?
I salve my soul once in a while by reading about places that have done just that -- left rivers or at least portions of rivers the hell alone. Three years I wrote about a place I had heard about on Irish radio online called Terryland Forest Park in Galway in the west of Ireland, where citizens banded together to stop a road project along the River Corrib.
See also: Turning the Trinity into Something Magical Doesn't Require a Bridge
The report I heard said all kinds of wild animals and birds began to travel up the banks of the Corrib almost as soon as its banks were protected, creating a corridor of nature into the heart of the city. Amazing, how courageous Mother Nature can be in reclaiming her turf as soon as we stop hitting her in the face.
Yesterday I found myself reading about another Irish linear park, the Dodder Valley Linear Park in Dublin. I think the main thing that made me click on that article was the title, "Dawdling on the Dodder." How can you go wrong with an article called "Dawdling on the Dodder?"
First of all, dawdling isn't even allowed in Dallas. You could get yourself arrested. That patrol car slides right up next to you and comes to a slow stop. Window down. Cop, half-seen inside, looks a little sideways at you. "Hey, buddy. You out here thinking of something to turn that river into, or are you dawdling?"
An on-line guide says, "The Dodder River provides the focus for this marvelous park which extends from Old Bawn Bridge in Tallaght to Rathfarnham -- a distance of 6km (3.7 miles). Linking the Dublin Mountains with city suburbia, the park consists of over 100 hectares (about 250 acres) of fragmented parkland and remnant countryside."
The first article I found, the one about dawdling, was written two years ago by Lenny Antonelli, a journalist who writes about the environment. He says, "Walking the Dodder gives you an alternative view of the city, showing you islands of countryside in the suburbs, and fragments of architecture that remind you Dublin was once built around its rivers as much as its roads."
He refers to a late 19th century Irish poet, the Reverend Matthew Russell, SJ, who wrote a poem called, "Down by the Dodder." You know I had to look that up.
Had I to own a grand estate --
(the notion makes me shiver) --
For these three things I'd stipulate:
A lake, a hill, a river.
I especially enjoy poetry that makes me think I could write poetry, too. He goes on a little later about looking for nature in faraway places, when here it was all along, nestled within the ancient city.
And so from life's loud dusty road,
A somewhat jaded plodder
I steal to this serene abode
And thee, suburban Dodder.
I love the inner tension there, the suspense: "A somewhat jaded plodder." Now what do you suppose he's going to rhyme plodder with?
I am so tempted. I know. I know. Every time I have tried poetry in the past, I have been unable to leave the house for weeks afterward.
I wander on, as if a bird, along the mighty Trinity.
I'd stay forever, if I could, but soon I'll have to take a ...
Take a ...? Take a...? It's right there. Damn. Just not my cup of tea.
It's almost as if it's the one thing we are not allowed to talk about. I'm referring to nothing. We're not allowed to say we don't want a highway, or a canal, or an amusement park. We want to do nothing. Do. Nothing. Make nothing happen. Barricade and protect nothing so that something won't happen to it. Leave it as it is. We want a river.
They'll say: "You can't have that. That's what's there already."
It's un-American to want things that are there already. Somebody shows you a mountain. Flatten it. Somebody shows you a plain. Build a mountain on it.
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I think of poor Cynthia Ann Parker, the white Texas woman kidnapped by the Comanches on May 19, 1836. On December 18, 1860, Texas Rangers under Lawrence Sullivan Ross attacked a Comanche hunting camp on Mule Creek off the Pease River and found her alive and well.
The poor woman spent the rest of her life trying to escape white people and make it back to the Comanches. I bet whatever privations she may have suffered among them, not once was she accused of dawdling. Never did a Comanche point with his bow to Mule Creek and ask her what it should be instead.
When they are doing all of their cost estimates and their financial projections and so on for turning the river into a highway, they should be required to go over to the other side of the page and add up what it would cost to create a river from scratch. They'd be at it forever. I bet we'd never hear from them again. They would become nothing. I swear, I'm going to write a poem about that.