April 08, 2013
A Must-Read for Dog Lovers: 'Goodbye to a River' by John Graves
By Chad Love
Last year while on the road, I stumbled across an old, old book in thrift shop. And yes, I am a thrift shop junkie. In college I even worked for a couple years in a local Goodwill store. But I still have no idea what "popping tags" means...
Anyway, the book was a copy of John Tainter Foote's "Pocono Shot," which was about a bird dog. The book had an incredibly touching and poignant inscription from a grandfather to his grandson on the front endpaper. You can read about it here.
It's become one of my favorite dog quotes, but I think I've found another that rivals it. I recently picked up a copy of a book I hadn't read in years, John Graves' classic "Goodbye To A River." First published in 1960, "Goodbye To A River" is Graves' account of a three-week float trip he took, alone, except for his dog, down a stretch of the Brazos River that was scheduled to be dammed. If you haven't ever read it, well, put down the smartphone, get your ass off Facebook and go find a copy. It is a haunting and wonderful book. It, and Graves himself, are not just regional, but national treasures.
On the very last page of "Goodbye To A River", after Graves has returned from his trip, he attends a party, where a woman asks him if he had been at all lonesome on his solitary voyage. This was his response:
"I liked her and had known her all my younger life, as I had most of the other people in town. But it was a good place to be, and the thermostat on the wall was set at seventy-five degrees, and outside the windows the cold sleet mixed with rain was driving down at a hard slant, and far far up above all of it in the unalive silent cold of space some new chunk of metal with a name, man-shaped, was spinning in symbolism, they said, of ultimate change. In that place the stark pleasures of aloneness and unchangingness and what a river meant did not somehow seem to be very explicable.
Somebody's wife was waiting for an answer. "Not exactly, I said. "I had a dog."