Goodbye to a River supplements the “Common Experience”

By Marc Speir
University News Service
July 6, 2007

As the 11th longest river in the United States from its headwaters in Curry County, New Mexico, to its mouth in the marshes of Freeport, the Brazos River’s 1,280 miles have seen tumultuous times in the struggle for its resources.

The increased siphoning of the Brazos and its natural flow originally led John Graves to pen his 1960 book, Goodbye to a River.

The 309-page narrative was selected in March as the core text for the 2007-2008 “Common Experience” at Texas State University-San Marcos.

The “Common Experience” is a yearlong initiative of the university designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation, enhance student participation in meaningful discussion and foster a sense of community across the entire campus and beyond. This year’s theme is, “the water planet: a river runs through us.”

As a theme for the “Common Experience,” the subject of water has particular relevance at Texas State. The spring-fed San Marcos River that runs through Sewell Park on campus is a constant reminder of the importance and role of water in the lives of the university community and of the subjects covered in Goodbye to a River.

Graves intermixes personal experiences in the book, drawing back from his childhood and an extended farewell canoe trip on the Brazos he made as an adult during the fall of 1957. The book also contains snippets of history and illustrated sketches of Native Americans and pioneers.

The Brazos River, known as “Rio de los Brazos de Dios” by early Spanish conquistadores, is translated as “the river of the arms of God.”

All accounts explain the name of the Brazos as coming about because it was the first water to be found by desperately thirsty Spanish parties. When not confused with the Colorado River, the Brazos found itself as an important route for early European explorers to use for navigation.  

As time passed, the river was dammed in three places north of Waco for recreation and flood control, forming Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury and Lake Whitney. There is also a small municipal dam outside of Waco named Lake Brazos Dam.

Graves argued against the dams, most notably the proposed construction of Lake Granbury in the mid-1950s, and the “drowning” effects he said they would have on the river.

Although Lake Granbury was completed in 1969, the success of Goodbye to a River is believed to be a major reason that additional dams were not built on the Brazos, despite numerous proposals.

Widely celebrated for Graves’ flowery language, naturalist philosophy and beautiful prose, the book is considered an American classic and heralded as a masterpiece of conservation and history, often compared to Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Thousands of freshmen at Texas State will read the novel this fall in English and University Seminar courses.

For more information on the “Common Experience” and Goodbye to a River, visit