Welcome to the rivers of my world.
. . . I'm quite fond of two rivers in Central Texas. Last Thursday I visited both.
. . . The Pedernales River (pronounced "Per-da-nal-less") flows east through what's called the Hill Country, then joins a larger river before flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. I was baptized in this river on Nov. 5, 1983, at a place where the river flows over an unusual limestone formation. The falls and rapids are so unusual, Texas made the spot a state park.
. . . David Stevens, a classical musician, joined me Thursday. This was our fourth long walk together, my first to learn he is something of a botanist. As a teenager, he had collected and named wildflowers for a school science project. As an adult, he has continued to study wildflowers. Here, on the river, blooms were everywhere -- phlox, spiderwort, cardinal flower, wild dandelion, sage, etc. He had names for most of the flowers, but not all. Some confounded him. Me, I didn't name nothing. I photographed. Click here to see an enchanting portfolio.
The other river I visited Thursday was the river of people flowing up and down the sidewalk in front of 2330 Guadalupe, Austin, Texas. At this address an underground newspaper called The Rag was published from 1966 to 1975.
. . . It was while working at The Rag that I was baptized into the world of publishing. At The Rag, we wrote stories, took photos, sold advertising, produced the final layouts, shot and stripped negatives, oversaw the printing, and then sold copies on that sidewalk and on campus. We were paid nothing and loved it.
. . . Every ten years, I go back to Guadalupe Street and photograph the people walking by, more or less at random. The result is one of the most bland bodies of photographic work ever produced.
. . . This project began in 1980. In 1990, I went back a second time and would have gone back in 2000 but I had my appendix out and moved to Delaware. So it wasn't until last week that I went back for the third time, a year late, but who's keeping time to a beat this slow? Click here to see seventeen of these uninspired images.
You can't step into the same river twice. Who said that? Heraclitus or Confucius? Heraclitus! He also said, "Everything flows and nothing stays." Three thousand years later, his words are still with us, proof positive that some things DO stay.
. . . On my flight out to Texas, Mark Twain entertained me with his Life on the Mississippi. Twain went back to his river after an absence of twenty-five years. The river, he discovered on his return, had changed dramatically. In places it had changed course, flooding farmland as it opened new channels, leaving towns that were once thriving river ports surrounded by land.
. . . Technology on the Mississippi had changed, too. Gone were the steamboats, a loss Twain mourned just as many today mourn the loss of the steam locomotives. Ironically, steam locomotives were what killed the steamboats.
I experienced no such mourning last week when visiting my two rivers. The place where I was baptized looked much the same as it had eighteen years ago, though the people present at my baptism weren't there. They have changed as they have grown older and many, like me, have moved away to other states. One has died, four I've lost touch with, two I'm estranged from. Most are still friends. Three I visited last week.
. . . In Austin, standing on the sidewalk while the river of people flowed past, I recognized no one whom I had known decades ago. I didn't expect to. Perhaps that's why I didn't mourn. Instead, I felt a sense of joy, the same sense of joy I felt years ago. The people passing were relaxed. There was no hurry, no rush. Stand in their midst hawking newspapers or taking photographs and you'll relax as well. Most are students or ex-students enjoying an atmosphere found in few other places. People still wear T-shirts, shorts and sandals as their everyday attire. It's a place where I felt at home and still feel at home.
. . . The rest of Austin is changing quickly. Some call it improvement. Perhaps it is. During the peak of the economic boom of the mid-1980s, I counted seventeen tall construction cranes all busy at the same time. This past week I counted nine, a sign of the latest boom, a boom which may have peaked months ago.
. . . That hasn't slowed down the city. It's in a hurry. The traffic is fierce, rude, and frustrating. It's a city on the make, a city that advertises itself as "The Live Music Capital of the World" and "The City of Ideas." I don't know how Austin can thrive without me, but it's trying.
. . . Me, I can't thrive without the places and people I love. Thankfully, I don't have to. It was good to visit Texas this past week and I look forward to visiting again in several months. If you were there and I missed you, let's not miss each other next time!
NOTE: My experiences at The Rag are recounted in No Apologies: Texas Radicals Celebrate the '60s, published by Eakin Press in 1992, with a foreword by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. To order a copy of No Apologies, call Eakin Press toll-free at 1-800-880-8642. The book, including tax and shipping, is $15 and includes histories by nineteen of us.
Tom, a water-rights negotiator -- One of my favorite quotes of Mark Twain was when he visited Albuquerque to see the Rio Grande - "Until I saw the Rio Grande, I never knew how much water added to the beauty of a river."
Paige, away in Germany -- I always enjoy your letters, but this one was a little bittersweet because it made me homesick! Normally I would be one of those people glad to see you back for a visit. Instead, I'm far away on another continent for goodness sake! Which is why I want to say thank you. It was such a treat to see your photo essay on the Pedernales River (a place I also love). Without it, I wouldn't have had the chance to "visit" Texas this spring.
Doug, a developer of suburban Austin -- Pedermales Falls is a beautiful place. I remember camping there with our family in the 1970s. We swam at the spot you were baptized. One of the kids got stuck in an inner tube between the rocks. It was good to see you at the Men's Bible Study. I'm sorry I didn't have more time to visit. I was too busy "improving" Austin by building subdivisions in Leander. The price of progress is high. Of course there are people you photographed on the Drag this year who will return in 20 years and say, "My, how Austin has changed!" I guess that has been going on for a long time because I remember my dad saying that in the '60s when I was at UT. I guess the world changes, but our memories stay the same. Only the memories get sweeter, and the bad things are somehow forgotten. Isn't that great!
Jean, a poet -- My family went camping at that very site. It was about 1935. I think this was the only time we ever went camping. It is a place that has haunted me for ever.