At the end of the eulogy Lisa wrote for Bob-Dog in 1999, she included in her supporting material a quote by Texas author John Graves. In his book “Blue & Some Other Dogs,” Graves wrote: “And dogs are nothing but dogs and I know it better than most, and all this was for a queer and nervous old crossbreed that couldn’t even herd stock right. Nor was there anything humanly unique about the loss, or about the emptiness that came in the searching’s wake, which comes sooner or later to all people foolish enough to give an animal space in their lives. But if you are built to be such a fool, you are, and if the animal is to you what Blue was to me the space he leaves empty is big.”
Above the quote, my wife interjected, “Oh don’t I wish I could write like this.”
Don’t we all.
Graves died Wednesday at age 92. Don’t feel bad if you are unfamiliar with Graves. As one author noted a few years back, Graves is “the best-loved writer in Texas and one of the least-known beyond the state lines.”
My decade in the Lone Star State put Graves, a Fort Worth native, on my radar screen. And why not? Graves’ most famous work was “Goodbye to a River,” a 1960 book chronicling a three-week canoe trip down the Brazos River.
As my friend Tim Madigan put it last week in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Graves “embarked on Armistice Day 1957, a strapping, dark-haired man whose only companion in a heavily loaded canoe was a dachshund puppy named Watty, who took his name from the Mexican word for peanut, cacahuate. They paddled 175 serpentine river miles in three weeks through chilling rain, bitter blue northers, and warm, radiant, yellow-winter afternoons. Mr. Graves scribbled in small notebooks all the while, seeing, remembering, feeling.”
And what remembering, what thoughtful and well-written rendering of his experiences. The book opens like this, “Most autumns, the water is low from the long dry summer, and you have to get out from time to time and wade, leading or dragging your boat through trickling shallows from one pool to the long channel-twisted pool below, hanging up occasionally on shuddering bars of quicksand, making six or eight miles in a day’s work, but if you go to the river at all, you tend not to mind.”
With proceeds from the sales of “Goodbye to a River,” Graves moved his family out of the city and into the country, settling on 400 acres in rural Somervell County, Texas. There he built a home by hand, naming it Hard Scrabble, which became the name of his second book.
Last week, his daughter Helen Graves recalled the home. “He not only built it, but engaged us in it all along the way. We rode our horses. We walked. We swam. It was an extraordinary way to grow up.”
And that’s the appeal of Graves’ writing to those who long to find a way to spend our lives outdoors and craft words about the experiences.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: EditorBobDavis.