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Texas Books in Review | 9
Rolling on the River
Running the River: Secrets of
the Sabine
by Wes Ferguson
College Station: T...
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Southwestern American Literature review of Running the River


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A review of Running the River: Secrets of the Sabine appearing in the spring 2015 edition of Southwestern American Literature

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Southwestern American Literature review of Running the River

  1. 1. Texas Books in Review | 9 Rolling on the River Running the River: Secrets of the Sabine by Wes Ferguson College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2014. 160 pp. $20 paper. Reviewed by William Huggins R unning the River comes across as an excellent addition to the emerging literature of biore- gionalism. Knowing and loving a place on a native level may be the best way to make the most difference in our emergingecologicalcrisis,onelocality atatime.Traditionalriverrunningnar- ratives trend mostly to the experience of the sublime. From the first page, however, Ferguson lets us know that the Sabine will not give you that kind of excursion. Ferguson does not want a safe journey. Indeed, in the book’s openingsection,someoneshootsatthe authorandphotographershortlyafter they get into the water. Growing up on the river, Ferguson knew no one who had ever fully explored the Sabine, in partbecauseofitsbadreputation—for drownings, crystal meth production, and its use as a murder repository. In spite of the dangers, he observes one ofbioregionalism’scentraltenets:“It’s our river, and we should celebrate it. We should know it.” Under Ferguson’s wry humor and superb eye for detail the Sabine comes alive and takes on a personality all its own.Sourcescomefromaneclecticac- cumulationofpeoplewithfirsthandex- perience of the river: law enforcement personnel, locals, wildlife biologists, river experts and historians, kayakers, trappersstilllivingontheriverandgen- eralriverrats—notalloftheselasttwo groups living entirely legal existences. Botter’s photographs bring the people and the river to life. The chapter on Danny Tidwell, a true character from a bygone era who lived on and off the river since he was fourteen, contains passages that are laugh-out-loud funny,especiallytheoneregardingthe rattlesnakeandthegamewardens.Yet Tidwell and others like him witnessed cataclysmic changes in the river over the course of their time there, such as forests of giant cypresses reduced to shreds of their original scope, as well as some of the wildlife that used to live among them. Just as varied and detailed as the hu- man inhabitants are the wildlife men- tioned:feralpigs,gar,whitebass,otters anddeer(bothspeciesrecoveringafter nearlygoingextinct),catfish,squirrels, perch,herons,pelicans,andporpoises. The list shifts as Ferguson and Botter move through the river’s ecological zones. The health of the river’s species swings between the boom and bust cycles of the logging and oil industries. Attimes,theriverhasbeensopolluted that denizens were advised not to eat the fish, leading to a trophic cascade of jeopardyforeverythingthatlivedalong the Sabine’s banks. Perhapsthemostusefulsegmentsof the book cover the specific ecological nichesoftheriver,tracingtheenviron- mental history through its windings. The Sabine’s past is interesting, espe- cially in light of the indigenous Clovis and Caddo peoples, who left their own marks on the river. Ferguson notes that the future of the river may be in jeopardy as Dallas looks to expand its waterresources;theSabinecouldbeits nextvictim.Fergusondoesanexcellent job of listing the history of the river’s quality through the early, dirtier years of the oil industry. The creation of the two reservoirs along the Sabine, Lake Tawakoni and Toledo Bend, altered the river’s natural cycles and aided in contamination.YettheSabinerecently noted“qualityexcellent”duetotheaid of the Clean Water Act and the Texas Commission on Environmental Qual- ity. Because of the TCEQ’s continued monitoring,norestrictionsexistonfish consumptionorswimming,something that simply isn’t true for many rivers across the USA. As with many of Bot- ter’sphotographsthroughoutthebook, they aid to enlighten the reader with examplesofthishistoryofdevelopment and destruction. Equally important, usedasaguide,thephotosdemonstrate the changes in the river as the pair de- scendfromshallowsandybottomsinto the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico. The photos complement the text. The Sabine may not be a river most people will want to run. Author and photographer face several portages, wrong turns, contrary advice from locals that needs to be worked out from on-the-water experience, and one forced extraction. But they run the Sabine with a good sense of hu- mor, openness to experience, and an awareness that they are in unusual territory. More majestic and pleasant waterways and accounts exist: Henry David Thoreau, John Wesley Powell, John Graves’ Texas classic Goodbye to a River (to which Ferguson generously pays homage), and Edward Abbey, to name a handful. If you choose to run the Sabine, however, you could hardly havebettercompanionsthanFerguson and Botter.O William Huggins is a writer and ecocritic who lives, writes, and works in LasVegas. His fiction and criticism have appeared in multiple venues.