Monday, December 19, 2005
Beatriz Terraza’s last Rio Grande article irritated me. At the end she nicely concludes that, 'I have come to see the river as something apart from my own narrow experiences with it – as a living, beautiful thing worth saving. I don’t know what my role in that task will be. But perhaps…seeing my own small place in the river’s web of connections among people is a good place to start.’ Great. It sounds wonderful. I wish more people would see that. But, I have the same feeling I do when I see a cheesy romantic comedy – like I’ve been manipulated and dealt a load of insincerity to go a long with it for the sake of being entertained and made to feel good. There was some conflict, an adventure ensues and at the end, everything works out so neatly and everyone is happy. It’s surface. It’s light and entertaining. It has no depth. It’s really what happens next which has the depth in both the cheesy movie and with Beatriz – the part starts where the story ends is where it starts to get interesting and real. But that’s the part that we’re not shown.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh with Ms. Beatriz. She has brought the river to the attention of many a Texan through her writing, and that is a lot, but I still feel that there needs to be more if she is to conclude her entire month long Rio Grande with a grand, nebulous statement such as, ‘Yup, it’s alive and yup, it’s beautiful. It’s worth saving after all!’ I’m alive. Occasionally I’ve been called beautiful. Should I be saved too?
Saved from what? You? Me? The United States? Mexico? Salt cedars? Its border designation? Pollution? Dams?
With her final statement she has turned her articles from a getting to know the river premise, a beautiful premise on its own, to a weak statement pointing a finger toward conservationism and environmentalism. In the end neither premise was met successfully.
Beatrice’s articles were centered around the people who make the river a central part of their lives. But the river itself took second stage. It seemed only a supporting character to the people she showcased. If she wanted to advocate river conservation, she did so poorly by centering on the people. Instead her writing became a month long personal interest story. We, in general as a nation, know so little about environmental facts and issues. This is largely in part due to the media turning a majority of the few environmental stories they do report into personal interest stories. Those are apparently more entertaining than facts. Beatriz thinks the river is alive and beautiful and is worthy of being saved. We all feel good. But who really cares?
If Beatriz’s aim was to get to know the river itself, she also failed. Instead she got to know some people along the river and their thoughts and feelings about it. I keep thinking back to when Beatriz sat by the river and could hear its voice but couldn’t understand what it was saying. Nowhere in her journalistic retelling of her story does she ever take the time to learn what it said herself. All of her experiences were mediated by someone else – border patrol, naturalists, farmers, park rangers, guides. But I really don’t believe that she has developed an idea of her own personal connection. If so, it’s never identified in her writing.
Before her conclusion, Beatriz includes a query from naturalist Roy Rodriguez, ‘…the main issue with the river is “do people find any value in it? Do we neglect the connection that we have with it?”’
Do we neglect the connection that we have with it?
This is where Beatriz should have signed off. Perhaps we just don’t understand that connection yet. And perhaps, as Beatriz showed me, perhaps primarily we don’t yet know how to go about establishing that connection in the first place.