Rivers for the People

Personal Writings

            Marble Falls     There’s a classic country and western song by David Allen Coe, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name, the Perfect Country and Western Song.”  He’s riffing with a buddy about a song he wrote and claims that it was close to the perfect C&W song, but it was missing some central elements of the genre.  There had been no mention of trains, mama, prison, and other standards.  I have to add that, sadly, it’s still not the prefect tune, because it doesn’t mention rivers.

I don’t know why they didn’t come up with rivers as a missing piece in that puzzle.  Think about it – there must be thousands of country songs that are about rivers, driving down to the river, necking by the river, thinking about the river, missing the river, and more.  Hit Google a lick, and the names just start coming: Red River Valley, Big River, Tennessee River, Pontoon, Chattahoochee, Whiskey River, Cry Me a River, Take Me to the River, Ol’ Man River, Green River, Tennessee River Run, Muckalee, Creek Water, Moon River, When the Levee Breaks, The River of Dreams, Down by the River, Red River Blue, Proud Mary, Texas River Song, Deep River Blues, The River, Kern River, Yes, The River Knows, and more, but you see what I mean.

Rivers, even more than beaches, are working family’s recreation areas for fishing, camping, swimming, and general partying.  A tent from Walmart, a kayak from Tractor Supply or Target, and you’re good to go.  You can get a lifetime pass for national parks, but, if you’re from around the river, you know where the river is free.  That’s especially true on the Buffalo River, which was the first national river park, and still runs wild and free in Northwest Arkansas.  There are no palatial second homes towering over the water, yachts, or expensive speed boats on the Buffalo.

All of this was on my mind as I took my canoe out on the river, a bit over five miles between Tyler’s Bend and Gilbert.   Sure, there were shuttle and outfitter companies piling canoes near the beach for tourists and day trippers, and sure all of them moaned that they wished the river was a foot higher, but every time I paddled past a big sandbar or river beach, it was all the perfect level and playtime for the people.  Whole families were in the water with boom boxes blasting.  Kids swimming or on baby kayaks in the water or stepping over the rocks with their lifejackets on.  Tents and tarps set up everywhere and smoke from portable grills and fire pits in the sand already cooking.  Four-wheel drive pickups parked everywhere, lined up bumper to bumper.  People were wetting a line, some with good luck, although not pulling in the big ones that I could see swimming near me in the clear water.  The cold water wasn’t stopping anyone from being in the Buffalo up to their knees.

There’s a democracy on the river that’s hard to find in a lot of other places these days.  You need a hand, there’s plenty stretched out, whether from a Trumper or an anarchist.  No one’s in charge.  Everyone has to make do and get ‘r done.  Everyone talks to you, and you talk to everyone.  People smile and wave as you paddle by.  It’s a long weekend and on the river, people seem to know what to do with it.