The River Needs a Friend
I ache to swim but every time I go back I get sick. I go anyway. As long as the water is there I will adapt. I get off a plane in a dark mood. Brigid Shea is on the airport television talking about Save Our Springs. I love Austin. Shudde Fath has found the names of everyone who spoke at the Barton Springs Revolution, an all-night city council hearing on June 7, 1990 to stop development on the aquifer. Tonight’s the ten-year anniversary. There’s an award ceremony in an hour. I’ll be late. It was a decade of hearings, demonstrations, hard work — Earth First, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, the Audubon Society, neighborhood associations, civic groups, people of all ages gathered into a movement. Our victories were short lived. There were ordinances and elections, hard won but eventually discouraging. We began to fight among ourselves. Developers bought votes, legislative committees, agencies, environmental groups, sold their projects and moved on. When I go back to the Midwest, I appreciate the necessity of what we’ve tried to do here, even though it hasn’t really worked, even though the water quality is terrible compared to what it was ten years ago. My hometown on Lake Michigan has three Superfund clean-up sites. There is a mountain of asbestos on the lake, a tannery next to an old electric plant that periodically spews out PCBs, a jet fuel dump that leaches poison into the largest inland water system in the world. Threadgills fills up with people I am proud to know. Eddie Wilson is feeding Austin activists again. Bill Oliver arrives to sing the songs that make us love him, tight lyrics, environmental sense, satire. He’s come from a service for Glen Allyn who was killed with his daughter in a car wreck. In 1968 Bill and Glen floated down the Mississippi River on a raft. Glen stepped ashore to call home and found out he’d been drafted. Bill is late, the crowd has thinned. His energy is vibrant and professional, funny and good because that is how we do it here. You go from personal loss back to the movement. The work goes on. If we keep singing, if we keep working, our hearts won’t break. An official who was one of us at the Barton Springs Revolution is fighting with a eco-activist who has (or hasn’t) threatened to throw a pie in someone’s face. I try to make peace between them. It is a mistake. I’ve been out of touch and don’t know who is right. There are disputes here, but also a common focus. Bill is singing, which makes me cry because I know the raw necessity it comes from. He is singing The River Needs a Friend.
©Susan Bright, 2000. From Breathing Under Water.
* Photo by Laurie Williams Wajima.
Wake Skating at Barton Springs (anothenATX)
Underwater at Barton Springs a decade ago (BartSprings)