By Charles Lohrmann
The river dominates the landscape. In the middle distance, seven horsemen wade their mounts into the sepia-toned water made metallic by the mysterious sunlight reflecting on the water. It’s the dust jacket photograph for Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 337 pages, $29.95 hardcover) and it is a perfect introductory image for this outstanding collection of fiction, journalism, history, geology, photography and even humor. The photograph captures the river’s mystique, and this is important because, as editor (and contributor to the collection) Jan Reid writes in his prologue, the river’s narrative is a “complex layering of many locales and traditions” and its mystique is “its best hope for salvation.” And this book might be the general reader’s best hope for gaining an insight into the importance of the great river. From its origins in the mountains of Colorado to its boca in the Gulf, the river is masterfully portrayed by Tony Hillerman, Paul Horgan, John Nichols, Rolando Hinojosa and many others. There’s strange humor in Molly Ivins’ sketch of the misfortune that befalls the duly elected and much celebrated mayor of Lajitas, an alcoholic goat. The goat isn’t pictured, but the well-chosen black-and-white photographs from Laura Gilpin, Ansel Adams, Russell Lee, James Evans and our own Earl Nottingham, are an evocative visual feast. Reid writes that “this story of the Rio Grande is meant to be impressionistic and accumulative, not definitive.” Perhaps not definitive but definitely essential. Rio Grande is a treasured letter home from the borderlands.