River walk along the San Antonio River
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Morning on the Riverwalk along the San Antonio River

I greet you with delight in the cool air of dawn to stroll your cement walkways, nearly empty and mostly quiet. Occasional waterfowl edge your dark waters while grackles squawk in the trees overhead. Here and there I pass a restaurant worker or hotel employee carrying out trash or hosing yesterday’s stains from your pebbled walks. Even where you loop through the busiest section of downtown, where your banks sag under the weight of highrise hotels filled with conventioneers and vacationing tourists, you calm my spirit in the dawning hours of day. I am happily surprised to find a sliver of solitude along your banks in the heart of this city.

Until the city awakens. The streets above you grow noisy with morning traffic, though its roar reaches your waters as little more than a steady hum. Tourists begin to emerge from their lodgings to occupy the waterside tables offering breakfast fare.

You seem to not notice the encroaching city, keeping your complaints to yourself deep below your surfaces. But I hear the hint of a moan beneath the placid darkness of your glassy waters. Your wildness has been straightened and calmed by the vertical walls cemented over your banks that once wore a garden of reeds, grasses, and flowers. A different sort of garden grows now, peopled with tourists and morning joggers dodging the cadre of dog-walking zombies intent on their morning circuits.

Morning on the San Antonio River
Morning on the San Antonio River, San Antonio, Texas (Photo by T. S. Bremer, 2016)

Do you still keep echoes of the silenced voices who once honored you as Yanaguana? For centuries they drank your waters, played along your muddy banks, drew life from your many moods. But you prefer to not speak of these lost times, especially not to me, a tourist, an outsider, another in the long wave of invaders who have overwhelmed your lands and remade you to suit their pleasures.

I pause, close my eyes, and listen. The city seems distant, a dull hum far from your waters. A mallard leads her ducklings along the wall beneath an ancient tree. Still, you have nothing to say as you passively reflect the day’s calm beginnings.

Underneath, though, you are seething. I feel your rage. Once you reigned as Yanaguana the life-giver, the liquid source of a flourishing land. Now you carve a channel through a busy city as an appealing profit center filling greedy pockets.

The ravenous masses who jostle along your concrete banks hardly notice you. You remain the mirror they cannot see. They never bother to learn your language, nor can they comprehend the lessons you bring through the centuries, that you have carried for millennia in this arid land. Your wisdom cannot penetrate their determination to buy more, eat more, drink their way to a sad merriment.

The ducklings, though, gather the riches of your wisdom as they paddle your waters. They touch your sadness, they hear the pain groaning beneath your surfaces. Gratitude lines their tiny wings, not yet able to fly or to apprehend the completeness of sorrow captive in your obedient resignation.

I have come to honor your memory in this pre-dawn quiet. You have been tamed and made a servant to economies of desire. But you have not died. Though I cannot imagine a time before you fashioned this land, I still listen for worlds you nourished over the centuries, for the mighty flocks that darkened the skies, the green belts of thriving life twisting along your course, the animals and people living at your edges. I bring gratitude to your tempestuous soul.

San Antonio River
San Antonio River near Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio, Texas (Photo by T. S. Bremer, 2016)

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