In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Front Porch
  • Harry L. Watson, Editor

Click for larger view
View full resolution

In his classic “Old Times on the Mississippi,” Twain described the river as a source of infinite knowledge. “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book,” he remembered. “And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.” Black River, near Ivanhoe, North Carolina, 1997, by Ann Cary Simpson.

[End Page 1]

As a landlubber, I usually think of the South as solid ground. It’s the Land of Cotton. The place where roots grow. Mountains and Piedmont. It’s only when we get to the Tidewater or Low country that the companion elements earth and water mingle enough to change my mental picture of the South’s composition perceptibly.

But this issue is about southern water, the vital fluid that shapes its land, contours, and boundaries, brings it life, and makes it livable. An early traveler to Carolina called it a “watry Country,” and so it remains, its liquid and solid selves each depending on the other and each indispensable in giving place its character. The brainchild of Southern Cultures friend and contributor Bernie Herman, the essays in this special issue explore the role of water in the South’s history, art, economy, and sustenance. Water, Herman writes, is “something to be crossed; something that resists crossing. Something that gives life; something that can be poisoned and deadly.” Those familiar paradoxes permeate all the stories our contributors have to tell.

The great southern waterman Mark Twain went further when recalling his early career as a steamboat pilot. In his classic “Old Times on the Mississippi,” Twain described the river as a source of infinite knowledge. “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book,” he remembered, “a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.” The stories did not always bring good news to the well-taught pilot, he continued, for a beautiful sunset predicted bad weather; a floating log revealed rising water, and telltale ripples betrayed “a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights.”

For Twain, learning the river’s secrets spoiled its beauty, as picturesque scenery dissolved into portents of danger. The same may be true of some stories here. We see penetrating photos of watermen’s hard work and wry portraits of innovative money-making which morph into fluid visions of painful inequality and somber warnings of ecological disaster. Did Twain intend to spoil his readers’ views of the river while reporting his own, or only to hint at its depths and complexity? Surely not the former; the rest of his story is too beguiling. Perhaps our authors mean something similar. Even the direst belong among the stories that southern waters can tell, but none encompasses them all. [End Page 2]


Click for larger view
View full resolution

As TVA recreation planner Bob Howes observes in Ian Draves’s essay in the issue, “Many of the values which the human spirit regards as most precious simply are not, will not and cannot stand up to commercial and market place measurements.” Mildred Southgate of South Fork, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, at Watts Bar Resort Village, Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee, April 1953, Image ID 17002, Dept. of Conservation Photograph collection, Fishing series, courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Instead of following the articles in printed order, let’s think about them along a conceptual chronology, from most traditional to most contemporary. That schema would begin with David Cecelski’s compelling recovery of a trove of photographs taken by Charles A. Farrell in 1938, documenting the lives and work of mullet fishermen on North Carolina’s Brown’s Island. With lengthy interviews among surviving relatives, Celcelski is able to reconstruct the outlines of the fishermen’s labor as they camped out...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 1-5
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-16
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.