I’m happy to have Margie Crisp as my guest today. Margie has a new book coming out in Spring 2017 called The Nueces
River: Rio Escondido. She is also the author and illustrator of the award-winning book River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado, published by Texas A&M Press. River of Contrasts won the Texas State Historical Association Award for the best illustrated book on Texas History and Culture in 2012, and the Best Book of Non-Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters, also in 2012. You can learn more about her at www.margiecrisp.com, or www.coloradorivertx.com.
Welcome, Margie. I know you traveled over 800 miles along the Colorado River to write River of Contrasts. How did you do that? Mary, first of all thanks for this interview. I’m a big fan of yours so this is a thrill. To be
honest, when I started my research for River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado, I didn’t have a clue what I was getting
myself into. I didn’t have any training as a writer (though I had taken a few courses from the Texas Writers’ League) and ended up just following the issues and subjects that interested me. Luckily the river’s geography determined the structure of the book. I chose to start at the headwaters so I pointed my car northwest and started driving. In the upper basin the river is nothing but a trickle so I asked ranchers for permission to walk along the river. When I started exploring the river’s middle reaches I began hauling my kayak along but only the reservoirs held enough water for boating. The best paddling was without a doubt in San Saba County and down to the head of Lake Buchanan where the river runs through limestone canyons and pecan bottoms. From the Highland Lakes to the coast I paddled numerous day trips and a few overnight trips. I wish I could say I’d run the river in one trip from the headwaters to the Gulf but by taking many shorter trips I got to experience the river through flood, drought, and different seasons.
Did you do something similar for your new book on the Nueces River? I started the project the same way—looking on maps and then taking off in my car with camera, coffee and sleeping gear. I’d spent time along the Nueces but I’d never followed the river. Because my husband, artist William (Bill) Montgomery agreed to create the art for the book, we took trips to the river together as well as separately. We started the project in the midst of a record drought and it wasn’t until the fall of 2015 that there was sufficient water for paddling the upper sections. So most of our paddling and boating trips were in the lower part of the river.
What made you want to take on such a project? I am passionate about Texas rivers. Historically people relied upon
our rivers for food, water and transportation. A look at settlement patterns shows camps, farms and towns clustered around waterways and moving from the coast inland along the rivers. Nowadays, the people of Texas seem to have forgotten just how essential rivers are to our communities. There has been a shift towards viewing rivers as the private domains of the wealthy instead of as the great common resources that they are. I try to entertain and engage readers long enough to slip in a little education but ultimately I hope to help people feel a connection and appreciation for our amazing Texas rivers.
Traveling down these rivers requires significant time and energy. What advice would you give someone about a long river trip? Honestly there are so many variables with weather and river conditions that it is impossible to plan for every contingency, but sunscreen, a good hat, and a set of dry clothes are my essentials. Plus, lots of water and snacks!
Tell us about your other art. What media do you work in? What subjects intrigue you? I’ve worked in a variety of media over the years. Currently I’ve been working on a number of large watercolor and pencil drawings for a January 2017 show at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton. My art is based upon my personal experiences in the natural world so local flora and fauna are my mainstays.
You’ve exhibited many, many places and have work in the Austin Museum of Art. Do you have any exhibits coming up next spring so people can get a taste of the new book? When I considered the Nueces River project, I realized that I wanted to research and write but creating the art was daunting (the Colorado River book took over five years). Luckily my husband was interested in the project and he created a body of artwork (oils, watercolors, pen & ink) for the book. It was great to work together but we describe our journey as being parallel tracks: my writing and his art are our individual responses to joint experiences. I don’t describe his art and he doesn’t illustrate my words. Obviously I’m biased but I think the art is magnificent! We both contributed photographs for the book.
What’s next on your agenda? I’m in an art period. One of my quirks is that I have to either make art or write. After I finish up the art work for the next show, I’ll go back to writing again. I’ve got a couple of ideas for novels and there are lots of wonderful rivers to explore!
Many thanks for joining us today. I’m looking forward to tracing the Nueces with your new book.