Appearing in the fall of 1975, the article had its intended effect -- especially that liftable quote about "the loveliest countryside I had ever seen in America." The sophisticated New Yorker had made a fuss over the little-known Meramec, and Roueché's rhapsody started the river's long, slow reversal of fortune. Anti-dam pressure kept building, in Missouri and around the country: on weekends I saw STOP MERAMEC DAM bumper stickers along the East Coast music-festival trail. Finally, the governor agreed to hold a referendum. In 1978 the voters rejected the dam by a 2-1 margin, and Congress cancelled it.
As long as I was at Interior, Roueché and I had an understanding. From my wide-angled federal viewpoint, I would supply him with story ideas, and he would try to give imperiled natural areas the visibility they deserved. For one reason or another, though, my other suggestions didn't work out. Then I left the government and the law, started writing for a living, and reckoned I'd better hang on to my story ideas.
"Countryside," Roueché's essay on the river, can be found in his 1985 book Sea to Shining Sea. By the time of his death, in 1994, The New Yorker had stopped publishing his kind of piece. But just that once was enough. It took a battery of approaches to stop Meramec Dam -- attacks on the Corps's numbers and geological assumptions, close readings of the Endangered Species Act, a timely leak from a study that showed a shortage of whitewater recreation in Missouri -- but I'm convinced that the Meramec owes its free flow above all to Berton Roueché's vigorously beautiful prose. Neither Penn nor any other law school I'm aware of taught environmental law in the 1960s, so I can't draw an unswerving line from my coursework to those canoes on the river. But I'm grateful that my law-school training and serendipity helped put me in a position to bring that book title to life: Law and Literature.
Dennis Drabelle, G'66, L'69, received the National Book Critics Circle's 1996 citation for excellence in reviewing. He lives in Washington, D.C.
April Contents |
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 4/14/98