Monday, August 18, 2014


I got some sad news while I was on vacation. Don Greene, the outfitter I worked for for some 10 years or so as a river guide, was in the hospital diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer.

He passed away in the wee hours of the morning today.

Don devoted his life to protecting and educating people about the riparian systems in the state of Texas. He loved the Rio Grande and Big Bend State Park and the Pecos and the Colorado but his real baby was Buffalo Bayou, the only live bayou left in the Bayou City, that would be Houston TX, that runs through the center of town. By live bayou, I mean, the bayou in it's natural state, not the ones that have been channelized into a concrete conduit with mowed slopes. There was not a committee or meeting that concerned the bayou that he wasn't a part of, usually pissing people off with his insistence on a hands off approach.

Buffalo Bayou is a thriving ecosystem where a paddler can see all kinds of wild life. I would accompany him quite often on floats down the bayou between the West Loop and the Shepherd Bridge, about a two or three hour trip, with Memorial Park on one bank and a rich neighborhood with lots measured in acres on the other. This section is in the heart of the city and once on the water, all traffic noise ceases and it is easy to believe that you are out in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, Buffalo Bayou is once again under attack by the powers that be, wanting the civil engineers to 'fix' it, which actually means destroy it. The country club that stupidly built their golf course right up to the edge of the bank wants it protected from the erosion that occurs in a healthy riparian system. Without Don to stand between them and the bayou, I fear they will succeed this time.

I visited him in the hospital upon my return and am glad that he was still awake and able to communicate so I could tell him how much he meant to me, how much being a river guide meant to me, how he basically saved my life and gave me the opportunity to escape the misery at home on a regular basis and allowed me to find and be a person I never would have found or been without him.

I don't actually have very many pictures of Don because when I was employed by him, we went on different trips. Don always ran two trips at the same time in Big Bend...a raft trip through Santa Elena Canyon and a canoe trip through Boquillas Canyon. Don was always head guide on the raft trip and I was on staff on the canoe trips.

I did a number of other trips with him on the Colorado, Lower Canyons (also in the Big Bend area but not in the park), and the occasional private trip he would arrange but after the first several years, I didn't even take a camera along...too busy and most the pictures all looked the same anyway and they didn't even begin to show the majesty of the area. But I did manage to ferret out a few.

Don on the left. That's the back of me far right.

Don reclining.

One December, some members of the Boquillas guide staff decided to do a private trip and we tried our best to get Don to come with us but he wouldn't do it, so we borrowed some of his clothes and brought him along with us anyway.

Me carrying on a conversation with Rock Don.

We lugged that stupid big rock all the way downriver with us and set him up at each camp site every night.

Rock Don had a rough night.

Fly high Don.

We'll miss you.


  1. sorry for the loss of your friend. he sounded like a good man and an important friend to you.

  2. What an influence Don and all of that wild water rafting had on you, Ellen. So sorry that he is gone now, but how fortunate that you were able to thank him before he left.

  3. Clearly he made a strong impression on those he touched. I am glad for his important work and hope that others take up that torch.

  4. What a heart warming tribute to a man that affected you so much. You were blessed to know him.

    Sorry for your loss.

  5. Ah, Ellen. Even though we all know we're all going to go, every one of us, it continues to be such a shock, such a powerful sadness when it happens to the ones we love. Especially those who were so very, very strong and full of the spark of life.
    Celebrate him fully. I know you will. I know you do.

  6. Love the Rock Ron - may he fly high!

  7. I love Rock Don!

    What a wonderful tribute. I'm sorry for this loss, Ellen. For the 2nd time in just a little while, I send you a hug.

    What a summer. Good lord.

  8. Fly high...Like that.

  9. hopefully someone close will continue his dream.

  10. So sorry, Ellen. I'm sure Don would be impressed to hear how much he influenced you. (And I am cracking up at "Rock Don.")

  11. I'm so sorry for your sad loss but how very beautiful that you got to tell him how much he mean to you. Clearly he has left many people with fine memories. Lovely tribute, Ellen.

  12. What great memories and photographs. Don sounded like quite the guy. And what adventures you had.

    Thanks for the laugh with Rock Don, they were hilarious.

  13. Hello Ellen, this is Vicki. I am so moved by what you wrote and beautifully expressed about our friend, Don Greene. Sorrow seems to come in waves. As I share with others in the planning of his memorial I revisit moments of my life too. It a strong desire that within this plan Don will continue to be a force in keeping the bayou from being destroyed.
    I look forward to hugging you at his memorial, and as with you, the thrill will always stay with me, placed in cherished memory. Vicki C. Sims

  14. Don & I go back to elementary school. Along with Bill Sprague and Gary Callaway, who you may know as Catfish, we were Boy Scouts then Explorer Scouts together, and were into 1st canoeing and rowing at Scout camps, then whitewater canoeing once we got into high school. We ran rivers every chance we got. For the decade before Don established Whitewater Experience I was 1st his bowman, then his wingman when we started kayaking. Don remains the only sternman I've ever known that required more than 1 spare paddle in the boat b/c he literally bent and broke paddles on every run through heavy rapids. He was a force of Nature, and fierce protector of this planet, and I surely miss him.


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