Echoes of the Final Miracle
Green River: Sand Wash – Swasey’s Rapid October 8 – 11, 2018
IN MY LIFE: There are places I’ll remember All my life, though some have changed Some forever not for better Some have gone and some remain All these places have their moments With lovers and friends I still can recall Some are dead and some are living In my life, I’ve loved them all ~ The Beatles
Come along as I take my last trip with a dear friend. The Desolation Canyon trip was for Cody Perry, (Rig to Flip), to film and record me on the river. We had planned a spring trip a few years ago, but Cody was unable to make the trip, so I went from Ouray to Green River solo. In my mind, to really appreciate and understand Desolation Canyon, one has to launch from Ouray. This time Val, Cody, Ben Saheb, Mitch Stypinski & Whitney Chandler initially planned to launch at Ouray. Ben was to do the filming; Mitch ran the motor raft and Whitney was writing a blog about my river days. Although it was one trip, we agreed that Val and I would be prepared for our own trip in case we decided to go ahead on our own. Our meals were my traditional pre-fried bacon, donuts, instant oatmeal, Dinty Moore beef stew, Chef Boyardee ravioli, Hormel corned beef hash and Val made breakfast burritos (that we can reheat in a fry pan); mostly one can/pot meals with minimum clean up. I tried to maintain as many of my customs on Desolation Canyon as I could, and I took two packs of cigarettes and a bottle of anisette.
On my solo trips I always tried to harken back to my early rafting days: canned food, a few pots and pans, coffee pot, Primus stove, canteen, sleeping bag and ensolite pad. I carried no tent, table, and all of the gear trappings that seem to grow from the equipment heads and river supply companies. I did that because of my limited funds and knowledge, but I knew that simplicity allowed me to focus on where I was and what I was feeling. I learned that in 1971 when I burned or gave away all of my belongings save my camping and river gear. In August I moved from my house to a tent off the town road in a small natural depression on the Butler Farm in Glover, Vermont.
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Each night I would walk the mile from Butler’s home, where I kept my teaching clothing, to the tent. It was one of the harshest and snowy winters on record. In the tent was a Sealy Posturepedic mattress, Eddy Bauer sleeping bag with fleece liner, pillow, small cooler, Coleman stove and lantern and some food and water. I didn’t have a care in the world, and enjoyed the simplicity of my life. Back then I was buff, muscular and athletic, now I am none of those things. With cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and severe nerve and joint damage I have become sedentary, overweight, and move only at 16 rpm at best! Even though it was painful, I was still able to do multiple river trips each year until recently.
But sugar plums were still dancing in my head about the upcoming trip. I looked forward to sharing special places like Ute and cowboy art, Ute burials, a bird of prey capture structure, cabins and much more on the little used Green River above Sand Wash.
Below Ouray and above Sand Wash you can feel the ever-growing canyon that waits in loom. Ever so slowly colossal escarpments clasp the Green River as it runs through the Tavaputs Plateau. The Tavaputs Plateau has been a work in progress since 100 million years ago. It was deposited as the continents spread, dinosaurs enjoyed their last epoch, and plants blossomed Earth’s first flowers. It was during the heart of the Eocene Epoch, when Utah sported dense humid forests that resembled today’s Louisiana. A lake covered nearly a fourth of Utah, leaving behind immaculate fossils hidden in shale chips, fern sprigs and garfish (which still swim in the Mississippi River) among the artifacts pasted into the ever-growing sedimentary formations.
Packing up for a river trip has always been a happy time and time for deep thought. But this time it felt different, like there was an ominous dark cloud hanging over me. It is one thing to think something, but very different to feel it in your heart. It is funny how your head can think one thing, but you heart knows another.
I set up a chair in my garage, and with the door open I could hear the sandhill cranes and geese cackling as they flew over. I could bask in sunlight and see out to the Book Cliffs. Handling the gear, so familiar, soon took me to a place of peaceful quiet, enjoyment and remembrance of times past. Little things, like the Space Blanket I had forgotten I had when the cold and wet snow sent me into latter stages of hypothermia a few years ago triggered memories. If I accomplished two or three tasks a day I was happy, and around 2 p.m. went upstairs to take a nap
After every trip we washed everything; from straps to boat, equipment repaired or replaced, dried and hung or stored in a ready-to-go state making packing for a trip quite easy and fast. I make piles of ropes & straps; dry & other bags, clothing, and anything that is going on the trip. I inflate the boat, attach fabric cargo floor and cover net to the boat.
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Just before the trip we load the oars, ice chest(s), dry box, water, groover and firepan/wood bag onto the trailer. Then we load the boat and attach the frame, floorboard and trip accessories to the boat. This process can easily be done in a couple of hours, even with coffee and contemplation breaks.
But this time was different, I am slower and attached to home base with an oxygen hose. I took more coffee breaks and time to ponder each item. For this trip I examined everything as if I was a man going on an expedition to Antarctica. Functionally I was doing fine, mentally I was in a fog. The beauty is that with organization and order I can pack quite well even in a fog! Although I will admit, one time on a Split Mountain day trip I forgot the oars – probably due to a large party at our house the night before.
On one of my one boat trips with Scott Warthin, he asked how I became so organized. I thought for a while, and replied that by being organized a person could be efficient almost without thought. I was always perplexed by other experienced boaters who packed like it was the first time they had seen their gear and boat! By being organized on private and commercial river trips it allowed more “me time” and isn’t that a big reason why we go into wild places? But that is not how I became bricoleur.
I thought back, thought back to the days just before junior high-school when I was given full responsibility for one barn that held about thirty calves, yearlings and two horses. I had to feed, water and clean the barn every day before school and after school and athletics. That meant that my chores in the evening often went past 7 p.m. And I still had homework to do. I learned doing two things at once, like graining the calves while water was filling a bucket cut down the time I had to spend doing the chores. On weekends I could throw down hay for several days, and fill the grain bin and thus cut even more time from my weekday responsibility.
One of my serious maladies is COPD. One of the challenges was where to put the five oxygen tanks and how to recharge my portable oxygen generator. The generator comes with a 12-volt recharge fitting for vehicle use. I made a connection from our lawn mower battery, using a female lighter fitting to charge the compressor. I had to consider rain and river splash, so I made a jacket for the compressor from a gallon Ziplock food bag. The battery and compressor fit nicely into a rocket box. I tested how long the compressor could be recharged with the battery, so I knew I had more than five days of oxygen from the compressor.
I was a bit apprehensive before the trip. Though they were good people, I had never done a trip with Cody, Ben, Mitch or Whitney before. I didn’t want Val to carry the entire load of caring for me and helping them in camp. I knew I would be pretty worthless on land and that was not a positive thing – one should be able to help others in camp… as well as one’s self. That is a primary reason why, on my solo trips I did everything in the boat, it was all close at hand, and to sleep on shore I only needed to toss my dry bag, night box, pad and thermos to shore and drag it a few feet.
The others were not able to launch at Ouray, so Val and I planned to have a couple of days alone. Two days before the trip, Val and I had the boat, food and gear loaded in the truck and on the trailer. But the weather had turned rainy and cold, with the low water level and my lack of full sustained energy it became obvious that we were not going to be able to launch at Ouray. That ominous feeling, my disappointment that I may never again see, or share Upper Desolation Canyon again, posted in my heart as if it were a war lance thrust into the ground for my final stand.
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Val and I drove into Sand Wash, backed the trailer into the river, unloaded the boat and gear. It took us about twenty minutes to load the gear onto the boat: A thing for every place, a place for everything! We were only interrupted by the arrival of a BLM truck, Mick and Jim taunting me and inviting us up to the ranger cabin.
A light rain fell as we drove up to the cabin. We went in, sat down shared a drink or two and began to chat. I get along well with the Desolation Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers. They believe in what they do and do a great job welcoming and sharing with river runners again and again, year after year. After initial pleasantries, I felt that I was under attack by Jim. A few years ago he had passed on information to me about misuse of river funds for ATVs in another area. When I questioned a BLM manager about it, they went straight to Jim. But I had been with Jim and communicated with him several times after the incident and it never came up. No doubt I deserved his acrimony, but it felt like he was piling on.
Jim brought up my encounter with the Ute Tribe over launching from non- reservation land at Ouray during the high water of 2011. Something I had joked with him about when I had reached the Sand wash boat ramp. Then the issue of human remains tucked in rock came up. I felt like Jim and Mick didn’t trust me by being overly coy about it and what they did with the remains. They made me feel like I didn’t deserve to know what had happened. Ahh, keepers of the Palace Intrigue! My assumption is that they did the right thing, whatever that is, with the remains. But I have never seen Jim’s personal vehicle and for all I know he put lights in the eye sockets and placed the skull in his vehicle’s rear window. Finally, I said, “Look, if you don’t want me involved in Desolation Canyon and it’s issues I can butt out.” and the tone changed.
We talked of water flows, endangered fish, threats and intrusions to the canyons, and the Ute Tribal issues related to closure of Reservation lands. The latter is a difficult situation, the Ute Tribe has sovereignty over their reservation lands and water as described in water law. Most river runners, including me appreciate and respect the Tribal sovereignty of their lands. But the recent closures come because of the tribe’s lack of understanding about interagency fee collection – they wanted BLM to collect their fees and BLM could not legally do that. The issue is also tainted by Congressman Rob Bishop’s Land Initiative that proposed taking thousands of oil and gas rich lands from the Tribe. Other issues include Tribal failure to understand that purchasing land does not mean it is a part of the reservation. A number of federal court decisions require that any additions to Indian reservations must go through Congress first, even if that land was once part of the reservation. I think the tribe is searching for its identity, but a faction of the Ute considers they have sovereignty over all land of the initial reservation set- aside. The issue spilled over to Desolation Canyon lands when Shaun Chapoose, of Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee said in 2019: “If it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get.”
The past is the past, it cannot be changed. How wonderful it would be if the Tribe and other agencies could work together toward common goals. I am afraid that if Desolation Canyon Tribal Lands are ever opened it will be with a hefty fee, combined with an ever-increasing BLM fee. James Willard Schultz, who closely lived with the Blackfoot People in the 1880s, remembered other tribal members saying in a mournful way: “Haiya! Nahktau, ohmik? Oh! Why gone, those times?”
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It was getting late, and sporadic rain was falling. I did not relish sleeping indoors in the ranger cabin or in one of the screen houses, and we surely were not going to put up our tent in the rain. We decided to sleep in the cab of the truck, close to the restrooms and having the ability to turn on the truck heater at will. On occasion I would open a window and the petrichor of wet soil, sage and tamarisk would permeate in the cab. Morning arrived more or less clear, and we were quickly ready to be on the river. When we launched at Sand Wash I felt as I was about to walk through the door of fifty years into something unfamiliar, strange and constrainingly oppressive: the thought of a life without rivers and canyons swept over me.
Mitch was having difficulty starting the motor to push the other two boats on the flat water, and I became a bit concerned about his motoring ability. Not having starting fluid for the Mercury motor which is notoriously hard to start in cold weather and only having a limited amount of petrol made me wonder. But I revert to “old school,” I was not the trip leader and it was not my place to interject my thoughts. Finally, I did recommend that he squeeze the fuel bulb hard and continuously until it would not collapse and be full of fuel. That would mean that the carburetor had gas and the motor should start, unless it had a fouled spark plug or electrical issues. As it turned out Mitch is an excellent boatman and did a great job of pushing us and keeping in the current, running rapids with our three boat flotilla.
Victor Hugo, a French poet, novelist, and dramatist wrote: “Nothing can be sadder or more profound than to see a thousand things for the first and last time.” The reality was growing on me and I silently vowed to take in as much of the colors, sounds, scenery and smells as I could. While on the water I would close my eyes and remember past trips, focused by the knowledge of where we were. We motored past where I got stuck in the ice in March 1988, hid the boat and gear and walked to Myton. We passed by the demoiselles, where I parted with the ashes of my friend Bob Decker. We think of ourselves as immortal, yet everything we do should be imbued with the knowledge that it might be the last time that we will do or see this. It may seem bizarre, but on every river trip I think about it being my last time, and that makes what we’re doing on this trip incredibly sweet. I am in Desolation Canyon again I thought and felt.
We motored down close to Cedar Ridge Canyon, one of my favorite camps. On the water I merged with time, with current, with universe. On land I was worthless, mostly sitting in a chair while Val, Whitney, Ben, Mitch and Cody waited on me like I was The Duke of Paducah! But as I sat there, in moments of forgetfulness, I saw the old Canyon, remembered the past trips and old memories – some of a form of horror, some of supreme happiness. At our Cedar Ridge camp I drifted back to the winter storm I struggled through there not long ago. I snickered at Renny Russell’s comment on my Desolation Tales of Terror Trip in an April Blizzard: “Well, you’re still alive. You’ve taken “unfastidious outdoorsmanship” to another level. The Russell brothers wrote about madness. Back in the day, at least we had “tube tents.” But then again, who am I do judge, one whose life consists of inspired follies and quixotic enterprises. Some of my fondest memories of Cedar Ridge Canyon were with my children. I remember camping with my son on our annual birthday trip and roasting marshmallows, and giving daughter Gill her evening bottle when she was about a year old.
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Val set up our tent and fortunately my cot would not fit in it, so we set the cot perpendicular to the entrance to the tent. The cot is a recent addition to my aggregation of equipment and gear. My friend Mike Smith first introduced me to the new cots on a Ruby, Horsethief, Westwater trip a few years ago. The cots of old were not comfortable, childish and easy to break. These days I have difficulty getting up off the ground, and Mike’s cot, with a layer of ensolite and a Jack’s Plastic Pad was delightfully comfortable. When it rained, and all I had to do was put a tarp over the cot. I put my “Night Box,” an ammo can with prescriptions, headlamp and flashlight, a few treats and such where I could reach it, along with a jar to pee in so I wouldn’t have to leave the cot. It was best for me to breath oxygen at constant flow when sleeping because people do not breath in hard enough to get a full pulse from a concentrator. We stood the oxygen tank next to the cot, and I initially set it on pulse level 3. When I awoke I could increase the pulse or put it on constant flow. An exhausted Val climbed into her sleeping bag, head just out the entrance so she could check on me – and she did! Every time I moved, fumbled with the oxygen or sat up Val would ask if I was Ok.
One of my most enjoyable times on the river is to awake, sit up and look at the sky and stars, pour a hot cup of coffee, lite a smoke and gaze at the Universe. I would visit the Milky Way, or identify what constellations I could see, and past the locations of the unseen ones on the canyon walls. Sometimes I would just breathe in the fresh night air, or hope to hear the night birds and bats eddy about the currents of the night.
The next morning Whitney asked how I was feeling and I responded: “I’m outa gas.” I was tired and although walking and being on oxygen was a burden, I got by. But I hurt. By now I enjoyed the company and rivermanship of the Rig To Flip folks. I found the Rig To Flip people to be exceptionally professional about their river use and etiquette and I enjoyed being with them. They are examples of how things should be on the river, how easy it is to comply and show respect.
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Yet, here I was, sort of like a zoo animal, taken care of by my mate and the zookeepers. As I downed hot coffee, donuts and some bacon, I wondered when was the last time people really thought about what they eat. It is a long journey from the seed and cropping, mill the seeds to flour, provide eggs and other components from like journeys to the bakery, loaded boxed donuts on a truck and shipped far and wide. There were hundreds of people involved in that first bite of donut! I have often remembered a night with my father on Lookout Mountain, looking out at the lights of Denver stretching far into the distance, he said: “Imagine what it takes to get a loaf of bread to each of those lights. As for the bacon, every time I eat bacon I thank pig, pig who is fattened in the most horrid of constraints, grown like a cancer, then slaughtered without conscience. All I can say is that it tastes good, and I can’t find a source for bacon seeds.
As we loaded the boats, I began to feel a bit more limber, and put out with Val alone for a few minutes. I did my best for Cody, but besides the ominous feeling hanging over me I still could not fully grasp that this was it, the last river trip. I felt like I ought, to look at something, anything really, and know that it’s for the last time? For me that was a basic transition on the trip. The truth is everything you see, you might be seeing for the last time.
There is an incredible difference between boating alone and boating with a group. Alone I taste the wind, hear the rocks, smell the sun’s light. Alone I see nothing, but feel it all. Alone I am the river. In a group I have safety, but I also have to integrate my selfish absorption with the whims of others. On this trip, there was a special beauty, a concern for me and it really added to my appreciation of everyone.
On to Flat Canyon, I often camped just above Dripping Spring in a grove of cottonwood on river left. We camped there in 2006 on a trip with Dave Hansen and Val found an elk ceremonial kill site. In the high water of 2011 the eddy fence at Dripping Spring must have been eight-feet high.
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay; My, oh, my, what a wonderful day; Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way. Slicing through Steer Ridge Rapid, and a momentary thought of Renny and Terry Russell. I had a quick thought of Curt Musselman on his high water row of the rapid. Then Hatt’s experience here. Hatt had flipped his IK in a small benign rapid at mile 79 and struggled to get back into his yak paddling with his hands. At Steer Ridge I stood with him trying to see the rapid through his eyes and mine. I could feel his concern, determination and fear, clouded by his will to appease me. There was an eternity of heat, rapid sounds, and heartbeats as we walked back to the others, and the boats. I remember saying, “Hatt do you want to do it?” And remember saying that again, well after we had drifted apart on the tongue of increasing speed. Too far to join hands. I remember his reply, “No Dad, can I get on with you?” The others in my boat turning to look at me, then at Hatt. I cursed myself for putting him in that position. We had passed that point where the big waves, and scattered rocks slice across the current. I was watching back upstream as much, maybe more than downstream, hoping my memory would accommodate the rapid. He dropped and rose, working nicely then stopping as if the river had swallowed him, he popped up and rode the tail waves as they joined in destiny. I remember…the first warm, wet touch of his hand, and how our preservers clamped together in the gray afternoon light.
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We followed the current down to Chandler Creek where we camped that night. By camping there we were set up for filming of Joe Hutch Canyon Rapid (Also called Cow Swim). I was one of the early boaters in 2008 to encounter Cow Swim after the canyon flash flooded. On that trip, standing there looking at the chaos of broken trees, mud, rocks and water I was very alone and worried. It’s a mind game, I thought, that’s all it is – a mind game. As I looked at the rapid I filtered out what was not relevant, focused on what was. There was no one else around, no others for help if I needed it. The situation was pretty straight forward. My boat was up there (looking back upstream) and in a few seconds I’d be down there – at the foot of the rapid. It was just a head game.
But the thing about this head game, if one really does it correctly… well there is just no other feeling like it. Moving a boat with the current in a quicksilver ballet, twisting and dodging like a feather in the wind, there is no feeling like it. It’s like sensual sex where both partners move as one flying in outer space. Time stops. It stops, dead. It takes, maybe, only ten seconds, but there is no feeling like it. To partner in that dance I knew that I had to clear my head. Forget about the rapid, and remember that the river tells you what it is doing and what it’s about to do. Still I was having trouble clearing my head. As I stood there pondering my nerves and ability, suddenly out of nowhere a yellow single engine plane came roaring down canyon on the deck. It was less than fifty feet above the water, dancing its own ballet, but intruding upon mine. But that did it for me, the plane from somewhere swept my mind clear in its prop wash, and I danced.
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Cow Swim Rapid is where a very young Gill learned to respond when you asked her, “what do the people say in the rapids?” Her response: “Weeeehaa.” Around noon Val and I waited in a small eddy above the rapid, much tamer these days, while the others set up for filming, including using a drone. My run was close to classic, swept a little right part way down, pulling back left, and exuberant at the bottom. Quickly we moved on to Three Fords rapid for more filming. As we went past McPherson Ranch I looked up toward Broken Finger Arch in serendipity. In 1986 I camped at Florence Creek, a beautiful bubbly stream of clear water. I planned to spend a day hiking up to the arch, following Florence Creek and petroglyphs about a mile until the creek closes in on the remnants of the Chandler Creek Road. Then followed the road for about another mile, cut across the creek and followed a game trail to the east side of the butte. I worked back west climbing the formations and ledges, dropping water and gear along the way. By now it had been past noon and even in April the sun was hot. Eventually I encountered a standing fin blocking my path, dropped down to the south and worked my way around it. I went several hundred yards further, but could not see the fin. Thinking I might have passed it, because I was more focused on “my terrain” than looking up, I reversed my direction.
I cursed myself for not bringing a topographical map and compass on the trip. As I worked my way back, I turned and could see a portion of the arch, a goal never reached, for some other time. By the time I reached camp I was sweaty, dirty and exhausted. Sitting in the cool creek refreshed my soul, but it caused me to wonder – how can a stream wandering across a charcoal fire of a land be so cool? My thoughts of Broken Finger ended, we had motored through Wire fence Rapid and the group was setting up to film while we waited in an eddy against the broad, sandy beach.
I have a lot of memories of camping on that beach. We camped there on a trip with Val, Hatt, Gill and Scott and Edie Warthin. We spent the day playing in the sand and running the rapid: Hatt in his inflatable kayak, we in our pfds.
As the day waned, after dinner Hatt went down with heat exhaustion. I spent some time cooling him with wet towels and trying to convince him that he needed to drink more in this hot, arid climate where the sun beats down like the heat from being too close to a wood stove for too long. After all, the sun melted the wings off of Icarus! As Hatt recovered, Val attempted to put Gill to sleep away from the adults who were having a great river evening time. Gill kept getting up and saying that she was afraid of bears. I told her, in no uncertain terms that there were no bears on this river, I had never seen one or observed its sign! The next morning, while we were cooking breakfast, Gill headed down to the groover at the end of the beach. Part way down she stopped, turned around and said: “No bears huh, dad.” There across the river was a sow and two cubs working their way up river across the talus!
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Val and I ran Three Fords Rapid, lining up to give a good bow splash rather than slicing through the slick entrance. We had a nice run, and it was only after that I thought that I should have emptied the water containers, and moved the firepan bag and back of the boat to lighten the bow for a better rise on the first wave. That is what I did on a trip with Gill in our 12-foot Selway boat and I rowed backwards on the first wave for a nice photo.
Below: Ben’s drone photo of Obscenic River Trips Boat; Cody & Ben interviewing me – Rig To Flip Photos
We went a little way below to the “Space Cube Camp,” named for a rock just up the canyon with bizarre petroglyphs on it. That evening Ben and Cody interviewed me, and Ben took videos with the drone. That night, on the cot, I rose and stared at the tranquil Moon in the western sky after the sun had dipped below the horizon. On this night the Moon was a bright sliver, in a Waxing Crescent Phase, the first Phase after the New Moon. It is perhaps the most beautiful phase of the Moon, but shortly it’s light went out as it too dipped below the far canyon wall. From there we mostly motored the flotilla to Short Canyon where we camped for the last night. The last night, at Short Canyon, Ben asked me what I was feeling. I answered him and teared up a little. I told him that my greatest fear was that, not being in the Canyon, my knowledge would fade and I would be less effective in protecting it. When someone lives a long way off, or a place is not visited they become vaguer and foggy. What I didn’t tell him was that I was feeling like I was at my own wake. I would never again see the hidden treasures and secrets of this diamond in the desert. Even though they burn in my mind I realized that I would never again sleep on the soft sand of some benign sand bar and gaze up to a billion points of light, or feel the sound of the wind rustling through the willows. It is not that those experiences don’t exist in other places, it is that here, deep in Desolation Canyon they all merge together in a kaleidoscope that speaks deep in my chest Ben asked me how I felt, how I really felt. But how do you answer that question because what is in your heart cannot speak.
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How could I explain, that during the day with my eyes closed, I was not sleeping, but absorbing all of the non-visual memories I had from all of the rivers I ran? How can I tell someone that I’ve never fully discovered common sense, that I now know that all of my ramblings were like cutting and mowing hay – to be fed to the cows in winter? Now my mow is nearly full. How can I interpret that in a sense I am already feeling disconnected from the river? Even though I can see the river from our picture window or briefly visit it’s shore I will not be able to hear it, or smell it, or taste or feel its lilt and sway. How can I ever recreate that shift in sound that occurs in the change of the night wind’s direction? How can I explain those lonely nights of anger, or crying because I know my Lilliputian comments to protect The Canyon will just float past some bureaucrat’s mind because they do not have to consider my thoughts? How can I describe that, even in moments that my mind reverts from what I had to what I have I am still happy about my time on the river, my contribution to attempt to preserve it for future children of the water? These things from the heart are ineffable.
Some of us enjoy the amazing beauty, awesome silence and challenging power of the rivers a few times. Some make their living sharing the river’s tale with others. Others dance on the quicksilver ballet for a lifetime, while a few make it their life’s calling. But until the river learns to speak, all of the stories will be told by the developers and fatheads who would despoil the river’s paradise. You can study River in books and guides, experience it in groups or watch it in video presentations. All of those present some understanding of a river. But to truly understand a River, your relationship with it and responsibility to protect it, you must experience it alone devoid of the trinkets and distractions of civilization. It is during those times of solitude that your mind and heart opens wide to accept River’s secrets. From a personal perspective, I would equate solitude to – freedom. The freedom to discover yourself with no outside interference, the extreme happiness you feel when you are alone and River whispers it’s sibylline to you. And in those short moments, you understand that whether gentile and soft or crashing and foaming – without you as its partner River becomes only a tool for the fatheads who turn the wheels of civilization and see River only as a form of cash.
The Rivers have been good to me, and I can only hope that I have been good to them. Running rivers is much more than taking a boat down a river, photographing rapids and spectacular scenery. That you can run rivers, is because others have stepped up and became involved to protect and preserve them and to respond to threats and their management.
That night, on my cot, Ben’s question still hung before me. It got me to thinking most of the last night. After “the explorers” came a Golden Age of people who embraced the outdoors: climbing, mountaineering, river running, hiking and such. People who were self-taught, progressing forward with little information and “primitive” equipment. But they learned and shared, and they progressed in their skills. I, a small part toward the end of that Golden Age, now look back and see the “Golden Agers” of wild places are passing on to climb the peaks and to row the skyways of our Galaxy and beyond. The new generation of outdoors people would do well to study and absorb the special traits of those people. But that thinking is arrogant, and useless to the new generations of outdoors people, now seeking the last wild places and methods to see those places.
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What has been forgotten over the years is that freedom comes with responsibility. We have cleaner air, cleaner water than when I was young, but people fail to understand that our health and thus the future depends on complete, robust and healthy ecosystems to keep our future reasonably safe and worthwhile. I have spent 72 years trying to save places for my grandchildren and their grandchildren in order that they have that future and so they can experience the natural world somewhat as I did.
We need to understand that we can lose everything through “a thousand cuts” or gigantic projects because well-meaning people stayed silent. What can they do? These days it is hard, but a river
begins with a tiny trickle from the rocks at its headwaters.
A cold wind came up that Short Canyon night. We arrived at the Swasey’s Boat Ramp fairly early. The others helped me derig, and they loaded our gear for me. One last act I had never imagined I could not do. I once said, “The day I cannot carry or load my boat, is the day I will no longer raft.” That is why I got rid of my beautiful 275-pound Rogue 18′ raft. Sort of changing the rules so I no longer had a heavy boat. At Swasey’s take out the others loaded my boat and gear. Another nail in my river end game.
On the way home I thought: My beard is Gray And as friends pass away I long for the places we used to play But mine is the face of yesterday.
Each night, when I go to bed those memories come flooding back and I am alone on some sandy beach surrounded by the sounds of the night and of moonlight creeping down the canyon wall.