Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 10

There was a pretty good crowd clustered around Myleigh, back up in the cool shadows of Redwall Cavern, lit only by the reflections of the colorful sunlit rock across the river. This was easily the most unusual concert hall she could imagine.

Back on the tour in the spring, she and Trey had worked out a pretty good order for the regular concerts, and it opened with the pure instrumental of Inland Sea, which was also the first cut onHarp Strings. It was in intricate, exuberant piece of music which helped to showcase right from the front that this wasn’t traditional harp music. In the great acoustics and warm setting of Redwall Cavern, it got the impromptu audience’s attention, right from the beginning. As she was playing, a large private party’s rafts pulled up to the shore, and they were quickly joined by that group.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," Myleigh said quite professionally in her alto voice. "And welcome to Redwall Cavern on the Colorado River. My name is Myleigh Harris, and that wasInland Sea, from my album entitled Harp Strings. I hope that I may be able to afford you some amusement with Brown Bess, which is what I call this instrument. Brown Bess is a Celtic harp, made in France. I suppose some would say she is something of an unusual instrument. She is still a harp, however, and sounds like you would expect a harp to sound. I’ve also recorded several albums with a group of whom you may have heard, called the Boreal String Band, along with an artist by the name of Jenny Easton. As it happens, we have one of the other members of the band present with us today, a friend with whom I’ve played for many years, Randy Clark. It was through his good offices that I was first able to meet Jenny Easton. I should like to ask him to join me on one of our favorites. Considering that we are both surfers, there is a piece of surfing music that we have played together on occasion." She started to pick out the opening rhythm.

"Oh, yes," Randy smiled. "We have done that once or twice," and swung into the bass guitar lead of Pipeline, the greatest of all the old surfing instrumentals. In but a moment, both of them were rocking hard. This was serious, get-on-down, classic instrumental rock. They played it right through, rocking hard, and at the end, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was not going to be just a simple harp concert.

She went on, through a broad and eclectic range of music, some of it from Harp Strings, and some not. Trey realized that she was playing the basic show, with only a few modifications for this place. There was some great music there – Baby Elephant WalkCity of New OrleansMonth of Sundays. Randy joined in on three or four of the songs.

By the time they got down to Month of Sundays, the audience had grown larger; another motor-rig party had joined, and another private party; there were close to a hundred people gathered around. "This is the point where we usually take an intermission in the road show," Myleigh said. "I can continue, or not. I’m afraid it shall have to be the decision of the various trip leaders."

By then, the trip leaders couldn’t have gotten their people back into their rafts on a bet, and the cheering made the decision for them. "All right," Myleigh said. "In that case, I shall do the second half of the show. Normally about this point, I would make mention of the fact that CDs will be on sale in the lobby, but I fear I must confess that it won’t be possible on this trip, although you are welcome to order them on-line when the trip is over with. However, I would appreciate a brief break, so I shall ask my companion to play a couple of things."

Randy did. A acoustic bass guitar isn’t exactly a lead instrument normally, but he played a few memorable pieces anyway, the strong voice of the guitar echoing off the red sandstone – Mr. Moto,Walk Don’t Run, and finally the familiar, powerful notes of The Magnificent Seven, drawing applause of his own before Myleigh took back over.

The show ended with Dawnwalker, the simple Celtic song about an Irish fisherman’s wife walking the beach in the early morning light, looking for some sign of her husband’s boat, wondering if she was a widow or not. It had been the surprise hit from Jenny Easton’s At Home album, in which Jenny had done the vocal, but Myleigh had done the accompaniment. It was a haunting piece, drawing the audience in.

"Thank you," she said warmly as the haunting notes died away into the silence of Marble Canyon. "You’ve been a wonderful audience, here in Redwall Cavern today. Now, I imagine the trip leaders have more of this wonderful Canyon to show us, so I suppose we should be about it."

*   *   *

It was something of a madhouse getting back out on the river. There were now over twenty rafts pulled up on the shore of Redwall Cavern, parked tube to tube along the sand. Scooter had seen some crowds here, but never one this big. It had been one heck of a show, for an off-the-cuff idea she’d had, and she expected she’d be hearing about it for a while when the raft guides got together. The stop had gone a lot longer than planned, but it had been worth it. Unfortunately, she’d used up a lot of the cushion that the early start had made, and there weren’t a lot of places to stop close by.

Still, the stop had been a little frustrating for her. She’d finally got the time to shoot the shit with Jim for a bit, mostly lolling back on the rafts during the first part of the show. They’d never quite gotten alone enough for her to drop the suggestion that she might like him to come over and spend the night when they were both back in Flagstaff in a few days. Oh, well, they’d had a good discussion, and this would give them something else to talk about when the time came.

Her original idea had been to stop at Nautiloid Canyon, at Mile 35, only a couple of miles below Redwall Cavern. It was kind of a small site for the group, but would be adequate, and it did at least have a short but interesting hike up to some three-foot-long fossils of some ancient sea creatures, so she basically took it easy.

But, as they approached the place, she saw that there was a private party already there – they must have passed up the traffic jam at Redwall, she guessed. It was a small party, and she thought she recognized the group that had taken the big upper campsite at North Canyon, where she’d hoped to stop the night before. It was another couple miles to the next good campsite, and it was small and didn’t have a good hike. As the rafts drifted down river, she got the group to cluster together a little. "Let’s push on a few miles," she said. "If we can get down to Mile 41, there’s several good big sites there, and good hikes, either up Buck Farm or Bert’s Canyon. It’ll probably mean we get in a little later than I wanted to, but we’ll take a short one tomorrow to make up for a big day today. If that doesn’t work, there’s plenty of sites in the next couple miles."

They pressed on through the afternoon, still taking it fairly easy. Along the way, they passed the site where it had once been planned to put a dam in Marble Canyon, which would have filled up the wonders they’d seen since the beginning of the trip, clear back up to Lee’s Ferry. There were signs of old geologic exploration, and a single cable still hanging from an old bucket line used to raise and lower men and supplies. "I’m just glad the damn builders didn’t get to it," Al told them. Music Temple, upriver, was supposedly better than Redwall, according to Powell. But, now, it’s way under the waters of Lake Powell. Give the bastards the chance and they’d still drown this place."

*   *   *

Buck Farm Canyon looked like a pretty good day hike; it wouldn’t be fast walking, and there would be some scrambling. Even though it was along in the afternoon, once they got the rafts unloaded and campsites picked out, a number of the party – both customer and crew – headed up the side canyon to explore it, with Nicole and Scooter at the head of the line. That left only a handful in camp.

After they left, Karin and Nanci, along with a couple of the younger boatmen got the kitchen set up and got going on dinner, with the kids doing most of the work under Karin’s supervision. Although she was supposedly mostly along for the ride on this trip, she was still a boatman, and normally the head cook on the Canyon Tours trips she took. Noah remembered Karin from when he’d met her years before, a suburban mother, and still couldn’t get over the changes that had come over her since then.

The kitchen made a pretty good place to congregate, and before long most of the party not on the hike was gathered around, in spite of the noise of the propane burners heating wash water. "We’re going to be a while," Karin said over the noise. "Why doesn’t everyone get something out of a drag bag?"

"Good idea," Randy agreed. "I’ll go get one."

Noah had noticed mesh bags hanging over the backs of some of the rafts, but really hadn’t thought about it. He watched as Randy clambered over the top of one of the rafts, pulled the heavy bag out of the water, and carried it up to the kitchen. "Don’t know what we’ve got here, but it ought to be cold," he said as he untied the bag.

The contents of the bag proved to be about half Miller Genuine Draft and half Diet Pepsi. Randy traveled around the group, handing out drinks. When he got to Noah, he handed him a Diet Pepsi, without asking. "Can I trade that for an MGD?" Noah asked.

"I thought Baptist preachers didn’t drink beer," Randy laughed.

"Well, normally we don’t, but I don’t think anyone here is going to be showing up around Glen Hill Road anytime soon to tell on me," Noah smiled. "I used to enjoy having a beer once in a while, and when the choice is MGD or Diet Pepsi, well, that makes it easier."

"Which one of you bozos packed the drag bags?" Crystal growled in the general direction of the younger boatmen. "Try to mix it up a little better next time."

The shadows were starting to lengthen. Noah popped the top of the beer and took a sip – it tasted strange; it had been last summer since he’d had one, and that had been with pizza. But, yes, it did taste good, too – anything would have tasted good in this colorful place. He watched as Randy completed his rounds – extending them to Karin and the boatmen helping her in the kitchen, then hung the remnants of the drag bag back in the water. He came back and plopped down on the sand not far away.

"Isn’t Myleigh here?" Crystal asked, popping the top of her own beer can.

Noah looked around. "Don’t see her," he said. "She must have gone on the hike."

"That’s a little strange," Crystal said, a question in her voice. "I know Myleigh well enough, and her idea of a hike is a short stroll on a paved sidewalk through some city park."

"She sure isn’t Lady Tarzan, like some people we know," Randy agreed, looking around the camp. "I don’t see Trey, either, so that probably answers that."

"You think they have something going on?" Crystal smiled.

"Come on, Crystal," Randy grinned. "You saw the two of them back at Lee’s, just like I did."

Crystal remembered it well – watching her old friend erupt off the bus and dash for Trey’s arms, and plant what could only be called a seriously hot kiss on him. "Well, yeah, I saw it," she said. "I just didn’t quite believe it. And, to look at them any other time, you wouldn’t believe it, either. They look like just friends, nothing more."

Randy shrugged. "I really haven’t talked about it with Myleigh, but I did talk to Trey about it a couple of times. You ever been to Marienthal?"

"Yeah, the fall before last," Crystal said. "Kind of a neat place."

"Right," Randy agreed, a glint in his eye. "They tend to be very formal there. I don’t know if it’s the sort of thing that you’d pick up, but on campus, Trey and Myleigh are ‘Mr. Hartwell’ and ‘Dr. Harris’ to each other. What Trey told me was that he spent four years in the Army, and it affects his thinking. In the Army, officers and troops aren’t supposed to be buddies. At Marienthal, in his eyes, Myleigh is an officer and Trey is very much a troop. My impression is that they keep things covered up pretty good, but that there’s something going on there that doesn’t quite meet the eye."

*   *   *

"That’s about all we can do for now," Karin told Nanci and the two younger boatmen. "We’ll have to keep an eye on the water heating for the wash line, but we’ll have to wait for the hikers to get back before we can do much else."

"Uh, Mom," Nanci asked. "Would it be OK if I went into the river for a bit? I’d sort of like to clean up and wash my hair."

"Suit yourself," Karin said, glancing at her daughter. The bruises that had been so prominent a day before were fading a little, now; the black eye was still evident, but not quite as noticeable. "I don’t know if anyone told you, but if you’re going to wash up, you have to do it in the main river, not in one of the side streams."

"Yeah, Mom," Nanci said. "I remember Scooter saying it last night."

"Don’t get in the main current," Karin warned. "Stay in slack water or an eddy. I think I’ll check out the drag bag myself while we’re waiting."

"OK, Mom," Nanci said. "I’ll just run up and get some stuff out of my night bag."

Karin walked down to the rafts, climbed on one and worked her way to the back. She pulled in a drag bag – not the one Randy had, obviously, since this one had a lot of Bud Lights in it – and grabbed one. She got back off the raft, and plopped down on the sand with the small group. It had gotten a little on the warm side earlier in the afternoon – nothing like the oven it would be down here in a couple months, she knew – but now it was just pleasantly comfortable. She’d just settled in good and had popped the top of the beer can when Nanci came back down to the shore, carrying a towel, soap, and shampoo, and wearing a rather beat-up conservative one-piece swimsuit of an indeterminate brown. "Now, there’s something I never thought I’d see," Karin giggled to Crystal.

"You mean, Nanci in a tank suit?" Crystal grinned. "Michelle and I set her up out of the lost-and-found box, and I don’t think we could have taken ten minutes. That suit’s been kicking around in there for a couple years."

"It does look familiar, now that you mention it," Karin laughed. "Didn’t you find some two-piece suits there?"

"I know we gave her some," Crystal grinned. "They don’t match, and they’re pretty skimpy."

"Interesting," Karin said, without comment.

"I think so, too," her older daughter said. "Especially since she wouldn’t have been caught dead in a swimsuit like that five years ago. Mom, I have to say, that while it’s still only the second day, she’s taking hold better than I thought she would."

"I agree," Karin said. "She still has to be told to do something, since she doesn’t know what has to be done, but once you tell her, that’s all that’s needed. I find that rather refreshing."

"Let’s hope it means something," Crystal agreed, watching Nanci set the stuff down on the shore of the river, then step into the water.

"Gee Zow, that’s cold!!" Nanci yelled.

"Yeah, it is," Crystal yelled back at her. "You get some hot days down here and it’s the only thing that keeps you going. You don’t spend a lot of time in it, even then. Just grit your teeth and get it over with."

"If you say so, Crystal," Nanci said dubiously.

"It helps if you just hustle in and get wet," Karin told her. "The shock is worse but the agony is less."

"Uh, all right, Mom," Nanci said, taking another step or two. The slope of the bottom was steep, and by then she was in waist deep. They saw Nanci stare at the water, working up her courage, then duck down to get wet all over. "Yeeeeeee!" she yelled, on emerging. "Man, that’s cold!"

"Yeah," Crystal replied. "About forty-seven degrees. Get used to it."

"I guess I have to," Nanci said, walking back up to the shore. Now that her long blonde hair was wet, she took the shampoo and a brush, and began to brush some shampoo into it. "Why’s it so cold, running through a desert like this?"

"Because it comes out of the bottom of Lake Powell; that’s the dam just above Lee’s Ferry," Crystal told her. "It doesn’t get much warmer. Well, you get way down river in the hot months, it’s a little warmer, but when it’s hot it doesn’t feel any warmer."

"Yeah," Noah added. "One of the rivers your sister and I used to run back in Tennessee, the Nantahala, comes out of the bottom of a lake. There are times you run it on a hot summer day and there’s a layer of fog laying right above the water."

"Never gets that humid here," Crystal replied. "Which is one nice thing about this place. Even on a day that’s stinking hot, you’re not rolling in sweat. It evaporates before it can run down your face. It does mean that you have to drink a lot of fluids, though."

*   *   *

It’s a long way from the Nanty, Noah thought as he took in the scenery, occasionally glancing at Nanci working on her hair, and took another sip of his beer, which tasted amazingly good under the circumstances. As a Baptist minister, he wasn’t much of a drinker, but he thought that sometimes Baptists overdid it once in a while, so he was just as glad that he was this far from Glen Hill Road. It was still a little surprising to be in the Grand Canyon, as much as he’d agonized over the question of whether to come along and preside over the wedding that was going to happen downstream. Whatever his worries were, the scenery would be memorable, and there would be plenty of stories to tell the youth group.

Getting a free trip down the Grand Canyon had come as an unexpected surprise to him – it wasn’t the kind of thing that often happened to a young minister. And, to do it with a friend as good as Crystal – well, that made it special.

He’d never had the slightest bit of romantic entanglement with Crystal – they were pretty different people, with different attitudes, and they both knew it. Crystal was a tremendously physical person, and she enjoyed being physical. She’d admitted right from the beginning that she wasn’t much of a deep thinker, and four summers of friendship had proved it – although Noah had detected a spiritual side to her that was hard to put his finger on.

And, Crystal was a friend, indeed, although this was the first he had seen of her in several years. Maybe, except for Pastor Jordan, about as good a friend as he’d ever had. Noah knew that was a problem for him – he could be friendly, outgoing, even affable, but there was a limit to how much he’d let people into his life. Maybe that was part of the reason he was still single, he thought – there were a half dozen young female parishioners at Glen Hill Road Baptist Church who had set their sights on him. He’d dated some of them once or twice, and still was friendly with all of them – but there was something lacking in each of them and he knew it. Perhaps it was that they saw him as a minister, rather than as a person. It had been the other way around with Crystal – she hadn’t been trying to increase her Godliness by being a friend, or by wanting to be a minister’s wife.

And, it was sure that he’d never have been able to make it through the four summers as a raft guide on the Ocoee without her support. If he’d had to leave the job, well, things would have been different. He’d have never met Pastor Jordan, or wound up at Glen Hill Road, for one thing – that connection was a direct result of the incident at the Ocoee takeout ramp that day almost six years ago.

Back in his first summer as a raft guide – wow, eight years ago, he thought. Has it been that long? – he’d known beforehand that a raft guide bunkhouse was not exactly the most Christian atmosphere imaginable. In fact, it was worse than he’d believed – it went pretty far toward the other end of the scale. There was partying, drinking, drugs, fighting, and some sleeping around; not the most contemplative of atmospheres. Noah had been hassled a lot for not joining in, for being above it, for being a ministerial student. It had been pretty bad, and he’d gotten close to giving up the job; there was no point in having to live like that.

He’d gotten to know Crystal a little in that first couple of weeks there at Ocoee Adventures in Ducktown, Tennessee – mostly noticing that as one of the few girls in the bunkhouse, she tended to stay apart from the partying and noise, although she seemed to fit in better than he. She was from a Chicago suburb, and had just finished her freshman year at Northern Michigan University, where she was a phys. ed. major. She wasn’t what most people would call pretty – short brown hair, a big nose, otherwise rather plain, but she was a big girl, five-ten or so, not shapely but solidly built, and very strong.

He knew right from the beginning, too, that she wasn’t a Christian, and frankly had a rather foul mouth, even around him, although she’d keep it under control when they had church groups in the raft trips. But, she was one tough cookie with a lot of natural leadership ability; one who had an attitude that said you didn’t want to mess with her. A lot of the other raft guides held her a little in awe over what she’d done the summer before starting work: she’d attended a series of courses at the Outdoor Leadership Training Academy in Idaho. OLTA had a reputation that overshadowed a black belt; it was a combination of school and Marine boot camp. On the strength of that, she had been hired in as a regular guide, rather than a junior guide like Noah.

About the second week of the season, they’d had their rafts pulled up for a break on what’s called "The Doldrums," a sand bar about halfway down the Ocoee. They sat on one of the raft tubes, drinking sodas, while the customers stretched their legs. "Hey, Noah," she said out of nowhere, while grabbing some sun in her bikini. "Are you as sick of all the horseshit in the bunkhouse as I am?"

"Probably worse," he said. "I know I don’t have to live there, and I keep thinking I ought to look for some place by myself, even though I can’t afford it."

"Yeah, I can’t either," she told him. "But I like my sleep, too. What do you say we talk to Tom about letting us set up tents up the hill?"

"I don’t know if he’d go for it or not," he’d said glumly.

"All he can do is say no," Crystal smiled. "If he does say no, we can go set ’em up out in the National Forest somewhere."

It might have been difficult to do, for him to just do it by himself, but with the two of them, it was a lot simpler, and it had been OK with Tom. They found a pair of good camping spots a couple hundred yards up the hill from the bunkhouse. Since it was her idea, he let her have the better one, and took a smaller spot about fifty yards farther up the hill. He hadn’t had much camping gear or much money right then, but a tour of the garage sales around Ducktown in her car got him set up reasonably well. What had started as a horror soon turned into something that was an idyllic memory.

They’d lived like that during four summers; by the middle of that first summer, two other guides had joined them on the hill, and there were three or four of them most summers. Several times a week they might get together and share a dinner, and maybe a quiet little campfire – sometimes most or all of the hill people, sometimes just the two of them. Usually, they were at Crystal’s tent – she’d found a picnic table floating in the river one day, and the two of them rescued it that night and dragged it up to her camp. They talked a lot, often about his faith; she made a good listening board, and he respected that. It was pretty clear that she wasn’t ready to come to Jesus, but he knew that all things come in their own time, and he at least let her know what was involved. Their discussions made him question his own beliefs a little – well, perhaps question wasn’t the word; take them out and examine them, separating the things he really felt from the things he’d been told he should feel. Sometimes, they were rather different.

They talked about plenty of other things, too – often just shooting the bull, but occasionally serious subjects surfaced. There were problems they had in those summers, incidents on the river, and other things – but they each knew they had the other to listen to, to work out their frustrations and concerns on. Though Noah was pretty non-violent, and abhorred the notion of fighting, he was amazed to learn after the fight at the takeout ramp that Crystal was as non-violent as he, if not more so. She knew what violence was, and that made her all the more reluctant to use it – but she’d use it if she had to. They’d had several long, deep discussions about it in the days after Randy had to leave to go back north to work, and it was during those days he’d begun to discover the depth that Crystal had, the spirituality – things that she evidenced, but wouldn’t admit to. But, in those days, he’d detected more than just the boisterous, fun-loving friend that he’d thought she was till then.

She was a girl, and a friend, but never a girlfriend – but they could keep it on that level. She had a personal code of conduct that helped keep it that way. He knew that she slept around a little, never more than once or twice a summer, never with one of the other Ocoee Adventures guides or a customer, but usually with a guide from one of the other raft companies. She was up-front about it, and not ashamed – "Nothing serious, just a little sport fucking," she once told him. And, a little to his surprise, he could understand – he’d wished her a good time, perhaps with a little envy.

But, they’d never approached each other, and both were just as happy to keep it that way, for each respected who the other was. She’d kissed him just once, at the end of the summer of their last year at Ducktown, on the last day before she headed back to NMU, where she had to put in an extra semester to get her degree. It wasn’t a hot, sexy kiss, just two friends saying goodbye, probably forever. He’d known at that moment that he’d miss her friendship, and was pretty sure she’d miss his, too. He’d come out of his four summers as a raft guide a better, stronger person than he’d been when he started, and Crystal had been the catalyst for a lot of it.

He’d had an extra year of school himself; during that year, Pastor Jordan had asked him to come join him at Glen Hill Road. It was as good a position as he could ask for right out of school. The first year was exciting, and he didn’t think about rafting much. When the second spring had rolled around and a call from Crystal came out of nowhere, asking him to come join her for a free trip with Canyon Tours in exchange for doing a wedding ceremony, it had left an itch behind that was hard to scratch. When he took it out and examined it, he realized that he’d been missing the rafting, the outdoors . . . and yes, he’d been missing a friend like Crystal. In spite of his doubts, it was good to see her again.

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