"Youíve already told me it wouldnít have worked," Noah smiled.
"I guess Iíll never know, will I?" she said bitterly. "Yeah, it might not have worked. I can delude myself into believing it would, anyway. Randyís bent a lot for her, put up with a lot of unhappiness for her sake. Sometimes he hasnít gotten a lot in return, and he probably would have done it for me, too. I can tell myself it probably wouldnít have worked, but . . . Noah, you know I used to sleep around a little. Nothing like Nanci, but a little for fun."
"The term you used was Ďsportfuckingí," Noah grinned. "I remember you telling me a time or two. I even remember wishing you a good time, even envying you a little."
"Itís all in the past," Crystal told him. "The last time I was in bed with a man was with Randy, four years ago, the night after we climbed Katahdin at the end of my AT hike. You donít know how many times Iíve thought that all I would have had to have said that night was something like, ĎOK, letís get married,í and Iíd have had a ring on my finger so fast it would have made my head swim. But, shit, itís all water down the river, now."
"No dates, or anything?"
"Not really," she told him. "Oh, when Scooter and I get out in the winter, weíll go somewhere with a gang, but thatís just fun and it never got serious. See, thereís another problem. I rarely get to know anyone very well who isnít a customer, and itís kind of a personal policy that I donít mess with the customers."
"You did it the same way on the Ocoee," he commented.
"Yeah," she nodded. "But . . . well, last winter, when Scooter and Michelle and I got to talking about it, we pretty well agreed that if we were going to get married, the only way we could manage a husband and the Canyon was if the husband was another Canyon bum like us. Unfortunately, right now there are only two guys in the company who might even be candidates, and theyíre both out of the question, so we got to thinking that we were going to have to find the right Canyon bum in one of the other companies. Then, we did that Park Service trip this spring, and we met this one guy who acts like a candidate. Heís one of the guys on that GCR trip that we met back up at Redwall Cavern. I think heís OK, but Scooter sort of has the hots for him, and, well, fine if she does."
"You donít mind?" he said thoughtfully.
"Like I said, Jim is OK," she said. "Heís a fun guy to be around, but I donít think Iíd want to marry him, if you know what I mean. You ever have something like that happen to you?"
"Yeah," he nodded, realizing that Crystal had been carrying a lot of the conversation. Well, that was fine; he was playing listening ear, and she was a friend. At one time, maybe as good a friend as heíd ever had. Maybe she would be a good person to reveal a few of his own concerns to. "You have to understand, a single young minister, well, there are a lot of women in the church who would sort of like to marry a minister. If I really wanted to get interested in them, it wouldnít be any too much of a trick to get serious."
"But, you havenít," she said. "Any reason why?"
"Crystal, thatís hard to answer," he said, looking off at the view down the river. This was a problem of his own, and he really hadnít confronted it the way Crystal had hers. "Letís just say that religion gets involved."
"Itís sort of supposed to, when youíre a minister," she snickered.
"Well, yeah," he said. "You know what I really liked about you, back while we were on the Ocoee? We were pretty different, Crystal. Why did we become pretty good friends?"
"I donít know," she shrugged. "We just seemed to get along, in spite of our differences. Iíd been living with Myleigh for years, and she and I are a lot more different than you and I are."
"I canít speak for you," he said. "I mean, I donít think you ever saw me as a ministerial student. You knew I was one, of course, but that wasnít why you liked me. We were just fellow guides, friends who liked our peace and quiet. We could talk about things without trying to overawe each other, examine each otherís viewpoints without trying to convert each other."
"Well, yeah," she said. "I mean, I knew you were a ministerial student, but I didnít know how to handle that, so I just tried to approach you as a friend."
"Thatís the point," he said. "All these women see me as a minister, first. Maybe Iím being sarcastic, but it seems to me most of them want to use me to increase their Godliness. Iím all too aware that Iím a sinner, just like everyone else, and I have to deal with my own salvation too."
"Yeah," she nodded slowly. "I can see how that could be a load for you to have to carry."
"Itís starting to be a problem," he said. "I mean, socially and culturally in the church, Iím getting to an age and a position where I really should be married. Donít get me wrong, I like what Iím doing now. Iím working with kids, helping them to sort out some of the problems of growing up, of how to be real Christians in a world of sinners. But, Iím starting to get a little senior for the job Iím in. In a few days, Iíll have been there for four years, and thatís about twice as long as Pastor Jordan has kept a youth pastor in the past. Now, while Pastor Jordan and I are good friends, he has sort of hinted more than once that itís time I ought to be looking for a church of my own. It wouldnít be a huge church like Glen Hill, obviously, and it most likely would be some small thing Ė a neighborhood church or a country church, somewhere. Itíd be even harder to be single in an atmosphere like that, and it doesnít solve the problem of some woman seeing me as a minister first and a human second."
"Youíre getting kind of stuck, huh?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "And, the problem is only going to get worse as time goes on. I can probably stay where Iím at for a while yet, but I can see that the decision is going to have to be that Iím out of there pretty soon, too."
"You mean about getting a church of your own?"
He let out a sigh of his own. "Crystal, my parents died in that car accident when I was little. I told you about that a long time ago, back on the Ocoee. My aunt and uncle took me in, but, well, it was hard. The youth pastor in our church took me under his wing; did things for me that my aunt and uncle didnít know how to do, and I guess I decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps. That was how I wound up at Tennessee Baptist; it was where he went. He was sort of how I wound up at Ocoee Adventures, too Ė he knew Tom down there, I guess from high school, and sent a letter of introduction. So, yeah, Iíve followed in his footsteps, Iíve helped out some kids to pass on the favor. Like I said, Pastor Jordan and I are friends. Iíve learned a lot from him, most of it good. One of the things Iíve learned is that itís very difficult to do a job like his, and do it right Ė not to just be the leader of the church, but to be a constructive part of the community, as well. Heís a fine man, Crystal, and I really have doubts that I can live up to his standards. It all needs some thinking about, and some praying about."
"Well," Crystal smiled. "Itís good to know that Iím not the only one who has some doubts about where the future is leading. I know this is kind of changing the subject on you, but how do you think itís going with Nanci?"
"Pretty good," Noah told her. "Understand that our talks have to be pretty much confidential, like you and me talking. But, I will say that she realizes that she has sinned, at least in her eyes, and she seems pretty repentant of her sins. I know it sounds like Iím putting it in a religious sense, but Iím trying to not approach it that way with her."
"If it goes that direction, fine with me," Crystal told him.
"People are either ready to listen, or theyíre not," he replied. "If theyíre not ready to listen, you can talk yourself blue in the face and they wonít hear."
"Boy, ainít that the truth," Crystal grinned. "Noah, Iím really glad you listened to me just now. I donít know if it solved anything, but it was just good to talk it out."
"The same for me to you," he replied. "And I hope Nanci is seeing it the same way. I donít want to make any predictions about how things will go with her. She is going to be tempted to return to her old ways; I can tell you that, especially once the shock of the last few days wears off. Thatís when youíre really going to have to reach out to her. Your problem, our problem, is to build something and someone for her to reach out to, to hold onto, when those temptations come. Again, using the church as an analogy. Down in our neck of the woods, especially, you get these big revival meetings. Guys like Billy Graham are an even bigger deal. Now, suppose someone goes to a Billy Graham Crusade, sees the light, and gives himself to the Lord to be saved. Well and good, right? But, even saved, heís still a sinner, and if he doesnít have some support in turning from his sinful ways, heís going to go back to them. From my viewpoint, when someone is saved, he needs to be taken into a church, not necessarily our church, but at least a church, so heíll have some support, confidence, friendship and fellowship to help him reinforce that decision. All too often, evangelists donít bother with that little detail, because they like to see the raw numbers. You and your family are facing the same exact problem with Nanci."
"I realize that," Crystal told him. "It makes it difficult, since whatever happens is going to pretty much have to come from Mom and Al and me. Jon and Tanisha are OK, but they have pretty full plates of their own, and theyíre not going to be in a position to sit on her when she needs to be sat on."
"Could be," Noah smiled. "They have a pretty close marriage, donít they?"
"Noah, Iíve never seen two people that close," Crystal said. "Oh, we get newlyweds down here who act that close, but Jon and Tanisha are going on four years like that, and theyíve gotten nothing but closer in the last couple of years. It scares me a little. I mean, thereís a part of me that would like to be married, but Iím not sure I want to be that married."
"Works for them," Noah smiled.
"Yeah, it does," Crystal said. "Itís kind of an interesting story about how they got that way. Maybe somewhere down the river I can get them to tell you about it, but thereís a lot of paranoia involved. Frankly, a lot of it is justified." She let out a sigh. "Noah, Iíve got a question. Nothing serious."
"As I see it, weíve got a choice. We can get up, work our way down to the rafts, crack open a drag bag and maybe sin a little with a beer or two. Or, we can sit up here, take in the view, and just shoot the shit for a while like we used to do down along the Ocoee."
"A beer would taste good," Noah grinned. "But Iíd much rather sit here with you and talk about whatever we find ourselves talking about."
"Funny," she smiled. "I was hoping youíd say that."
* * *
Dinner was well under way by the time Noah and Crystal made it back to the camp. It had been a good discussion, a good time, just getting to know each other again after several years apart. Crystal stopped by the kitchen area and offered to help out, but Karin and Nanci and a couple of the boatmen had things pretty well under control, or at least as under control as they could get before the hikers got back.
Noah headed over to get his sleeping area set up for the night, while Crystal looked around, mostly looking for Myleigh. Sheíd hoped to be able to spend some time with her, too, on this trip, but so far it hadnít worked out that way.
For four years theyíd been the closest of friends, only separated during the summer, when Crystal went to work at Ocoee Adventures in Tennessee, while Myleigh stayed at Marquette to work at the school. The start of fall terms had been like coming home, for both of them. But then, Myleigh graduated, and in the years since, they had seen each other only rarely.
So, Crystal had been looking forward to spending some time with her old friend in this place she had come to love, the Grand Canyon. It wasnít going to be perfect; it was a working trip for Crystal, and a somewhat hectic one at that. While a boatmanís life might be full of adventure and magnificent scenery, it was also long days of a lot of work and some degree of danger, made worse by the abnormal schedule, some unexpected events, and the crowd of other friends and relatives Ė not to mention the strange tensions of her parents, both her real parents, getting married on this trip.
It would be good to kick back and spend a few hours with Myleigh, like sheíd just done with Noah Ė but Myleigh was nowhere to be seen.
Crystal knew that Myleigh wasnít much of a hiker; it had been surprising to see her make the hike up to the granaries, and sheíd even scuttled out across the narrow ledge and took in the view. But, Crystal clearly remembered her starting back down with the rest of the group while she and Noah stayed behind. It was hard to believe that Myleigh had gone with the group up Nankoweap Creek, on what would be a more difficult hike. It had been Scooter and Nicoleís idea, which pretty well said that it was going to be a serious hike, and a lot of people had stayed back.
Well, anyone else then? Randy was out sitting on the back of a raft, a short fishing pole in hand, casting out into the river. Crystal was still a little reluctant to get much one-on-one time in with Randy, at least without Nicole around, but in a group like this, a friendly little discussion wouldnít hurt. Besides, there was something she needed to talk over with Randy. With that thought in mind, she went out, climbed onto the raft and pulled up a drag bag. "Catching anything?" she asked.
"Actually, doing pretty good," Randy said. "Just throwing them back, Iím using barbless hooks. Iím really not much into fishing, but that was one thing from last time. I decided if I ever did this trip again, Iíd bring a fish pole. This is really the first chance Iíve had to use it."
"I donít fish," Crystal told him, "but on most of the trips, I notice that people catch more fish above Phantom than they do below. I donít know if thatís really the case, or what."
"Ah, just something to do," he told her. "Iím just glad I donít have to live on fish, or Iíd be in trouble."
"I figured youíd go on the hike with Nicole," she said.
"Didnít feel like it," he said. "When I go out hiking, I go for the fun of it. Nicoleís like you when it comes to hiking. She gets out and goes for the throat. I just didnít feel like working that hard this afternoon."
"Nicole seems to be taking to the rafting pretty good," Crystal said. "I havenít been paying a lot of attention, but it looks like sheís on the sticks a fair amount."
"Yeah, that part of it has worked out," Randy said. "Iím still worried about what happens when we get down to the big stuff."
"Any more talk about hiking out the Tanner?"
"It hasnít come up," Randy said. "Scooter said sheís planning on stopping at Tanner tomorrow, so I suppose weíve got another day to think about it."
"Might want to be a little ahead of it," Crystal told him. "I figure thereís only maybe a fifty-fifty chance that we get to stop overnight at Tanner. You might want to make up your mind before then. In theory you probably could hike out the Hance Trail, but youíd have to run Unkar and Nevills first."
"True," he said. "You ever hiked either of them?"
"No," Crystal said. "Even considering itís Scooter and me running loose in the winter, we really havenít done much hiking down in this place. From what I hear, the Tanner is probably an easier walk out than the Hance, but neither of them are the Bright Angel, if you know what I mean."
"I donít want to walk out at all," he said. "But really, itís her decision. And, yeah, sheís gonna have to make up her mind pretty soon."
"Youíll about have to," she told him, "at least if youíre going to get your gear together. Itís a pretty good haul down there, so itíd be along in the afternoon before you got started. Youíd probably have to bivouac before you hit the rim."
"Maybe we wonít have to walk out," Randy said. "Look, donít tell anyone, especially not her, but Iíve got an ace in the hole. Iíve got a bottle of tranquilizers in my day bag. I donít want Nicole to get depending on them for the whole trip, but I thought maybe if push comes to shove, I could get her to dose up through Upper Granite Gorge."
"Thatís a thought," Crystal said. "Itís not easy to walk Hance and Sockdolager and Grapevine, but once we get below Phantom, it wouldnít be any trick for her to walk the rest of them."
"My thinking exactly," Randy said. "I know weíre meeting the hike-ins at Phantom, but whatís the plan after that?"
"Basically, weíre going to stop the first place below there we can get into," Crystal said. "Probably either Horn Creek or Granite."
"Yeah, by then the worst of it would be over with," Randy said. "Look, Iím not going to tell her about the Hance Trail, but I will offer her the option of the tranquilizers. You think she could walk those big ones above Phantom if she had to?"
"Probably," Crystal said. "Some of them are stuff that just anybody wouldnít want to walk, but sheís a good climber and hiker. Wherever we stop, weíll just have to get a good start. Weíre committed to being at Phantom a little after noon to meet the hike-ins. Weíll probably just load them up and go."
"Iíll get her off to the side," he said. "Maybe after dinner, and put it to her," he said. "Doing some rowing, even in some small rapids, has given her some confidence. Maybe we can make this thing work without walking out."
"Sorry, Randy," Crystal shook her head. "If Iíd known it was going to be this big a problem Iíd have had second thoughts about asking."
"Donít be sorry," he said. "I wanted to come, and I want her to have a good time. If this hike went well, she may be more up for it."
"There is that," she said. "Hey, do you know if Myleigh went on the hike?"
"Myleigh?" Randy frowned. "I canít imagine her going off on a hike with power hikers like Nicole and Scooter."
"Me either," Crystal told him. "But, I donít see her around."
"Now that you mention it, I havenít either," he agreed. "Wonder where sheís off to . . . hey, there she is."
"Where?" Crystal asked.
"Over on that ridge above the rapids, just above those tammies."
Crystal glanced over in that direction, to see Myleigh tentatively walking toward camp, harp case in her hand. "Ah, thatís it," she said. "She probably just wanted to get away from camp to practice a bit."
* * *
The sun was far below the rim of the Canyon to the west, and even the light in the sky was fading when they finished with dinner and got the after-dinner chores done. Scooter set the fire pan out on the beach, and got a bundle of wood from one of the rafts for the evening fire.
As always, the fire was not large Ė it was difficult to carry very much wood, but it was always cheery, and was already becoming a tradition on the trip. Once it was blazing, she sat down cross-legged on the sand, while most of the rest of the group gathered around, most of them with a can from a drag bag in hand. "One of the things that happens down here," she told them, "is that you lose track of time, even get lost on what day of the week it is, or what the date is. Weíre on river time, and itís a time of its own. Frankly, when Iím not leading a trip, I donít care much about what day it is. However, when youíre a trip leader, itís a little bit more important, since we donít want to show up at Diamond Creek a couple days early, or worse, a couple days late."
"Happened to me, once, years ago," Al said. "I wasnít leading the trip, and it was in the days before we had the meals quite as organized as they are now, but we were a day early getting to Diamond Creek. Weíd just flat lost track of time. I say Ďwe,í even though I wasnít officially leading the trip."
"Who was it?" Scooter asked. "Louise?"
"Yeah," Al said sheepishly. "It was years ago, but fortunately thereís stuff to do around there, so it wasnít too bad. But, after that, I instituted daily trip reports, just to help the trip leader keep track."
"Right," Scooter grinned. "He does insist that they get filled out every day, too. Theyíre not elaborate, just where we stopped, any incidents, what meals we had, like that. But I always figured that filling in the date was the important part, and Al just proved it to me. Now, the reason that I brought this up at all is that since we started on an odd day for us, and weíre running on a different schedule, itís even easier to lose track of the day, but my entry in the trip report tonight told me that itís Sunday. Now, with that thought in mind, thereís someone Iíd sort of like to ask to say a few words, whatever comes to mind, since Sunday is a big day for him. Isnít it, Noah?"
"This is Sunday?" he frowned.
"Afraid so," Scooter told him. "You donít have to do anything heavy, but it is sort of appropriate."
"Give me a minute to think," he said. "You sort of sprung this on me." He stared at the fire for a moment, looking at the flames leaping.
"You can handle it," Scooter grinned. "I heard some pretty good sermons off the cuff down on the Ocoee."
"Well, all right," he said, then began in a warm voice, "as most of you know, Iím a Baptist. Now, we Baptists have a certain soft spot for a guy by the name of John the Baptist. John was something of a wild man, living in the wilderness of Judea. As we look at the Canyon, the wilderness of Johnís day probably wasnít much of a wilderness by comparison, but it was certainly enough wilderness for their purpose. John lived out there, eating locusts and wild honey, wearing leather clothes, and preaching repentance of sin, and baptism to wash those sins away. One day Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized. That baptism is generally taken to be the start of Jesusí ministry. But, rather than going right out and seeking disciples, Jesus walked out into the wilderness himself, and stayed there for forty days of fasting and contemplation, forty days of temptation.
"I was thinking today about Jesus seeking the chance for contemplation out there in the wilderness, especially while I was sitting up there at the granaries this afternoon and looking out over this place. I donít know a great deal about Native American beliefs, and far less about what the Anasazi beliefs must have been. But, I do know that many Native American tribes, and tribal people all over the world, for that matter, have a tradition of a young person going out into the wilderness for contemplation, for meditation, for reaching decisions about where their life was taking them. Today, we call that a Ďvision quest.í and it struck me today that those words really are a pretty good description of what Jesus was doing out there in the wilderness of Judea.
"I canít believe that the hills and canyons that we see around us tonight havenít been the scenes of vision quests in the past. Though thereís no way of telling, it would be nice to believe that those who sought visions here found the ones they were looking for, eight hundred years ago or whenever it was.
"But that leads to the question of what weíre doing out here. Most of us, most of the time, are using our vision on this trip to see wonderful things, but I canít help but believe that many of us are out here on a sort of vision quest of our own. Why else would we seek out the wilderness, the solitude, the peace? Back in our lives beyond the rim there are many distractions, TVs, telephones, other people, and other things to do. Down here, itís just the few of us and the Canyon. Distractions are far away. There is a world out there, and weíve deliberately turned our backs on it to seek the wilderness. Perhaps weíre looking for direction in our lives, perhaps a hint about what weíre to do, or the chance to think things out, to make sense of them, and the simplicity of the wilderness may prove to be a good place to find them. Things do seem simpler, here, more quiet, more pristine Ė and closer to God. For really, isnít that what a vision quest is all about Ė to seek to hear the voice of God? Heís speaking to every one of you, perhaps through my words, perhaps not. You have but to listen to hear it.
"Many people think that itís the job of a minister to intercede with God for you. I donít think it is. I think the job of a minister is to be a teacher, and the most important thing we have to teach is to develop your own personal relationship with God. I could go into things like beliefs, sin and repentance, salvation and eternity, but youíve probably heard all that before, and you will have the chance to hear it again. But, for now, take this advantage of being in the wilderness for your own personal vision quest. We have several days remaining on this trip, at least those of us who are guests. The crew will have several months for their own vision quests. But, I urge you, sometime in the next few days, get off by yourself, perhaps someplace by the river, perhaps some hill overlooking it. Put the hustle and bustle of camp life behind you; try to free your mind of concerns of the trip and concerns beyond the rim. Just sit back; take in the handiwork of God; listen to his voice in your mind. Pray, if you are of a mind to do it, for youíll feel closer yet to Him, for here, more than most places, the evidence of God is all about you."
There was silence, as his words died out into the night. The sound of thinking was heavy around the campfire in the lowering darkness a few yards below Nankoweap Rapids. After the long afternoon sheíd spent with him up by the granaries, Crystal thought she recognized the reflection of some of the thoughtís sheíd shared with him Ė and that heíd shared with her. Even at the time theyíd been talking up there, she realized that there were some things that he wasnít telling her, that maybe he didnít want to admit to himself. It was vaguely troubling. Back when sheíd gotten to know him well, in the days on the Ocoee, he always seemed to have his life and his hopes Ė and yes, his faith Ė pretty well in order. Oh, there were problems with living that faith in an atmosphere like that, sheíd remembered. But, once the two of them had moved to their camps up the hill from the bunkhouse, heíd always seemed serene, above the common run of problems, always a strong shoulder to lean on in times of troubles. Now, she wasnít so sure that was the case anymore, and she wished there was something she could say that would straighten out his thinking the way heíd straightened out hers, so many times before.
"I donít know," Scooter said softly into the silence around the fire. "Maybe itís just as well I didnít give you the chance to think about that ahead of time. If Iíd given you some warning, you might not have done as well. Sorry I put you on the spot there, Noah."
"No problem," he smiled at her. "It wasnít anything I hadnít been thinking about, anyway."