Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 19

When Randy and Nicole made it back down to the beach – later than they’d intended, but enjoyably so – they found the rest of the rafts just pulling in, with people getting out. It was just as well that they’d pulled the two rafts that came early up to the bitter end of the beach, because rafts lined the little beach from end to end. They heard Al yell, "Yo, everyone. Gather around and listen up!"

The babble of voices died down, and some people gathered in close. "We got several things to do here," he continued, once there was a semblance of quiet. "The wedding is one of ’em, of course, but because of the people hiking out and some other stuff, we’ve got to get some reorganization done, too. Now, you can see that this is an awful tiny beach, and there just ain’t gonna be room enough for everybody to sleep here tonight. Now there are some people from Dave and Mary’s trip who are going to hike out with the group from Bass tomorrow. So, what we’re going to do is have a light lunch, then open up all the rafts and unload stuff, so we switch gear around for the rest of the trip. If you’re gonna hike out, or continue on Crystal’s trip, leave your stuff here. Then, we’ll reload the gear for those who are going on with Dave and Mary. There’s a little campsite right across the river there, and it shouldn’t be any trick to get over to it. Dave and Mary’s group can go over, get set up for the night, and at least some of the rafts will ferry those who are here for the wedding back over here. After the wedding, everybody else over there will get dinner. That way, we can all leave separately in the morning, and that’ll cut down the confusion then. It’ll be a little crowded for those on Scooter and Crystal’s trip, but it won’t last long. Does that make sense to everyone?"

It made a lot of sense to Crystal, even though she hadn’t heard about this before. The plan, as far as she had known, was that everyone was just going to crowd together here. This new plan would make it a lot less crowded. But, she realized what Al was up to – it would get the rowdy Laughlin bunch across the river and keep them there. It was probably something he’d cooked up on the way down, Sneaky, Dad, sneaky.

Things were a little confusing there for a while, but at least most of the gear was marked, so it wasn’t too bad. The biggest hassles were on rafts where boatmen were changing; they all had their own gear, and each of them had their own way they liked to have things arranged so they’d know where to find them. It took a while to set up, and that was why a raftsman usually stayed with a given raft for the season. But, Crystal was going to be staying with her raft for the season, and it was already set up, so she didn’t need to be a part of the confusion.

Scooter and Mike were switching stuff around on what had been Scooter’s raft, but Crystal decided to just stay out of the way. It was a down moment for her. Since Crystal had been working with Canyon Tours she’d become nearly as close a friend with Scooter as she had been with Myleigh. She’d known Scooter for a while, hiking part of the Appalachian Trail with her, and rafting with her on the Ocoee, although they worked for different companies. The two were very alike – Scooter was a couple years older, a little smaller, a little coarser, but both were strong and rough and scruffy and liked adventure and good times; both were happy with what they were doing, and hoped to spend the rest of their lives doing it. Because of the profusion of friends and relatives on the trip, Crystal had been able to press the job of trip leader on her friend to ease her own load a little, on the first half of this trip. But tomorrow at Bass Camp, Scooter would be among the group to take the long hike to the rim and head back to Flagstaff to start another trip in a few days. It would be hard to watch her leave; for the next four months, Crystal would be running a week ahead of Scooter, and probably wouldn’t see her again until Canyon Tours broke back down into two crews in the fall. It was going to be a lot harder to run without her friend, but there was nothing that could be done about it, either. Pretty much what they had to say had already been said, except for the goodbye that would take place the next morning.

So, Crystal tried to make herself useful where she could with the shifting gear around, and was helping get stuff organized in the kitchen for the big dinner that would come later, when she heard Mary say from close by, "Crystal, can we talk a minute?"

She looked up, to see Mary standing with a dispirited-looking young couple, probably about her age, or maybe younger. The guy was about her height, with sandy hair; the woman was small and Oriental, with long black hair. "Sure, I’m just trying to look busy," she replied.

"Can we maybe get away from the crowd a little?" Mary asked.

"Sure," Crystal said, looking around. There weren’t a lot of places to go that were away from people, but a little sand spit over in front of her raft looked like about the best place, so she led the three others over there. "Got a problem?" she asked.

"Yeah," Mary said. "This is Ben and Joy Russell," Mary explained. "They want to walk out the Bass Trail tomorrow, and I don’t think they should."

"We didn’t plan on it," Ben said quietly, "but Vance and JeanAnn have already ruined this trip for us, so we just want to get out of here."

"JeanAnn?" Crystal frowned. "That’s the loudmouthed fat broad?"

"Yeah," Mary sighed. "I don’t know why she and Vance seem to think they have to be so obnoxious to Ben and Joy, but they’ve been on their case since they got off the bus."

"Since we left Las Vegas," Joy said, tears rolling down her face. "We’re here on our honeymoon, and all we get is dirty jokes and made fun of. I don’t want to take that anymore. It’s not worth it."

"Mixed race marriage part of it?" Crystal surmised.

"Yeah," Joy said. "I’m damn tired of all the slant-eye stuff."

"You think you want to walk out?" Crystal said, glancing down at the sandals they wore. "That’s a steep trail, and unmaintained. That the best shoes you got?"

"Yeah," Ben said.

"You don’t want to try it," Crystal said flatly. "Look, I hate to see your honeymoon screwed up. We’re gonna be running light, you’re welcome to shift over to my trip."

"I thought you might say that," Mary smiled. "But shouldn’t we run it by Al?"

"Naw," Crystal grinned. "He’s got enough to deal with right now. I’ll square it with him later. Look, Ben, Joy; I should tell you that most of the people in this group, at least once we leave Bass, are pretty much friends on the outside. Most of us know each other pretty well, so you’re gonna seem like outsiders. But everybody’s pretty friendly, even though some of us are a little screwy, but there aren’t any yahoos. I’ll pass the word quietly to try and include you in if you want to come with us."

"You’re sure this is going to be all right?" Ben asked.

"Never had it happen before," Crystal said. "But then, we’ve never had a chance like this before, either. I think I can speak for Dad in saying that we don’t like people to get their trips ruined, and especially on your honeymoon. Sorry you had a tough first half of the trip, but we’ll try and make it up to you on the second half."

"What do you think, hon?" Ben asked Joy.

"There isn’t going to be any more of that mixed-race stuff, I hope," she said tentatively.

"Not with this bunch," Crystal grinned. She looked around for a moment, and then pointed up into the tamarisks. "You see that white guy with the black gal over there? They’re my brother and sister-in-law."

"Oh," she said in a small voice, a grin of enlightenment coming over her face. "I think we ought to do it, then. I didn’t really want to walk out, but I want to stay around those people even less."

"Thanks, Crystal," Mary said. "I guess I owe you one."

"Yeah," Crystal agreed. "Look, you gonna have any more who might want to come over?"

"I don’t think so," Mary said. "I think everyone else either has wheels in Vegas, or pretty tight travel arrangements. Of course, if the word of this gets around, there might be."

"That going to be a problem for you?" Crystal asked Ben and Joy. "We made this run out of Phoenix and Flagstaff, there won’t be a bus going to Vegas."

"It’d work just fine," Ben grinned. "We’re from Phoenix. We flew to Vegas to get married. We don’t have to be back till late the fourteenth."

"Should be able to make it work, then," Crystal said, doing some thinking. "Mary, we’re gonna have a pretty good load as far as Bass," she said after a second. "I think if we get any more, you’d better figure on slipping us one of your rafts, too, at least for tomorrow morning."

"Yeah," Mary nodded. "Why don’t I just send a raft and a boatman over in the morning, partly loaded with gear but no passengers? They can stay at Bass till we get down to pick them up."

"That’d work," Crystal agreed.

"Let’s just keep this quiet," Mary said to Ben and Joy. "You two leave your stuff here. If anyone asks, you’re hiking out. If the opportunity arises, maybe I can shove it down someone’s throat. Does that sound all right?"

"Tell you what," Crystal said. "See that little side canyon back up at the other end of camp? There’s a nice little waterfall about half an hour up it. It’s an easy walk, we were just up there. If you were to walk hand and hand up there, maybe wait around a little, by the time you get back down, Mary should have those jokers over on the other side of the river. If anyone asks, you can just tell them you missed the boat."

"Thanks, Crystal," Joy smiled gratefully, her tears all but dried up now. "Sorry this had to happen."

"No," Crystal told them. "Canyon Tours is sorry this had to happen, and we’re gonna try and make it right for you."

"Look, Ben, Joy. I’m sorry this had to happen, too," Mary said. "But we got lucky. This is the first time since I’ve been working for Canyon Tours that we’ve had two parties together, so we could pull a switch like this. I don’t know Crystal’s friends real well, but I’ve met some of them, and I think you’ll have a good time."

"Why don’t you two go get your stuff, haul it over here," Crystal suggested. "Then, go take a hike."

"Sure will," Ben said, a grin on his face, now. "Thanks again. See you in a bit." They headed up the beach to the pile of gear that had been unloaded off of the Team 1 rafts.

Crystal shook her head as she watched them go. "Mary, you gonna have more problems with that Laughlin bunch?" she asked. "Or do you want me to gather up Al and Michelle and Randy and go reason with them?"

"Probably better not," Mary grinned. "If the stories I hear about you and Randy are true, we’d have to be calling in a chopper for all the busted heads. I don’t think Al needs that today. We’ll make do, Crystal. Maybe without Ben and Joy to snipe at, Vance and JeanAnn will keep it down a little." She let out a sigh. "We can hope, anyway. I don’t know the whole story on those two, but they’re basically good kids, although a little on the quiet side. I think they eloped and came down here to hide out, as much as anything."

*   *   *

It was only the third time that Karin had made the scramble up the rock face immediately above the camp. The first time had been a few months short of twenty-seven years before, and what happened there changed her life – changed it several times over. The second time she’d made the climb, almost a year and a half ago now, her life changed again, even more than she’d imagined, although she’d at least had some inkling that changes were coming. Now, she started up the face again, knowing that it would be the scene of yet another huge change in her life, but content with the knowledge. It was a four-hand scramble to get up the rock face, not terribly difficult as climbs in the Canyon go, but she remembered well the fear of falling that she’d had the first time, half a lifetime before. Now, the handholds and footholds came easily. Still, she was glad to make it up to the little ledge a couple of body lengths above the sands, the river deep and dark nearly twenty feet below. Once again, she slid sideways on the ledge, her face to the rock as it bent away from the river. The ledge soon became wider, almost wide enough to walk straight ahead. The ledge soon came to an end, but a couple of careful steps on good footholds took her to another ledge, this one wider, which wound its way upward, and soon, it was just a simple trail, one that called for careful walking, but no more.

As she climbed, people followed, in no particular order. As she was stepping onto the second ledge, Michelle swung her pack frame onto her shoulders, with a triangular harp case strapped to it, and started up the rock face as if it was a walk down any sidewalk in Flagstaff. Myleigh followed behind her, wearing only her black bikini, moving carefully among the footholds and handholds – she wasn’t a climber, but this wasn’t too difficult. Behind her was Nicole, carrying a daypack stuffed full, and then Randy, his guitar slung over his back, followed by several more people.

In a few minutes, the head of the group was in a wider spot. They passed a Navajo pictograph – a man shooting a bow at a black-hatted horseman who was firing a pistol at the Navajo. Nearby, there was a larger-than-life Anasazi pictograph of a figure standing behind a huge reddish shield that looked like the chest protector of an umpire. Many people stopped for a brief look at the ‘Baseball Man,’ as the few river guides who made it up here called it, but they then followed the line on upward through a narrow little wash, then up a steeper climb to a flat expanse of exposed stone. They turned another little corner, and they were there. In the towering wall, nature had formed a cavernous amphitheater, fifty feet deep, a bit wider, maybe seventy feet from floor to ceiling. A live seep high up the cliff supplied enough water to grow an assortment of ferns and moss, and to form a shallow water pocket perhaps six feet across and a foot or more deep. On a ledge a few feet above this pool an Anasazi family had built their house – the roof gone but the walls, protected here from wind and weather, were at least partly intact.

Here, the head end of the party came to a stop, just as the tail end of it was leaving the beach. Given the location, a lot of the formalities and traditions normal in such a situation weren’t present. The bride, for example, did at least wear white, but it was a white blouse and white shorts that didn’t quite come close to matching. The groom, when he appeared several people behind her, wore jeans and a Canyon Tours T-shirt, and went over to stand next to the bride near the end of the water pocket, as people kept filing into the tiny spot. "You ever figure it’d wind up like this, when we were up here in ’74?" he grinned to the bride.

"Never in my wildest dreams," she replied. "Funny how things work out, isn’t it?"

Shortly after the groom arrived, Michelle appeared with the harp, setting her backpack down and unstrapping it from the pack frame. Myleigh and Nicole were right behind her; Nicole set her daypack down, opened it, and handed Myleigh a package wrapped in clear plastic. It took a little ripping to get the package opened, but from it, Myleigh produced a blue evening gown, sparkly with sequins, and slipped it over her head.

"Myleigh," the groom grinned. "I think you’re upstaging the bride."

"Someone must lend a sense of propriety to the proceedings," the small, dark-haired woman grinned.

A couple minutes later, Randy arrived carrying the guitar. He stopped and set it down, and Nicole handed him a plastic-wrapped package. It turned out to be a white shirt; he put it on, buttoned it up, and then followed it with a tie. From the waist up, he looked almost formal himself, but the cutoff blue jeans he wore balanced things out. "What do you think, Myleigh?" he said. "Over in front of the ruins?"

"I would say it looks adequate," she smiled. "Let us get over there before it becomes too crowded."

And, it did become crowded; there were over fifty people there – a few people who had known the bride and groom for as many years as they had known each other. Many were much newer and included a young couple whom they hadn’t met yet, but that their daughter had invited to come up and enjoy the proceedings, anyway.

Toward the end of the line came a tall, sandy-haired young man, wearing jeans and a white shirt and tie, and last of all, Crystal, who came scuttling up a minute or so behind him, having stopped to pull on a red cocktail dress over her swimsuit. The bride broke out in laughter at the sight. "Crystal, Myleigh, you’ve done it to us again," she laughed.

"Couldn’t think of a better place," Crystal laughed.

"Everybody here?" Noah asked.

"Must be," Crystal said. "I took sweep."

"Then let us begin the proceedings," he said formally. The bride and groom stood side by side; to the groom’s side stood Buddha; to the bride’s, Crystal and Jon. Myleigh picked up the harp, and began to pick out a gentle rhythm. Randy joined in on the guitar as they began to sing, "He is now to be among you, at the calling of your hearts; rest assured these troubadours are acting on his part . . . " The bass guitar just lent depth to the music, without overpowering it, while Trey worked his way around the ceremony, the shutter snapping on his old Nikon.

It was a sweet and gentle performance. As it came to an end, Noah pulled a Bible from his back pocket, and, holding it closed in both hands, said clearly, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God and this company to join this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. Marriage is a sacred thing, and these two have come together after many trials and tribulations . . . " It was pretty much a standard ceremony, in spite of the unusual surroundings, but there were a few hints that it was something out of the ordinary, such as Jon filling in for Karin’s late father in giving the bride away. When the time came for the groom to place the ring on the bride’s finger, the best man handed him not a plain band, but a extravagantly tooled piece of Navajo silver, worked by an old craftsman the groom had known for many years.

In spite of all the effort taken to get to this spot, the ceremony itself seemed to go by in a flash to the people present. In time, Noah said, "In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, I pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride." And kiss they did; it had taken nearly twenty-seven years for the story started in this spot to come full circle. There were hugs and handshakes all around, as people began to file back down the path to the beach.

It took a while to get everyone back down there, but by the time the bride and groom arrived, propane burners were roaring and stoves were humming, and the smell of steak was in the air. Several carefully-hidden bottles of champagne were produced, enough to go around and little more. There was no regular wedding cake – no one had been able to figure out a way to get one down there – but there were a couple of tins of fruitcake that filled the bill, and if cut tightly enough, there was enough to go around.

As the serving began, Dave and Mary filled a couple of Dutch ovens with steaks and potatoes, and canisters with other food, and ferried it across the river to the group that waited on the other side, and took the time to eat with them, but they ferried back across the river with the dirty dishes soon afterward, promising to be back after a while.

While the dishes were under way, the shadows began to grow long; Michelle gathered up Hannah and Wade, and they loaded the bride and groom’s gear onto their pack frames and carried them back up to the water pocket. Shortly after they were back, as the light began to go, the bride and groom took their leave of the party, and scrambled back up the rock face and narrow trail to the water pocket for their wedding night.

*   *   *

As darkness fell, wood and the fire pan were produced, and a fire built. Like all the Canyon fires, it wasn’t a large one, but it was cheery, and people gathered around.

"Before we get started tonight," Scooter said, in her normal role as campfire leader, "I’d just like to wish everyone on Team 2 a good trip, and thank them for being the neat people they’ve been. This has been a real good trip for us, and a real neat wedding. I think tonight, rather than do a lot of stories, we’ll try to do a lot of music. I know there are a lot of people who want to hear Myleigh do her magic before we all break up in the morning, and we’ll get some other people to play some, too."

"I should be willing to play as much as desired," Myleigh said. "But I know there are others here with talents, too."

"We’ll go as late as anybody wants to," Scooter told the group. I do need to remind people that we do have a couple hours to run tomorrow, and then a long, tough hike out the Bass, so maybe we’d better not try to go too late. Myleigh, why don’t you do a couple, then someone else can pick up."

"I would be delighted," she said, picking up Brown Bess. "I think I shall stay away from the heavier things tonight, such as Dawnwalker and Edmund Fitzgerald, but shall try to keep it light."

"Your call," Scooter grinned.

"Very well," she smiled. "For those of you who are not familiar with this instrument, it is a Celtic harp, and I fear I have become a little notorious for playing it. Two months ago, my first solo album was released, entitled Harp Strings. The album opens with this piece, Inland Sea."

She began to play the intricate, exuberant piece of music, and the sound of the harp drifted out across the Colorado River. The sound may have also drifted up to the water pocket where the bride and groom were spending their wedding night, but if they heard it, they never mentioned it.

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