Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 23

May 5, 2001

By now the group was long in the habit of getting up and getting around in the morning – and this would be a day on which there was lots to do, so they again made good work of it. Once again, people were up and stirring around to the sound of the propane burners, and the sun was barely up when the call of "coffee" came. It was still cool enough to want to wear jackets when they shoved the rafts out onto the river and got under way for the day.

Only a short distance downstream, they found Al and Karin sitting on the shore, raft loaded and ready to go. Behind them was a small, narrow side canyon, and at the back of what appeared to be a bowl, they could see what looked like might be a waterfall if there was water in it; there was wet rock clear up to the top, and a long, smooth area down the side of the rock. A small live stream flowed out into the river, underlining it. "It’d be neat if you caught it running good," Al told them. "But there doesn’t seem any easy way to get up to it short of technical climbing."

"Have to bring some rope and take a look at it some time," Crystal grinned.

As they got back under way, Noah happened to be nearby in the gear boat, and others weren’t far off. "Right up here is kind of an interesting spot," Crystal told them. "Usually, if a rapid gets named after you when you’re still alive, it’s usually because of something you did that you’d really not like to remember. In this case, the boatman, a guy named Randy, several years ago, decided to take a nap and let the swamper run the boat through this otherwise-easy stretch. The swamper was relatively new to the river and decided to head down through that narrow but inviting passage behind this rock on river left, just to see what was there," she continued, pointing. "Unfortunately, the passage is a lot narrower at the exit than at the entrance, it’s pretty fast through there, and the swamper hit the bottleneck hard enough that the raft was torn up and the frame got stuck in the rocks."

"Not a good afternoon," Al remembered with a grin. "Fortunately, it wasn’t one of ours."

Several miles further on, they came to Specter Rapid, one of four fairly large ones they’d be running this day; ahead lay a white froth lying behind an obvious drop-off. For a couple days, Al had been shirking his intention to ride with the newer boatmen a bit, but now he took it a little more seriously, letting Karin run their raft through Specter solo, while he rode with Kevin. Where upstream they’d have stopped to scout this drop, now they’d garnered a bit of experience and confidence and just went through after looking it over carefully from the boats.

By now, too, people were getting used to what was really a rather routine rapids, if on the big side. As always, they rode down the lip of the rapids with some degree of excitement, bounced over the first of the big white-capped waves, then started riding up and down, taking water over the nose and getting wet. It was still early enough and cool enough that some people had rain suits on to ward off the chilly water. In only seconds, they were out into the calm water below the rapids. As they drifted through the quiet water, Al made a midriver change over to Mike’s boat, shot the bull with him a while, then rode through Bedrock Rapids, about a mile below, warning Mike to never even think about going behind the rock on the left side at Bedrock, just like at Randy’s Rock. A mile or so farther on, he rode Deubendorff Rapids, about as difficult as the other two, in Larry’s raft, but farther on down, he hopped over to Noah’s raft for the run of Tapeats.

Crystal had already warned that they’d stop river right just below Tapeats for lunch and a hike, and that the eddy wasn’t large. Making it would be difficult enough that she had Josh hop out of her raft into her mother’s so there’d be an extra hand available for the landing. It was just as well, for both Karin and Noah agreed afterwards they’d never have been able to scramble out with the bow lines in time to keep from getting swept off of the landing.

Lunch was fairly quick, as Tapeats was the first opportunity in several days for a long hike. Nicole had been itching to get out and put some miles under her feet, and this was an interesting place to do it. It was about two miles up to where the Thunder River flowed into Tapeats Creek, the only example anyone could think of where a river flowed into a creek. Crystal allowed two hours for the hike, which was within her capabilities and Nicole’s, but few others in the party wanted to go that hard. But virtually everybody wanted to at least hike some of the way, so they set out, leaving only Kevin and Nanci at the boats.

Crystal was still a little concerned about that – leaving Nanci alone with a guy still didn’t seem like all that good of an idea, although if she had to be left with one, she figured Kevin was about the best choice, especially after hearing the discussion back up at Elves’ Chasm the day before. What they talked about while she and Nicole charged up Tapeats Creek, she wasn’t sure, because the rest of the party was back when the two AT hikers returned. Both were hot – the day had warmed up considerably – and both of them headed right to the river to chill down.

The river was still cold, and neither stayed in the water long. By now, things were all ready to go, but someone handed Crystal and Nicole cans from a drag bag. "Have a good hike?" Randy asked.

"Yeah," Nicole said. "Kind of fast, but it’s good to get out and walk some. I just wish we could do more of it."

"I’ve been thinking about something," Crystal said. "While we’ve got Dad and Mom here, it’s a good time to talk about it. We’ve got another hike today, down a few miles at Deer Creek. It’s a short one, but with a chunk of climbing and a bit of exposure, and so probably there will be some who won’t want to do it. But Nicole’s been pretty good about putting up with us doing all these rapids, and I’d kind of like to let her have a good one."

"What are you thinking, Crystal?" Al asked. "Havasu Creek?"

"Right," she said. "Clear up to Mooney Falls, maybe farther."

"That’s a pretty damn good hike," Al frowned. "Five and a half miles up there, and it’s not all easy going."

"Right," Crystal agreed. "What with stopping at Deer Creek this afternoon for a hike, we’re going to want to stop not too far down for the night, maybe someplace like Backeddy. What I’m thinking is to get up early again, run the Icebox pretty hard, and stop down around the Ledges, if we can get in there, and if not there, there’s a couple little places we could squeeze into below there. Then we get up in the morning early again, run to Havasu Creek. What I’m thinking, Dad, is if you were to stop with us tomorrow night, Nicole and I and anyone else who wants a hard hike can leave early, and you can bring the rest of the party down to Havasu. Then, you and Mom go on and grab the first beach large enough for the party. That’ll give the serious hikers a big chunk of the day to head up the trail, and the rest of the group can mess around in the lower part a bit. If we’re pretty sure we’ve got a beach not far below Havasu, the hikers can even stay late."

"Sounds like it would work," Al agreed. "It means you’re going to have to run fairly big days the rest of the trip, though."

"I realize that," she nodded. "On the other hand, it’s the only way we’re going to get enough time to do a major hike."

"It’d work," he agreed.

"Everyone else up for the idea?" Crystal asked. There was a chorus of agreement. "OK, that’s the way we’ll do it," she said.

"Got a suggestion," Al said. "Probably not everybody is going to want to sit around Deer Creek for a hike after you’ve already had one at Tapeats. Karin and I were talking we’d kind of like to go up to the top of the falls. When we get there, some of the group could hang around for a half hour or so, go mess around the falls some. Then, Crystal, you could take the group that’s down below on down and get started on camp, and we can leave a couple rafts back for the hikers."

"Sounds good to me," she agreed. "I’m only planning on running to lower Backeddy, but if we get squeezed out of there, we’d have to go down to One Hundred Thirty-eight mile, and I don’t suppose you want rafts running solo through Doris?"

"Not if we can help it," Al said.

"OK, works for me," Crystal agreed. "All right, folks, let’s head ’em up and move ’em out."

About a mile and a half below Tapeats, they came to the narrowest point on the river, where the whole Colorado River is compressed down to only about seventy-five feet wide – it’s very deep there, and the waters were almost still; they actually had to row to make progress. A mile and a half later, they got to Deer Creek Falls, another of the famous places of the Canyon, and one of the more frequented. They found two separate parties of motor rigs there, a total of five rigs, along with a private party, with a total of seven boats and kayaks. It was actually hard to find a place to tie up, and they had to set a couple of sand stakes to secure all the boats.

The waterfall at Deer Creek is very spectacular, gushing forth from a narrow crack in a tall cliff in a stream that can’t be more than a foot wide, plunging down in a shower of spray. Again, there’s the verdant vegetation living in the moisture from the falls. Many of the party took a steep, tough hike to the top of the falls, where there’s an interesting little pool, but many only went part way up the trail, mostly to get a tremendous view upriver, and scrambled down to the base of the falls to get the full force of the view, and, for some, to get wet.

Before too much longer, three of the rafts took off down river, with Crystal leading the group, which contained only about half the party. They didn’t go far, less than a mile, to a spot on the other side of the river, where a huge vertical wall loomed overhead, but with a nice eddy and a wide, hard sand beach. As it turned out, it was well they left when they did; they weren’t more than ten minutes ahead of a motor-rig party that had been heading for the same spot.

*   *   *

The unloading went quickly; one of the rafts at the camp was the gear boat, with Noah rowing because Randy wanted to do the hike. That boat didn’t get unloaded at all. As luck would have it, virtually everything needed for supper was on the two rafts upstream, but since it was still early, after the kitchen was set up there was some time to kill for once. The beach at Backeddy was a little too sloped for comfortable sleeping, so people had to find places to sleep in the scattered rock field above the beach. Noah hunted around for a bit, not finding much to his liking, until he found a spot behind a rock and a handful of accompanying tamarisks, not far above the beach. It was not as large as he would have liked, but large enough, so he set his gear down there to hold the spot, waiting on the arrival of his camp bag, which had to be on one of the rafts still up at Deer Creek. Not being able to set up for the night, he decided to wander down to the rafts and see what was in the drag bags. Crystal was there, a can of soda in her hand. "Doing anything?" he asked.

"Not particularly," Crystal shrugged. "Just sitting here, imagining what Scooter and Jim might be up to right about now. I hope she’s enjoying herself, since she’s going to be heading up to Lee’s to start her trip tomorrow. I hope it’s worked out for her." She shook her head and continued, "On a regular trip, he’d be passing us downriver a ways, so I could tease him a bit, maybe. But on the short schedule, we’ll be off the river about a day before he catches up to us. Oh, well, maybe I can catch him while we’re on break and get a hint on what happened."

"You know, I like Scooter," he smiled. "But it always struck me she might be a right smart handful, too. I hope they’re getting what they want."

"Yeah, I guess," she said. "Hey, Noah, I don’t remember you talking so hillbilly when I knew you down in Ducktown. You’re from Michigan, but you sound about as bad as her."

"Crystal, I’ve been down in east Tennessee for eight years," he said. "I had to pick some of it up."

"I guess," she said distantly. "It’s kind of strange, pulling into camp and just sitting on my butt. You like to go for a walk?"

"Doesn’t look like there’s much hiking out of here," he shrugged.

"It’s not much of a walk," she said, turning to point down river a ways. "I thought maybe just over to those Anasazi granaries. After the ones up at Nankoweap, getting to them is about like walking on a sidewalk, although the view isn’t as nice."

Noah glanced down at the route. It was just a straight, wide, nearly level ledge along the cliff face not far above the river, an easy walk. Remembering the good talk they’d had at the Anasazi ruins at Nankoweap, he was more than willing. Getting to the ledge proved a little more difficult, but not much more so, just winding around through a grove of tamarisks. Once they got out on the ledge, Crystal took a look down toward the granaries, saw Myleigh far down it carrying her harp case, and sighed, "Well, maybe we better not. Whatever it is she’s playing, she doesn’t like to be interrupted."

"Yeah," Noah agreed. "I sort of walked up on her last night, and she was nice enough, but it was pretty clear she wanted to be left alone."

Crystal shook her head. "I don’t want to bother her. Let’s just slide down in the shade of those tammies, find a place to sit and unwind a bit."

"I could stand a spell of that," he smiled.

It was only a few feet to the shade, and they found a nice spot to sit down where they could rest their backs up against a ledge. "Did you hear some of that music she’s been playing?" Crystal asked.

"Strange," he nodded. "Almighty strange. I don’t reckon I’ve heard anything like that before."

"Me, either," she replied, shaking her head. "I talked with Trey about it, and he hasn’t heard it either. I wonder what’s going on." She shook her head again. "Damn," she said. "I guess maybe that’s part of what’s got me a little bummed."


"Yeah," Crystal let out a sigh. "Back when we were at NMU, Myleigh and I were the best of buddies, friends forever. Now it seems like she’s slipping away from me, too. We’ve hardly had a chance to talk one on one on this trip at all. I’d really hoped to catch up with her better, and she’s changed a lot since college."

"We all change," he submitted. "I mean, life goes on, things change."

"I guess," she frowned. "Maybe it’s Randy and Nicole who are getting to me a little, too. For a couple years there, Myleigh and Randy and I were the best of buddies. I thought for a long time I’d wind up marrying him. He’s still a friend, but, well, it’s not the same."

"Couldn’t hardly be expected to be," he agreed. "I mean, she’s his wife, and all."

"Yeah, I know," Crystal said glumly. "I have to admit, I look at them and think, ‘I could have had that.’" She let out a sigh. "It wouldn’t have been here, though."

"That was a choice you knew you were making," he commented.

"I know," she nodded. "I guess I didn’t think it through. Then I look at Jon and Tanisha. I can’t imagine what that must be like, to be as close as those two are. I never thought Jon had it in him, but you know, they’re even more alike than they look. Did you know that sometimes they go weeks without being apart for an hour?"

"That’s almighty close," Noah nodded. "Guess the Lord had a right smart reach to put those two together."

"Mom and Dad, too," Crystal agreed. "Noah, I don’t know if you remember Mom real well from that time on the Ocoee, but she’s changed a lot."

"I don’t remember her well," he nodded. "But from what I can recall, she seems happier now than she did then."

"It was a heckuva change," she laughed. "I still can’t hear her voice without expecting to see her in a business suit and high heels. It took a lot of circumstances coming together to open the door to change for her, and there’s no question in my mind that it was the right move." She shook her head. "Maybe that’s why I’m a little bummed out. I mean, I look at Nicole, and I realize that if I’d had the guts to make a few changes, that could be me. But no, I had to have a hard head, and do what I thought I wanted to do."

"You said that it wouldn’t have worked out real well with Randy," he commented.

"Yeah, probably not," she sighed. "I mean, if Nicole were to drop over dead right now, I know I could never fill her shoes. Randy and I have drifted apart, too. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess, but I guess I’m just having a hard time accepting it."

"Someone will come along, sooner or later," Noah grinned. "God just waits to make sure the time is right. He’s probably teaching you something you don’t realize. I mean, it’s no different for me. I’ve come to believe he’s trying to teach me something on this trip, but I’m just too blamed hard headed to hear it."

"We’ve got another week," Crystal grinned. "Maybe it’ll be clear by the time we get to Diamond Creek."

"I hope so," he nodded. "I’ve been praying a lot about it."

Crystal was silent for a moment, wanting to push into his thinking a little but not quite daring to. Searching for words, she happened to glance across the water to the beach. Nanci, Kevin, and Buddha were sitting on Kevin’s raft, having an animated discussion; out on the point, she could see Giselle sitting under a tamarisk, talking with Joy. Jon and Tanisha were nowhere to be seen, and she had little doubt what that was all about. "Hey, Noah," she said. "Not to change the subject on you, but how’s it going with Nanci?"

"Not bad," he said. "She’s very repentant. She seems to be pulling herself together, getting a little more confident in herself. She’s searching, too, but it’s going to take her a while to find all the answers."

"I don’t know," she sighed. "It looked like it was going awful well there for a while. She’s been working hard, really trying to do the right thing. But I’m afraid it’s all going to hell, the way I’ve been seeing her sniff around Kevin the past couple days. It looks like she’s falling back toward the same old Nanci, flirting around, trying to get a rise out of him."

"Not really knowing her from before, I really can’t say," Noah nodded. "But it doesn’t strike me as flirting. I sat and talked with them while you and Nicole went on that hike today. We all had a pretty good discussion. It was probably one of the better sessions I’ve had with her. She seemed pretty thoughtful."

"Not trying to be nosy," she smiled. "But just what was it you were talking about?"

"Forgiveness of sin, mostly," Noah smiled. "I have to say that for a Methodist, that young man is quick to pull out a Bible and quote scripture." He shook his head. "She wasn’t flirting, Crystal. She was asking some tough questions of him and herself. That’s sort of why I got called into the discussion after I got back from my walk, more to give a second opinion on a few things."

"You think she’s serious?" she frowned.

"Crystal, I said she was repentant. I think she’s beginning to understand what it means."

*   *   *

"The best day we ever had in our lives?" Jon mused, looking at the flames leaping up from the fire in the fire pan. Dinner was over with, and night was falling rapidly. "That’s an easy one. The best day we ever had was the day Crystal and Mom and Al found us."

"It was a pretty big day," Crystal giggled. "Both of you had your jaws hanging open so wide I thought the flies would buzz in."

"It was more than that," Tanisha said. "Lots more. But it’s all stuff that we can’t tell you about."

"Lambdatron stuff?" Al frowned. "You’ve never told us anything about that."

"We can’t tell you. Oh, maybe I could tell you in real general terms, but I don’t think it would be much of a story." He let out a sigh. "The thing of it is, I don’t think we realized just quite how isolated we were, until the day Crystal knocked on our door."

"We were trying to stay out of sight, from both Jon’s family and mine," Tanisha added. "We knew we pretty much only had each other. We’d only developed one halfway-close friend, Jennlynn, and . . . well, she’s different, but in a lot of ways she’s really not close. By the time that happened, we’d already become a pretty close couple. Jon and I might go weeks without being separated for as long as an hour, but there was no one else, anyway. That was fine; we’d come to prefer it that way."

"Right," Jon agreed. "Being so different, from such different backgrounds, it might have been difficult – but that just led to an isolation from other people that drove us deeper into each other’s arms. The hell of it was that when something really neat happened, like our getting married, or like what happened that day before Crystal knocked on our door, well, there was no one to share it with but each other. And, considering that incident, we couldn’t share it anyway."

"It must have been something pretty big," Crystal said.

"It was," Jon said. "In terms of our careers, it overshadowed you showing up by a lot. Before that day, we were just a couple of new kids who didn’t amount to much of anything. When we left work that day, we were the heroes who saved the day, but we couldn’t celebrate, and couldn’t even tell anybody about it. We still can’t."

"It was a very good day for us, as well," Karin said. "Jon had grown up considerably since I’d seen him, and it was clear that Tanisha had been very good for him. I couldn’t have been happier for them. But, as I told Al, it had been hard to realize just how isolated from everything they’d been until they invited us down for Thanksgiving dinner."

"I told her," Jon said, "‘you wouldn’t believe how many times Tanisha and I have wished that it was possible, just once, to have the folks over for dinner.’ Now, we could really do it."

Al let out a long sigh. "I know she was thinking about something else, but that sort of drove home to me just how isolated I’d been, especially after Louise died," he said. "Louise and I never had a family, never had kids. My folks were long dead, I’d even lost track of old friends like Buddha, years before. Now, all of a sudden, I was part of a family I didn’t know I had, one that was coming together. Jon, Tanisha," he said. "You may have thought it was the best day you ever had. I don’t know but what it wasn’t one of the best days I ever had, too."

"Yeah," Jon said slowly and thoughtfully. "You know the really scary part? How close it came to never happening at all."

"Oh, Michelle’s brother would have tracked you down sooner or later," Crystal said, standing up to stretch after a long spell on a not-too-comfortable rock.

"Not that," Jon replied. "I didn’t realize it until a few days before we started this trip. Buddha, a few days ago you were talking about cusps that change everything. That would have been one, but it didn’t happen. Or maybe everything happened because it didn’t, or something."

"What’s this?" Crystal asked.

"You remember telling us about stopping at the restaurant at the truck stop in Flagstaff and seeing the Canyon Tours ad on the place mat, and how you wound up on the river, right?" Jon said. "I’ve heard the story before."

"Yeah, it changed my life, for sure," Crystal said. "Really, it changed a lot of people’s lives, and for the good."

"I didn’t realize it until I was going through the glove compartment of the Monte Carlo a few weeks ago," Jon smiled. "I found the trip log from when Tanisha and I went from Phoenix back to Atlanta after our second summer. I just couldn’t believe it. I called Michelle, and had her go through old trip records, so it had to have happened, or not happened, or whatever."

"Jon, you’re not making a lot of sense," Crystal replied uneasily.

"Tanisha and I stopped at that same restaurant, that same morning," Jon said flatly. "We couldn’t have missed you by more than an hour, and by just a few minutes is a lot more likely. We may even have been there at the same time and not noticed each other."

Crystal felt herself getting weak in the knees, and there were hard spots in several guts around the campfire. "We’d have got to talking, and I would never have even thought of looking at the place mat . . . " she said, slowly shaking her head.

"Or, if you had, it would have been too late," Jon nodded. "Tanisha and I would still be married most likely, but you and Mom and Al . . . "

Buddha shook his head. "The wheel of fate does turn on mighty small bearings sometimes," he said softly.

"The hand of God," Noah agreed. "Sometimes it’s an almighty small and delicate touch, but His will will be done."

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