Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle


a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009




Chapter 29

May 10, 2001

Once they were on the river in the morning, they reached Lower Granite Gorge. The Canyon, which had been wide above, with few notable rapids, now narrowed to the familiar steep walls lofting far overhead, and they began to hit rapids. Many of the rapids in this part of the Canyon bear no names, or only casual ones. The first serious one they hit was 205 Mile, also known as "Kolb," followed not too much later by 209 Mile, where a fairly healthy rapids flows around a large, low, rocky island. Three miles farther on is 212 Mile, shorter, but just as bad. A mile below that, they drifted past Pumpkin Spring, a hot spring, but polluted with radioactivity and arsenic. They stayed on the boats and took pictures, then ran on to 217 Mile Rapids, the last one of any real degree of difficulty they would face.

A few miles farther on, Crystal had Preach nose the lead boat into a broad, sandy area on river right, and one by one the rafts clustered around them on shore. "This is home for the night," she told them. "Itís about six miles down to the takeout at Diamond Wash, so we always try to stay along in here somewhere, so we can have an easy day and plenty of time to unrig and load up. I sorta hope tomorrow will go easier since weíll have everybody; usually we just load the customers on the crew bus for the run to the top of the hill, and they get on the charter bus and go back to Vegas. But since this trip is different, Iím hoping many hands will make light work."

Finally, though everybody was a little down with the adventure coming to an end, it was mentioned that there was a good hike out of the camp, not as spectacular as some, but good for a last hike. All but a handful of the party were soon working their way up a side canyon toward a great overlook from a prominent mountain.

By now, Crystal was used to Myleighís going off alone with her harp at almost every opportunity; on two or three occasions, sheíd snuck up close to hear the mysterious music her friend was playing, but could never stay for long. So, it was something of a surprise to see Myleigh hanging around camp while the hikers were out. It was hot that afternoon, Crystal and Trey were both wearing swimsuits and little more while they stood at a folding table, peeling potatoes for the last dinner, when Myleigh walked up to them, also in a swimsuit. "Crystal, might I have a word with you?" she asked.

"Sure," she replied. "These spuds can wait. I can stand a few minutes in the shade."

"Trey, I should appreciate it if you could join us," Myleigh continued. Crystal glanced at Trey, who shrugged; both of them put down paring knives and followed Myleigh off a few feet into the shade of some tamarisks, out of the blistering heat of the hot Arizona sun. They sat down on the ground, and let the breeze coming up the Canyon cool them.

Crystal wound up perched on a convenient rock. "Got something on your mind?" she asked.

"Yes," Myleigh said. "I have a question to which I would appreciate your reaction. I have from time to time observed the both of you watching quietly as I have struggled with Brown Bess the last two weeks, and I appreciate your forbearance in allowing me my solitude with her."

"We could see you wanted to be alone," Trey responded, obviously wondering as much as Crystal at what was going on.

"Yes, I did, and I appreciate your consideration. Doubtless, you have been wondering what I have been attempting to do."

"Now that you mention it, yes," Crystal smiled.

Myleigh sighed. "This has been a most unusual experience for me," she started. "Am I not correct that you will have an eight-day break before starting your next trip?"

"Yeah," Crystal said. "Trey, too, since heís going to be on my crew. Thatís going to be the longest break Iíve had during the season since Iíve been here."

"As I believed," Myleigh nodded. "What I am wondering is what you might think Alís reaction would be to my asking to joining you on your next trip."

Crystal shrugged. "It probably could be worked out. Got hooked on this place, huh? I knew youíd like it, but I never figured that youíd get addicted to it, like I am."

"Itís not that," Myleigh said. "Fascinated, certainly. But, thatís not what I have in mind. Trey, Crystal, I know that this will sound esoteric and mystical of me, but I feel I have been hearing the Canyon attempting to talk to me through Brown Bess. I should like to attempt the trip again with Blue Beauty, that I might hear it better."

Crystal looked at her for a moment. Yes, this was a strange thing for Myleigh to say. While she was a talented person, even strange in ways, "mystical" wasnít a word that fit her very well. "From what Iíve heard," she said finally, "itís been saying some powerful things to you."

"Yes," Myleigh said. "As you know, Brown Bess is a new instrument to me, and I feel slightly uncomfortable with her. With Blue Beauty in my hands, I think grander things will be heard, enough so that I want to attempt to capture the experience."

It was a fascinating idea. Crystal had heard enough of the strange music Myleigh had been struggling to make to know it was something exceptional, and it turned out that Al had, too, after heíd been dragged into the discussion. A good little idea soon grew into a big idea: taking a sixth raft on Crystalís next trip, to carry Myleigh, Blue Beauty, and some high-quality recording equipment with Trey to run it Ė it was pretty close to what heíd been majoring in at Marienthal, and although the location would be strange to him, the techniques would not.

"Sounds good," Crystal nodded as the brainstorming session began to gel into something that sounded like an interesting and entrancing idea. "The only problem I see is that weíd be shy a boatman. The only way we made it work this trip was because we had Preach and Randy to run the gear boat. The only way I can see to do it is if you and Mom split up, one of you stays in the office while the other one runs. I mean, as itís worked out we havenít given the two of you much of a honeymoon."

"Well, it isnít what I expected," Al shrugged. "Guess I should have. Itís worked out all right, anyway. But thatís not what I was thinking."

Crystal frowned. "Well, yeah, maybe we could lean on Pat and Rachel; get them to run half trips or something."

"Thatís an idea I hadnít thought of," he smiled. "But it looks like youíre going to have another trainee boatman next trip. You couldnít put him with passengers, but you could run a gear boat right from the beginning."

"What extra raft trainee?" Crystal frowned. "I havenít heard anything about it. Somebody topside, maybe?"

"You mean you donít know about that?" Al frowned. "I figured you knew all about it."

"All about what?"

"Crystal," Al smiled. "Maybe youíd better go have a talk with Preach."

*   *   *

Noah wasnít in sight around the camp anywhere, and Crystal thought he might have gone exploring up the side canyon with the rest of the hikers, so still dressed in bikini and sandals, she headed up the side canyon. She didnít have to go very far before she spotted him, sitting on a shady rock ledge not far up the trail. It was a bit of a scramble to get up to him. "Noah?" she said without preliminaries. "Whatís this Al was saying about you running with us next trip?"

"Itís not a done deal, yet," Noah said quietly. "Thereís still a question to be answered."

"And youíve been up here praying about it?" she nodded as she sat down on the ledge next to him.

"More or less," he smiled. "Actually, Iíve been praying about how to ask the question, and praying that I get the answer that I hope to get. And, as far as that goes, praying for the courage to ask it, because if the answer is Ďno,í then I donít know what Iím going to do."

"Noah?" she said, the question hanging in the air.

"Iíve been putting off asking it for a couple days," he said. "Trying to work up the courage. I pretty well was going to ask it tonight, but I guess the Lord has forced my hand."

"What the Lord wants you to do?" she said quietly.

"No," he sighed. "Itís not a question for him, Crystal. Itís a question for you."

"For me?" she said, a little confused.

"Yes," he said. "Crystal, I can be as dense as anyone about following the leadings of the Lord. I realize now Iíve been resisting it for two years, ever since you asked me to come out here when you also called Scooter. I thought I was supposed to be a minister, have a church."

"Yeah, you told me," she replied. "You said you realized that wasnít the case anymore."

"I did," he said. "Crystal, you know that I almost didnít come on this trip at all, donít you?"

"You didnít give me a straight answer when I called the first time," she nodded. "You said you had to talk it over with Pastor Jordan."

"I did," Noah nodded solemnly. "Even then I was thinking that I was supposed to be looking for a calling to a church, even though Iíd been resisting it. When you called, Crystal, I knew that there were temptations here. A place, a life, and a job that could tempt me out of that vision of having a church." He looked down the side canyon to the river for a moment, then turned and looked at her. "And I knew that there was a good friend here who could tempt me even more to turn away from that vision. Pastor Jordan told me that the only way I could discover whether it was a temptation or not was to pray about it, and then if the leading went that way, to see if it was temptation or if it was the leading of the Lord."

"Youíre thinking youíre supposed to be here, huh?" she smiled.

"Maybe," Noah said. "Like I said, I still have that one question, but youíre going to have to be the one to answer it."

She looked at him, just a little amazed Ė and found herself hoping that the question was going to be something like what she suspected it would be. "And?" she said softly.

"Crystal, if you think that perhaps we can work towards being something more than just friends over the course of the summer, Iím willing to try. Iím not asking for any commitments, other than letís see what happens."

"And if it works, youíll stay here?" she said.

"Yes," he sighed. "As long as the Lord wants me to. I guess, I ought to say as long as He wants us to. Realistically, I know that taking a leave of absence for the summer and fall from Glen Hill will burn my bridges there. But the time has come to burn them, anyway."

"Noah," she sighed. "I guess thatís why I asked you out here in the first place. Most of the way down this river Iíve been trying to figure out a way to put pretty much the same question to you." She scrunched a little closer to him, and twisted to put her arm around him as she said, "Yeah, letís try it."

Somehow, the hug turned into a kiss Ė not a hot one, but a warm one, much warmer than the last one theyíd shared years before, the only other one theyíd had. It went on for quite a while before they pulled apart. "Crystal, one thing," he said. "Letís try to keep it pretty much above board, and not sneak back into the bushes, or something like that."

"Works for me," she smiled. "Whatever it takes. Noah, I have to say that if I ever thought dragging you out in the bushes would be the way to get through to you, youíd have been dragged out there eight years ago, and Iíd never have gone through all this stuff it took me to get here."

"Maybe so," he grinned. "But if you hadnít done all that stuff, you wouldnít have gotten here, would you?"

"Well, no," she laughed. "The Lord does work in mysterious ways, doesnít he?"

"He does, indeed," he nodded, clearly in a good mood, now. "Crystal, I know we have an eight-day break. I really need to go back and square things with Pastor Jordan, get my things out of the house and into storage at least for the summer, and get my car back here. Would you like to go with me to help me move and drive?"

"Iíd be willing," she said. "But there is a problem thatís come up." She briefly explained about Myleigh, the recording project, and the idea of taking six rafts on the next trip. "I donít know that maybe I ought to be here to help grease the skids on that."

"Well, you wouldnít have to come," he said. "But Iíd appreciate the help with the driving, and having you with me might help drive off second thoughts."

"Since you put it that way, sure," she smiled. "Dad can grease the skids just as well as I can. Besides, I sure donít want you getting second thoughts. Letís go tell him heís got someone to run the sticks of the gear boat next trip."

*   *   *

Deep in the heaviest cooler on Larryís raft, there was a small cooler that had been sealed with duct tape and left untouched since the beginning of the trip. Two weeks before the contents of that cooler had been packed in dry ice to cool almost to the point of cryogenic temperatures. Then the cooler had been packed with those contents and more dry ice before being loaded into the bigger cooler, clear back in the lot behind the Canyon Tours office. Even after two weeks in the heat of the Canyon, they were still cold enough that Karin had to use heavy gloves and tongs to get them out Ė but the steaks were still frozen solid.

A couple hours in the dry desert heat of the last afternoon on the river was enough to thaw them adequately, and they found their destiny on a grill placed over the charcoal-filled fire pan. Despite the range of temperature torture Ė or possibly because of it, or maybe just perhaps where they were cooked, made them about the best possible of all steaks. The baked beans that went with them were canned, and the potatoes that Nanci fried on the warped griddle just added to the meal.

As always, the steaks were eaten standing up, or balanced on knees or rocks; a few people made a table out of the boatmanís boxes on the rafts. For a long time over that last dinner, there wasnít much talking, since everybody was a little melancholy. After a while, the steaks were eaten, the garbage cleaned up, the dishes washed and put away. The grill was taken off the fire pan, and the last of the firewood put on top of the still-hot coals. Once again, there was music: guitars, of course, and what was perhaps the first Celtic harp to make the trip down the Grand Canyon. And, the stories began to flow Ė not stories of other places, other times, other trips down the Canyon, but of this trip; the first telling of stories that would again be told in homes in various parts of the country, or on other river trips to come.

Presently it grew late; sunset faded into starlight, and the bright flames of the campfire died down to flickers, and then just to glowing coals. One by one and two by two, people began to drift off to their sleeping bags, laid out on the sands above the river, some nearby, some hidden up in the tamarisks or at a distance. Eventually, Crystal and Noah drifted off, to head down to a quiet place by the river, to just sit and talk quietly, exploring the revelation and the future theyíd given to each other, leaving just three people staring at the coals of the fire.

"Al," Nanci said. "I just want to thank you for allowing me to come on this trip. I really enjoyed it, and I learned more than I ever dreamed."

"Itís been quite a trip for you, hasnít it?" he smiled.

"Yeah," she said. "It changed a lot."

"Have you been able to figure out what youíre going to do next?" he smiled.

"I know what I want to do," she said shyly. "I mean, I donít know if itís the final answer, or what, but I think Iíve figured out that I need to have some time to get used to whatís happened. Al, look, I donít know how to ask this, but did I do well enough that youíd consider letting me go next trip with Crystal and Noah? I mean as a trainee swamper again, for free?"

"Iíll bet it took you some working up of your courage to ask that," he grinned.

"Yeah," she nodded. "I mean, if you donít say yes, I donít know what else Iím going to do."

"I suspected that," he said. "Nanci, you did very well on this trip. In fact, Iíve rarely had a green swamper who knew nothing about rafts or the Canyon or living outdoors do any better. So, the answer is no."

"No?" she said, disappointed.

"I mean, no, you canít go for free," he smiled. "In fact, when we get back to the office, weíll have to backdate some paper work, so youíll get a paycheck out of this trip, too. Thatíll give you the chance to get a little better gear over break. Is that fair?"

"Al . . . but . . . " she replied in amazement. "You didnít have to do that!"

"I think I do," he smiled. "I know youíre still learning your way around the Bible, but thereís a place in there where Jesus said, ĎDo not bind the mouths of the oxen that tread out the grain.í I take that to mean that when youíve got someone whoís busted their butt for you, they deserve their reward. Now, I will say that itís going to have to be a trip-to-trip thing. As long as you continue to do a good job, the job continues. If you donít . . . do you agree, Karin?"

"I think she will," Karin grinned.

"Nanci, I do think I should point out a few things to you," Al grinned. "I mean, just to be fair, and all. This has been kind of a special trip, what with the wedding, and the fact that most everybody here has been friends. The next trip, itís going to be mostly customers, so itís going to be different. In a way, itís going to be a little harder. You know about the deal with the recording raft, the next trip, right?"

"Pretty much," she nodded. "There was a lot of talk about it earlier."

"What that means is that Trey is going to have to put most of his attention to that, and not to camp chores. Knowing Trey, heíll help where he can. I wonít know till we get back to the office whether weíll have another swamper next trip or what, but if we donít it means you may have to work even harder. Everybody on this trip has been pretty good about pitching in, but it doesnít always work that way. I mean, you know about Team 1 this trip, donít you?"

"Well, yeah," she said. "That had to have made it pretty hard."

"It can happen," Al said. "That means that youíre going to have to take the lead on doing stuff, not just wait around and let someone tell you what to do. It means that you may have to show the way to get the customers to help. But, I think you can handle it."

"I think I can, Al," she smiled. "I mean, I know a little about whatís going on, now."

"All right," he said. "Thereís another thing, and it may not be easy for you. I know what happened up at Havasu Creek hit you pretty hard, didnít it? Youíve been kind of awash in it ever since, right?"

"Well, yeah," she said. "Itís . . . itís a lot to comprehend."

"I realize it," Al smiled. "Nanci, I will tell you right now you could well be the rest of your life comprehending all the ins and outs of it. If you donít believe me, you ask Preach."

"Heís said that," she replied. "He said heís still trying to figure it all out, and harder than ever on this trip."

"That he has," Al grinned. "Although he did learn a few things. But Nanci, the point I was leading up to is that you canít be real up front about it when youíre with customers. A lot of people donít want to hear that on a trip like this. Some may, when the time is right, and sometimes the Canyon may cause it to happen. Iím saying, donít be a pest about it. Mike told me back up at Horn Creek that he wants to move over to Team 1 so he can be with Norma, so youíre going to have Preach and Kevin along. Youíll have the chance to learn from them, but just kind of keep it in the background, OK?"

"Itís hard," she said. "But yeah, I understand. A couple weeks ago, I wouldnít have wanted to hear it, either."

"People arenít ready to hear until theyíre ready to hear," Al smiled. "Sometimes it takes us a while."

"Us?" Nanci said, a little surprised. "You mean, you, too?"

"Us," Al grinned. "All three of us, now."

"Mom?" Nanciís eyes grew wide.

"It was very hard to keep silent about it around your father," Karin smiled. "But itís coming back out."

Nanci shook her head. "Mom, what other surprises do you have for me?"

"Oh, weíll just have to see," she grinned. "I may still be able to come up with one or two."

*   *   *

For once, it was slow getting around in the morning. Not because anyone was lazy or inefficient, but just because they didnít want it to end, and tried to drag it out. After two weeks on the river, in the most awesome scenery on earth, it was hard to come to grips with the fact that theyíd only run for a few miles today, that there wouldnít be another river camp, another great meal, another day of great scenery, fun, friendship and adventure. It was ending.

"Before we get going," Crystal told them," I think the time has come for a final thought for the day. Itís from Powell, again, and itís one I can quote from memory: ĎNow the danger is over, now the toil has ceased, now the gloom has disappeared, now the firmament is bounded only by the horizon, and what a vast expanse of constellations can be seen! The river rolls by us in silent majesty, the quiet of the camp is sweet; our joy is ecstasy. We sit till long after midnight, talking of the Grand Canyon, talking of home.í"

There just wasnít a lot to say to that; a hundred and forty years before, the one-armed man who had been the first to see the splendor of all of the Canyon had said it just about as well as it could be said.

"Aw, nuts," Crystal said sadly after several long moments of silence. "Letís head íem up and move íem out." One by one, the rafts pulled away from shore for the last time, and they floated on down the river in a tight cluster, with no one saying much of anything, just to try to drink it all in, savor the experience that was ending.

Soon, up ahead, they could see the conical mount of Diamond Peak. The name was modern; they all snickered when Al told them that Powellís party had named it "Mollyís Nipple," after a girlfriend of one of the expedition members, and everyone agreed that it did look sort of like a naked female breast. He also told them that it stood eighteen hundred feet above the river, about as far as they had descended in the time they had come from Leeís Ferry.

They went around another couple of bends, through a couple of small rapids hardly worth noticing. Finally, they drifted around a bend, to see a sad sight ahead among the green of the tamarisks on river left: the redrock brown Canyon Tours crew bus, with the big logo on the side, the bus they would ride out of the Canyon, away from the river.

Some of them knew theyíd be back Ė loading up again far up the river after the passage of eight days. Others would skip a trip, or several; others, they knew not when, but sometime. The rest of them wanted to do it again, for all of them knew that the magic had taken hold of them, and that in some way, large or small, something had changed. Some time, next minute, next month, next year, theyíd look up and in their mindís eye see the green of the river, the reds and browns and golds and whites of the Canyon reaching far overhead, the squawk of a bird, the blue of the sky above, and, for an instant, theyíd be there in their minds once again.

--30--



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