Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

River Rat
Book 5 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2005, 2010



Chapter 29

November 26 - December 25, 1999

Flagstaff and elsewhere

There was a full month to the day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend they were getting bored. "Hey, Scoot," Crystal said Sunday afternoon, "What do you say we get out and do something, get some exercise?"

"I could be talked into it," Scooter agreed. "You got any ideas?"

"The first thought that comes to mind is that we go out and knock the rust off our skiing and snowboarding," Crystal shrugged.

"Sounds like a reasonable," Scooter agreed. "It'd get me tuned up a little for surfing. Do you know if the ski lodges around here are running?"

"No idea," Crystal admitted. "But that would only blow up an afternoon or two, and I'm a little tired of sitting around Flag."

"Well, when you put it that way," Scooter grinned, "I presume you have an idea."

"Of course," Crystal laughed. "I mean, it's only sort of roughed in, but two winters ago I worked at a ski lodge in Colorado, Cooper Hill. It's actually one hell of a hill. We could head up there, and I might be able to manage to sneak us into the bunkhouse if things aren't too busy. If I can it wouldn't cost that much for motels or something."

"If we want to do that," Scooter agreed, "I used to like snow camping once in a while, but that might be overdoing it a little."

"Yeah, it's way the hell and gone up there in elevation, so I kinda liked the furnace they had in the bunkhouse," Crystal agreed. "Just adding to the idea, I remember Dad saying one time that the scenery is pretty awesome up on Utah 12 and 24, we could go that way and maybe come back another way, like maybe Arches and Canyonlands. Or something."

"Works for me," Scooter agreed. "Wonder if Michelle would like to go along?"

Michelle didn't need to be asked twice, and even suggested that the three of them take her Ford Mustang, which was about a dozen years younger than Crystal's old Dodge. It had a ski rack, and, as she suggested, "You might hit a deal somewhere. Rental stuff can be so-so, and it might not take long to do a payback."

They were on the road the next morning, heading north on the familiar route over Navajo Bridge. For once, they actually stopped at the bridge -- the first time ever for either Crystal or Scooter -- and walked out on the old one to take a long look down at the river. They were still only two and a half weeks off the river, and five since the start of their last trip; already it seemed like forever, and the start of the season didn't seem that much closer. They made what was probably a mistake in driving down to the boat ramp at Lee's Ferry, and stopped for a few minutes to talk with a private party that was rigging for a river trip -- there was a very long waiting list to get the permits for private trips, but taking them way off-season sometimes cut years out of the wait. Even though it was December and it would be pushing Christmas before those folks got off the river, all three of them wished they were the ones rigging rafts and loading gear and supplies. It was hard to get back in the Mustang and head for Utah.

While the original idea was to be gone a week, perhaps a little longer, it was rather open-ended, and they were eventually gone close to three. They hit more than one ski resort; it was closer to a dozen. It wasn't just Colorado; they hit some in Wyoming and Utah, as well. Scooter wound up spending a couple thousand dollars on ski clothes, gear, a new snowboard, lift tickets, meals, her share of a single motel room, gas and the like, but considered every cent well spent. They didn't always stay in motels; Crystal was right, she was able to get them into the bunkhouse at Cooper Hill, although Scooter had something to do with it -- she ran into Jim, the motor-rig guy she'd had a few with at the Burro a couple times when Crystal had been elsewhere. He was overjoyed to have someone he could talk Grand Canyon to, especially when one of those someones was a demi-legend like Michelle. Along the way, they hit a few bars, slept on a few living room floors, and fooled around with several guys, to no heavy drama although it got close at times.

The only reason they turned toward Flagstaff when they did was that there were preparations to make there, both for Christmas and for the long trip that would start almost directly after the holiday. In the beginning, before Randy's wedding entered the picture, they'd figured that about what they had to take were a few pairs of shorts, a few T-shirts, and some swimsuits, but when Spearfish Lake was included the trip started to grow on them.

It then got more complicated when Myleigh announced that she was coming to the Christmas party in Flagstaff, then flying on with the rest to Spearfish Lake. Originally she was going to fly back to Kansas City, but Crystal mentioned they were going surfing in Florida; Myleigh allowed as how she didn't have to be back to Marienthal all that quickly, and it had been a long time since she'd been on a surfboard . . .

Because of the time factor involved, the plan by that time was to fly from Phoenix to Chicago to Camden, where Randy or his parents would pick them up. After the wedding, they'd fly down to Florida; since Michelle wasn't going to Spearfish Lake, she'd fly in directly from Phoenix. After a few days Al and Karin would fly back to Phoenix, Myleigh would fly back to Kansas City, and the three girls would head for the Bahamas, then fly back to Phoenix afterward.

Crystal noted that the water in Florida could get cold, and maybe the wetsuits wouldn't be such a bad idea. On top of that, it proved that there were more things they'd need to take to the Bahamas than they'd figured on. As the amount of stuff to be hauled started to approach the level of pain in the ass, Crystal mentioned that she had left her surfboard at Randy's parents years before, and she thought she'd like to take it to Florida, or at least have it closer at hand. It could be checked onto the airliner but only at the expense of extra baggage charges on a lot of other stuff. While they talked it around over the seat of Michelle's Mustang on the road from one ski resort to another, Scooter made the comment that given a chance, she'd like to take a swing by Wesser and rescue the stuff she'd left in Leon's basement. That included a high-quality touring bike that was the most valuable thing she owned. Crystal giggled that she'd really like to stop by Ocoee Adventures as well, just to let Tom, her old boss there, see how far she'd risen in the world. Another time the comment was made that it was going to be a pain to only be in Spearfish Lake for a short time, right around all the wedding hassles. It would be fun to spend some more quality time with Randy and Nicole, hear her trail stories and other Spearfish Lake gossip. On top of that, Crystal knew of some neat snowboarding in her old stomping grounds around Marquette . . .

One thing led on to another, and by the time they turned the nose of the Mustang back toward Flagstaff a vast new plan had been worked out. If Michelle could con her mother out of her Plymouth Voyager minivan -- not considered any sort of problem since Rachel had been itching to get her fingers on the Mustang for a while -- Michelle could leave with gear and snowboards and whatnot about a day after the rest of the gang left for Spearfish Lake, meet the rest of them in Orlando, and they'd have wheels to get around with. Then, after the Bahamas trip, they'd head to Wesser and Ducktown, then on to Spearfish Lake and God only knew where else. After all, they didn't actually have to be back until just before tripping season started; the bottom line was that all they needed was enough time to throw a few clothes and odds and ends in a drybag and hop on the crew bus. Fortunately they ran out of plans for things to do before they ran out of space in the minivan, but it was close.

Since Myleigh was arriving late in Phoenix three days before Christmas, at the last minute they worked out a deal with Jon and Tanisha to pick her up at the airport and bring her up the next day when they'd planned to come. Along about midday, the three arrived at Al's house, where Karin, Al, Crystal, and Scooter were waiting for them. It was a fun day; Scooter didn't modify her opinion that Myleigh was pretty prissy, but found out she had a wicked sense of humor, was a lot of fun to be around, and soon started to grow on her. For one reason and another there hadn't been a lot of Christmas decorating done around the house, so they spent some time trimming a Christmas tree -- it had been a helluva long time since Crystal, Scooter, or Myleigh had had the opportunity -- and there was some serious catching up going on the next couple days.

Just for the sake of getting out for a while, the day before Christmas they drove to the local ski hill and started to break Jon and Tanisha in on snowboards. Except for being runners, Jon and Tanisha weren't particularly athletic, but they managed to have a fairly good time on the bunny hill anyway.

Christmas morning dawned bright, cold, and clear. Michelle was with her family, her brother and sister-in-law, and their small boy, but Mike had to work that afternoon, so Christmas dinner for them was on Christmas Eve. As the day progressed, the size of the party began to grow -- Michelle and her parents, Dan, Ben, Jerry, and even Dave and Mary showed up from the village where they were wintering on the Gulf of California a couple hundred kilometers into Mexico. Al went out to the airport to pick up Jennlynn, who'd flown up in her twin Cessna -- it was hardly worth firing up the Learjet for a trip that short, she said, and she had to keep familiar with the older plane, anyway. A few others showed up from here and there, and it turned into quite a houseful. Everyone was dressed casually, even sloppily, and Scooter was no exception; she had on a worn pair of blue jeans and a Nantahala Outdoor Center sweat shirt that had seen better days a long time before. It just led to the casual family comfort that Scooter had missed for a long time.

One unique and extraordinary thing about the whole affair was that it was the men who were doing most of the cooking -- but all of the men except Jon were or had been raft guides. Several women were helping, though, and it was a nice camaraderie of raft guides. Scooter was busy talking rafting and skiing and such things with one person or another while she dealt with this chore or that. What Scooter didn't take notice of was that one by one every one of the women disappeared from the kitchen as the dinner neared being ready.

The kitchen work was about done, and Scooter was mostly standing in the corner of the kitchen talking Appalachian Trail with Pat and Dave when Al stuck his head around the corner. "There you are!" he said. "Soup's on, people!"

Pat and Dave were in front of Scooter as she walked into the living room -- and let out a gasp. Crystal was wearing a sequined blue cocktail dress; Karin had on a rather sexy yellow one. Jennlynn was stunning in a very low-cut -- like to about the navel -- floor length black gown, Tanisha had on a red halter top affair, and Myleigh looked like a black-haired angel in her white gown. The rest of the women were all about equally elegantly dressed. It looked about like prom night at the Buck residence, or maybe a Wheel of Fortune convention. Scooter, dressed in her beat-up jeans and ragged sweat shirt could only just shake her head.

"Cover Girl, we all expected you to show us up," Karin laughed.

"I don't care what anyone else does," she replied, searching for words, "I still ain't gonna wear a dress at Randy's wedding. Crystal, consider yourself warned. Some day, when you least expect it, I'm gonna get you for this."

"Who said I had anything to do with it?" Crystal laughed.

"Hell, you could have warned me, that makes you guilty," Scooter shook her head. "Like I said, some day . . ."

It was a magnificent dinner, a festival of love and friendship. Some time afterwards, they cleared the dishes away, and considering the number of raft guides and former ones present, many hands made light work and they were soon gathered around the Christmas tree. There was some gift exchanging, with Al and Karin having a gift for everyone; there were many others, as well.

When it was over with, it was time for a real treat. Myleigh opened a triangular black case she'd brought with her and took out a shining deep blue Celtic harp, which she explained she called "Blue Beauty;" everyone thought it was well named. She sat down next to the Christmas tree and began to play, some songs they'd heard, and more that they hadn't. Although she may have been a professor of English literature, her moonlighting job was with the Boreal String Band, Jenny Easton's backup group, and Myleigh was hardly less talented a singer.

Once Myleigh was well warmed up, she smiled at the people sitting around, and said, "I have one special request, and this is a good time for it. After all, on Christmas, we should do some Christmas music." She began to play Go Tell It On The Mountain. Scooter happened to notice Tanisha silently mouthing the words as Myleigh played her harp like an angel.

Myleigh had been tipped. She played through the first verse then said quietly, "Tanisha, would you join me?"

"Why, certainly," Tanisha said, eyes almost running with tears.

Myleigh picked up the music, and Tanisha began to sing . . . "Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born . . ." She had a magnificent gospel singing voice, and she sang it like she meant it, full of soul and black church heritage.

When the song came to an end there was applause around the living room. "Tanisha, you're quite good," Myleigh smiled. "I'm afraid my stock of music of that genre is limited, but perhaps we should try something else. Do you know Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?"

"Of course," Tanisha smiled, so happy there were tears in her eyes. "Can you rock it a little?"

"I certainly can," Myleigh smiled, and began to play, and Tanisha sang along with her, in a deep, soulful voice, "I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, comin' for to carry me home . . ." She didn't miss a beat, singing powerfully and soulfully as the tears rolled down her face in a steady stream. "Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home . . ."

Finally she wrapped up the song with a heartfelt flourish as her eyes were even wet with tears. "That song is about going to heaven," she said softly. "I feel like that's where I am, wearing a beautiful gown, with an angel in a white dress playing a harp while I sing." She wiped back her tears and continued, "Ever since I had to leave home, I've missed being around family and friends, especially on days like this. Now, I'm among family and friends again, and it feels so wonderful I don't have the words to say it. Thank you everyone for who you are."

There were several others who felt pretty much the same way, even to the point of tears. Scooter was one of them. It may have been a strange and patchwork family, but it was what she had, and it was a lot better than she'd had for many years.


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To be continued . . .

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