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

Down By the Riverside book cover

Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 26
Sunday, July 20, 2003

The campsite the White Team finally snagged was not exactly Nanci’s favorite, although she had been at worse ones along the river. It was a small, cramped site below Granite, and there weren’t any good hikes out of it since it was rather walled in. Nanci knew Crystal really hadn’t wanted to stop there but they’d sort of been pushed into it since better spots upriver had already been taken by the time they got to them and it had been getting later than they wanted.

Still, it was off the river and gave a chance to rest up after what had been a tougher than normal day in Upper Granite Gorge and Adrenaline Alley. The heat was as bad as it had been all summer, and the chance to get off the river, sit in the shade, and take a dip in the cold water was welcome indeed. Nanci was wearing her raft-blue one-piece that had served her for a couple of years now, and was sitting in the shade of a handy tamarisk while the hot air quickly dried her off. Customers were swimming, too, as well as sitting in what little shade there was, or taking naps; nobody seemed very enthusiastic in the heat, and Nanci couldn’t blame them in the slightest.

Mostly, Nanci was thinking about the previous Sunday, when Preach had led the service at the Flagstaff John Wesley Fellowship; she’d been there to support him, as had Crystal and most of the rest of the White Team, along with Al and Karin. The church itself was interesting, a small white frame building with a tall steeple; it seemed to Nanci that it would be more at home in some tiny New England village than among the pines of Flagstaff.

The Fellowship really was a small church; Nanci counted something less than forty people present and that included the Canyon Tours contingent. From that, it was no wonder the church was having financial difficulties. But they seemed to be a warm and friendly group if on the older side, and they also seemed to be serious and devout about what they were doing. Nanci had liked them almost immediately. They were, as Jeff had said, pretty close to Methodists – in fact, their hymnals were Methodist, and Nanci had learned from one of the church members that they had been a gift from Hillside Methodist when the larger church got new hymnals.

When Jeff had brought up the idea to Preach on Friday, Nanci had gotten the impression that the church’s being without a pastor was a more or less temporary thing. But she learned that “temporary” had now dragged on for over two years, with various members of the congregation taking up most of the duties a pastor would normally perform. Even Reverend Miller from Hillside Methodist had pitched in to help out from time to time; he’d recently done a funeral for a church member, for example. Things didn’t look promising in the foreseeable future, either. It seemed to Nanci that the members of the little congregation were holding on with their fingernails to a fellowship they’d known and enjoyed for many years, and were not planning on giving it up anytime soon if they could help it.

While Nanci liked the place and its members, she’d also paid attention to some of the attitudes and details. If the Lord led her to being a minister, it seemed likely that His path would take her through some little place like this, at least in the beginning, so she realized that this might be something of a peek into her future. It interested her.

Preach – and in this case, it was more correct to call him Reverend Whittaker – put on a really interesting service. It wasn’t anything loud or spectacular or fantastic, but Nanci also realized it was a little different and more formal that the somewhat-casual teachings he gave on the river, even on the church trips. It was strange to see him dressed in a suit – the only other time she’d ever seen it was at his wedding – but he really looked the part of the minister he actually was.

It made her a little sad to realize that he really didn’t want to fill the role of a pastor somewhere, because he seemed made for the job. He was a good speaker – better than Reverend Miller in her admittedly prejudiced opinion – and had a warm and charismatic delivery that really held her attention.

The members of the congregation really seemed to like Preach a lot too, at least judging by the way the people warmly greeted him following the service. Several of them said they’d be glad to have him back again sometime, and from what Nanci could tell, he enjoyed it too.

What with their river schedule being what it was, they had to pass up several dinner offers, and within an hour of the service letting out, all of the members of the White Team were back in river clothing and down at the office loading up for the next trip.

That evening, as they sat around Lee’s Ferry in the dying light, the group discussed it a little bit. “You know, I enjoyed that,” Preach said. “It was fun to do something like that, but I don’t think I’d like to make a habit of it.”

“I could see how it could be habit-forming,” Crystal said. “Preach, I hope you don’t mind my saying it, but I was worried that you’d like it a little too much.”

“No, I don’t think so. I still feel that I’m not being led to be a pastor, there or anywhere. I have become more firmly convinced that I’m supposed to be a teacher, not a preacher, and today only added to it. Standing up and giving a Sunday service is one thing, but doing it on a regular basis, with all the other duties the pastor of a small church has to perform, well, that’s something else.”

“Well, when I stop and think about it, so long as it ends there I guess I don’t mind,” she replied. “As far as that goes, I guess if you want to do it once in a while, it’s fine with me.” She sighed and went on. “Honestly, I’m not worried all that much about you helping out at someplace local like the Wesley Fellowship. I’m just afraid that if you get into it, especially in a denomination, the next thing you know you’ll get a call to a bigger church a couple of states away, and that could really cause us a lot of problems with the company.”

“I share the same concern, Crystal,” he said. “I’m sure we’re on the right course for both of us in taking the direction we are. But we wouldn’t be considering it, and in fact we wouldn’t be married if I really felt I was supposed to be at a church somewhere. It took me a long time to realize I wasn’t supposed to be the pastor of some church, and finally overcoming my own blindness is the only reason I’m not one now.”

“I don’t know,” Nanci said. “I thought you did a great job today. That struck me as the way it’s supposed to be done.”

“So I know how to do it,” he shrugged. “I’ve sat through an awful lot of services, and I’ve been through seminary, so it’s not a strange thing for me to do. Knowing how to do it is one thing but knowing that I’m supposed to be doing it, especially as a career, is another.”

Preach stared out across the river for a moment, obviously thinking. “You know who really ought to be speaking there sometime,” he said finally, “is Nanci.”


“Sure,” he turned to her and smiled. “The Wesley Fellowship gets along on lay speakers a lot, and you’re qualified for that with those courses you’ve taken. You’re more of a Methodist than I am, and you wouldn’t have other pastoral duties to perform. Nanci, I’ve told you before that I feel my service to the Lord lies in being a teacher, not a preacher. You, on the other hand . . . well, we all know you’re thinking about being a preacher. That would be a way for you to stick your toe in the water a little. I don’t necessarily mean doing it as a regular thing, either, but maybe once in a while. It would probably have to be after you’re back in school, since you’ll have only one more Sunday in Flagstaff before you have to go back to school. You’d have to drive up from Phoenix to do it, but maybe it would help you with the decision you’re facing.”

Nanci tested the weight of his idea in her mind, and liked the heft of it. “Well, when you put it that way you might have an idea there, Preach. I’d have to think about it and pray about it, but it’s worth considering.”

“If you decide you want to do it, we can talk to Jeff when we get off the river,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if they land on it like a duck on a June bug.”

Now, a week later, the idea had intrigued Nanci this far down the river. It made a lot of sense to her; she was, as Preach had said, very undecided about whether she was supposed to be a minister or not. The idea appealed to her, and she felt like she could do a good job of it, even though it entailed a lot more than just standing up in front of a church and talking for a few minutes every Sunday morning. The questions she had in her own mind mostly involved whether she was up to the obvious responsibilities of caring for a congregation, which would probably be a lot like the people she met at the Wesley Fellowship.

But was being responsible for a group of people in a congregation all that much different than being responsible for a raft loaded with customers heading down the river? Conceptually, it was pretty close to the same thing although the situation was as different as different could be. She knew she could handle a raft, and she’d convinced others like Al and Crystal and Preach of it before they’d let her out on the river with customers, but would being a minister have its similarities? Being a lay speaker on occasion seemed almost like being sent down the river at the sticks of a gear boat, a step toward the responsibility without it being the real thing.

She’d turned the idea over in her mind for several days before she’d gone to Preach and told him that she was interested in the idea. They’d agreed to talk to Jeff about it when they got off the river. It really wasn’t all that much on her mind right now that the decision had been made; mostly she was trying to rest on this hot afternoon, just unwind and get herself mentally prepared for another day on the river, and not the easiest one of the trip.

Nanci was only partly paying attention when Angie came out from a brief dip in the river, and came over to join her in the shade. “You know,” she said as she found a halfway comfortable rock to sit on, “this is the second summer I’ve been down here, and I still can’t believe how hot it gets.”

“I’ve seen it worse, but not much worse,” Nanci said, breaking out of her reverie. “I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have the river. I still can’t quite believe how cold the water is, even on a hot day like this.”

“I’m sure glad we have it, even though it’s so cold I can’t stand to stay in long,” Angie agreed. “You know, customers on motor-rig trips usually aren’t quite as prepared as they are on these trips, and a couple times last summer we had people who hadn’t even thought of bringing swimsuits. We had more than one outbreak of skinny-dipping.”

“I’ve seen it happen,” Nanci smiled. “We don’t get much of it on this team for some odd reason, but I’ve heard stories from the other Canyon Tours teams. I’d be willing to bet we don’t see any of it on our next trip.”

“Yeah, that’s the second church trip, isn’t it? I’d guess you probably have that one right.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Nanci grinned. “I mean, I really don’t think it would happen, but last winter I ran across a website about Christian nudists. That would be an interesting trip to take, but I don’t think I’d want to be on it.”

“Me, either,” Angie laughed. “Although I have to admit that’s one I never heard of before. It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, it does, but it keeps life interesting, too.”

“I have to admit that the first church trip turned out to be more interesting than I expected,” Angie admitted. “There were some really neat people on it.”

“Yeah, there were,” Nanci agreed. That last trip had gone pretty well, and once again she wound up speaking when they stopped at Havasu Creek. She hadn’t gone into all the details of the things she had done before she’d become a Christian there, but she gave enough of them to make clear that she meant it. In retrospect she thought that the message the Lord had called on her to give there had been the best yet. She had little doubt that she’d wind up doing it at Havasu Creek on the next trip, too. There certainly seemed to be some sort of special triangular connection between God, her and that place, but it was something she couldn’t have explained if she’d wanted to.

It seemed hard to believe that the next trip would be the second Christian trip, and that it would be the last full trip of the summer for her. Even though it was still July the summer was flying by, and all too soon she’d be back in school and living with Jon and Tanisha. Right now, that part of her life seemed far away but it would be arriving quickly. Tanisha would be having her second baby not long after school started, and that would make things a little more complicated, too.

“We’ve got some good people on this trip, too,” Angie sighed, and looked around to see if anyone was near. Apparently there wasn’t so she dropped her voice and went on, “Look, Nanci, there’s something I’ve got to ask you about. One of the girls on this trip, Julie, the blonde, you know?”

“The one who never says much of anything?”

“Yeah, her. I’ve got, well, I don’t know how to say it, but I’m getting some vibes from her. I mean, neither of us has actually come right out and said anything, but some of the hints have been pretty strong. I mean, both ways. You know what I’m talking about, we’ve talked about it before.”

They had indeed talked about Angie’s attraction to girls, if that was what it really was. It wasn’t something she was exactly sure about, but Nanci knew that Angie felt she had some strong leanings in that direction whether they were real or not.

Their first few discussions had been a little on the indirect side, with Angie reluctant to come out and admit what she was thinking about, but as she and Nanci had become more friendly the topic had gradually gotten more frank. They’d even had a couple of three-cornered discussions with Preach, and he’d inserted a few points for both of them to ponder about the correctness of same-sex relationships; several of them had been Biblical references that Nanci hadn’t even thought of. He’d come right out and said he wasn’t willing to offer a judgment on it, but that it was something Angie would have to work out for herself. Even Nanci had been surprised that a minister even as easy-going as Preach would be so open to the idea.

However, as the discussions had progressed Nanci had gotten the feeling that Angie was moving slowly from the purely theoretical toward the practical. That may or may not have been good, because there were obvious pitfalls along the way, and not just from her family if she got involved with them again. It had seemed to Nanci that Angie had been moving back toward a better relationship with the Lord than she’d had in the past. Getting involved with another woman had lots of potential to complicate things because many church people didn’t tolerate the idea.

“You think she’s actually open to it?” Nanci asked, wondering just how serious this might be.

“I think she is,” Angie admitted. “I keep thinking this might be a good time to try it out. I mean, she’s a customer, and she’s not going to be around if it turns out it doesn’t work. I’m getting really tempted to, uh, sort of let her know that I’m not exactly opposed to the idea and see what happens.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Nanci sighed. “On the one hand, it could cause a lot of problems both in your life and on the river. On the other hand, it might be a good idea for you to find out. At least you wouldn’t be wondering about it any longer, or at least would have a better idea of what’s involved. You know that with my past I can’t be judgmental about it. I know it’s not necessarily a Christian principle, but the old saw, ‘If it harms none, do it,” seems to apply at least to some degree.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you might have something there.”

“Yes, but the flaw in that reasoning is that you don’t know what harm it might do,” Nanci went on. “That’s why most true Christians try to stay on a path of what they perceive to be righteous, and sometimes thoughtless obedience to those principles causes a lot of harm. A casual little thing we never think about can have really long-range consequences we would never dream of. Look, I don’t know if you know the story, but you know the place below Crystal Rapids where we usually stop for lunch, right?”

“Yeah, I was told that was where Al and Karin got married.”

“There’s a long story behind that,” Nanci grinned. “Way back in 1973, Al was just a boatman and Mom was a customer on a trip he was on. There’s a little water pocket up above the beach a ways, it’s a little hard to get to and no one from the team has been up this year as far as I know. Well, Al and Mom had a little Canyon romance up there, and Crystal was the result.”

“I didn’t know that. That’s why you and her are half-sisters, right?”

“Right, and none of us knew it until three years ago. But think of how much would be different if it hadn’t happened, starting with the fact that Crystal, Mom, and I probably wouldn’t be here at all. Well, Crystal might, but maybe not, too. She would have probably been a lot more like me if she’d had the same father I have, and I’m only here because Crystal was already here. The point I’m making is that insignificant little things can have a big effect many decades up the road, so you can’t know what will harm someone way off in the future. Well, unless you’re a prophet, that is. I haven’t seen many around recently, and they usually don’t get into that subject, anyway.”

“Yes, but if every little thing we do could have those kinds of consequences, none of us would ever do anything.”

“I agree. It comes back to you having to be the one to make the judgment call. Look, I can’t tell you to do it, but I can’t tell you not to do it, either. It may be a good idea, but if you decide to experiment with someone else, it might or might not be a good idea there, either. Look, I don’t know if anyone has told you or not, but considering what happened back there in ’73 and the fact that a lot of people know about it, Al doesn’t think he’s in a position where he can lay down hard and fast rules. But I can tell you what the unofficial Canyon Tours policy is.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, Al hasn’t told me about it directly, I think because he realizes that it’s not something I’m likely to get involved with. But I know he has told other people that it’s generally not a good idea to mess around with the customers like that, even though sometimes things happen whether you want them to or not.”

“He’s probably right,” Angie smiled. “Although it worked out for him.”

“Yes, it did. But Al has also said that if you do find yourself wanting to mess around with a customer, keep it real low-key so it doesn’t cause discord on the trip. I mean, jealousy, snide remarks, you get the picture. You went to high school just like I did, so you know what I mean. He also says that if you do go ahead and do it, keep it toward the end of the trip, the last two or three days or so. That way if something does go wrong, it’s gone pretty quickly.”

*   *   *

Eleven days later they were down at Diamond Creek again. The road had long been reopened, but it was still possible to see the damage the flash flood had caused three weeks before; from the landing it was possible to see the scars from where a bulldozer had been used to make things passable again.

Nanci had been more than a little curious about what had gone on between Angie and the customer, although she kept her nose out of it and hadn’t had any discussions with her friend on the subject. She still kept her eyes open, but there were no clear indications either way of what might have happened.

The rafts were all up on the bank and most of the gear had been unloaded when Jeff once again brought the old Canyon Tours short-bodied former school bus to the landing to haul the customers up the hill. It had been a good group, friendlier than most, so there were good-byes and professions of friendship among both the customers and crew, exchanges of addresses and goodbye hugs.

But Nanci did notice one friendly kiss between Angie and Julie. With it went a hug that went on a little longer than most of the others. She wasn’t sure if it meant anything or not, and if it did it seemed likely that Angie would tell her about it sooner or later, but if she didn’t, she didn’t. Either way, she thought, the Lord’s will be done.

<< Back to Last Chapter Forward to Next Chapter >>
To be continued . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.