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Down By the Riverside book cover

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

Chapter 31

Randy and Nicole, especially Randy, tried to be a good host to Crystal and Preach for the rest of the week, but there were things that he still had to do at Clark Construction, so the two visitors were on their own some of the time. It was not necessarily a bad thing, for there were other things for them to do, too.

Preach had particularly wanted to have a good discussion with Debbie, since he was fascinated by her Native American spiritual beliefs, and from what he could tell she was much more open to talking about them than other people with similar beliefs he’d met. The interesting thing was that Debbie was a Christian, a Presbyterian in fact, although not terribly active with it, but she more than made up for it with her other spiritual interests.

Preach had not known until the night before that Danny and Debbie were hard at work in their spare time transcribing the journals of a long-time missionary to the Three Pines Band a hundred and fifty years before. Those journals contained many insights and facts about the tribe and its beliefs that had been lost in the interim, and the fact that they took the work so seriously told Preach that she really knew what she was talking about.

It wasn’t something that was easily talked about in Randy and Nicole’s living room, so when Debbie announced that she was taking the next afternoon off, they made arrangements to meet at Danny and Debbie’s house so they could go into it in more detail.

Preach was a little ambivalent about the idea of spirits in the Christian world. The Bible says that there are such spirits such as angels, but somehow he couldn’t quite take the idea seriously. Debbie, on the other hand, lived in a spirit world almost as much as she lived in the real world, but hers were different from what Preach had comprehended.

He was especially interested in how she could fit her belief in spirits into her Christianity, but she apparently didn’t have any problem with it. “Spirits are just a convenient term we use,” she explained. “They are no less real, although we really can’t comprehend them, either in my tribal beliefs or in the Christian ones. When you get right down to it, my belief is that Christian and tribal spirits are more or less the same thing, doing the same thing for the same God. It’s just a different way of referring to the same thing.”

If he had been so inclined Preach could have found some things to disagree with in her interpretation, but mostly he kept his opinions to himself to learn more about something he knew very little about. At the same time, he had the feeling that there was a lot that was the same, seeking the word of the deity in visions and dreams, as well as in other ways. “In my teachings in the Canyon,” he said at one point, “I’ve occasionally talked about vision quests and relate them to Jesus going into the wilderness to seek God, pray, and be tempted,” he told her. “I know that it’s a tradition in some Native American tribes. Is it in yours?”

“Oh, yes,” she grinned. “I did one several years ago, and it turned my life around just about like the stories I’ve heard about your sister, Crystal.”

To be honest, Crystal had been zoning out a little up until that point. That statement perked her ears right up, and Preach was right with her. Years before Debbie had a drinking problem and a weight problem – but most of all a spiritual problem, since she’d lost touch with the important parts of her heritage. In desperation she’d turned to an old woman katara, who started to teach her about what she’d lost.

It was a long and involved story, but Preach and Crystal sat there listening in fascination as Debbie told of her agonizing experience in the wilderness on her vision quest, and the vision it had produced. She even conceded that the vision might have been delirium from the stress she’d been under, but whether it was or not, it had been worth it since it had produced a remarkable change in her.

It was an interesting afternoon, and it produced much food for thought. Clearly Debbie had something there that Preach hadn’t comprehended before. There were some things that Preach knew he was going to have to think and pray about over the next few days, and he hoped to have another long talk with Debbie before he and Crystal left Spearfish Lake.

They had already planned to have dinner with Randy and Nicole that evening – Myleigh had something she had to attend at the college where she taught. It proved to be the good opportunity Crystal had been looking for to pick Randy’s brain about possible Southern Hemisphere adventure trips, and there were several he had considered over the past several years.

Crystal was particularly drawn to doing a long independent sea kayaking trip in Patagonia, where Randy and Nicole had been a few weeks before, but she didn’t want to say out loud that it would feel a little like following in the footsteps of their friends. If they did it, the trip would take much longer and be considerably different from what Randy and Nicole had done, so maybe it didn’t matter as much.

Randy also pointed them at Tasmania, where another long sea kayaking trip was a possibility. It was very different from Patagonia, and had sea kayaking that would probably be even more challenging; it would again be a long trip, but it had possibilities. Crystal and Preach seemed drawn to the idea for no reason they could put their finger on.

Randy quite frankly admitted that those trips were pipe dreams for him; he knew well that he’d never have the chance even to think about doing them for they would take too much of his limited time. Like the trip they’d just finished, they were limited to the Christmas holiday, their only opportunity to get away together in the winter. Besides, even that was beginning to look a little shaky, since Nicole’s pregnancy, now in her fifth month, meant that family would put limits on getting away then, too.

But Randy had also investigated some shorter trips that seemed to offer potential, and he might be willing to leave Nicole behind like he had done in the Canyon the previous winter. Two to three weeks was about the limit he considered he’d ever be able to get away, and he felt he didn’t want to do trips like that by himself. Hiking in New Zealand was among the possibilities, but one that drew Crystal’s and Preach’s interest was a surfing trip to the Skeleton Coast of South Africa.

“You know,” Crystal said at one point, “while we really want to get away for a long trip next winter, it looks like it might be the last time. But shorter trips like you’ve been talking about a few years up the road, I wouldn’t be surprised if we might be able to join you.”

“I think I’d really like that, Crystal,” he said. “Trey and I have been kicking that Skeleton Coast trip around pretty hard. He’s a surfer too, you know that, and he’s pretty good. He often has slow periods at work, and I suspect he and I are going to be doing a few trips like that in the future. Danny might be a part of that, and he might not be; he’s not quite as outdoors oriented, and has his store he has to take care of. But thanks to Trey, my situation as far as getting away to do short adventure trips is nowhere near as bleak as it was a few years ago.”

“Well, thank goodness for that,” she sighed. “You deserve to get something going your way sometime.”

The next day, Friday, was different. Myleigh normally didn’t schedule classes for Friday, so it cut down on the long drives to the college where she taught; it was far enough away that she had arranged to rent a small apartment near the college and she often stayed there three nights a week during the semesters. She’d only been home on Tuesday and Wednesday nights because she knew that Crystal and Preach were going to be there. But with no classes on Friday she had the day off, so she and Trey managed to spend most of it with Crystal and Preach at her house renewing a friendship that had gotten rather thin over the years.

The group – less Danny and Debbie, who had other things planned – decided to head up to a nearby ski lodge on Saturday. Since it was very cold they didn’t exactly expect to do a lot of the snowboarding that Crystal particularly enjoyed, but the trip was at least partly to show off the new ski lodge that Clark Construction had recently completed. They got up to the lodge, which was just as spectacular as Randy had described, when their day was interrupted by a phone call telling Randy that his grandfather Brent, who owned Clark Construction, had had a heart attack and was on his way to a hospital in a nearby town. From what Randy was told the outlook wasn’t good.

Of course, there was no thought of skiing or snowboarding after that. They piled back into Myleigh and Trey’s minivan and started back toward Spearfish Lake. When they got there Randy and Nicole started for the hospital, where they discovered that his grandfather had died.

Of necessity that put a pall on things. There was a sort of informal wake at Randy’s house that evening attended by various family and friends; Crystal and Preach mostly stayed in the background and tried to help out where they could, mostly in the kitchen. Since some relatives would be coming to town in the next days and would need to stay with Randy and Nicole, Crystal and Preach decided to move over to Myleigh and Trey’s house for the rest of their visit.

On Sunday evening Randy came knocking on the door while the four of them were sitting around Myleigh’s living room, which was dominated by a full-sized concert harp. As soon as he came into the living room, he explained his mission. “The Methodist pastor who was supposed to do my grandfather’s funeral fell on some ice and broke his leg,” he announced. “They offered to get a guy to come up from Albany River to do the service, but he never met Brent, and the pastor who broke his leg didn’t know him either. Preach, Dad and I were kicking it around, and were wondering if you’d be up for it.”

“I only met your grandfather once,” Preach pointed out. “It was when we were here for Myleigh’s wedding.”

“I think that’s more than the current pastor managed,” Randy snorted. “He is sure not the best one the Methodist Conference ever assigned here, that’s for sure. Dad and I know you, Preach. We don’t know this guy from Albany River at all.”

“Sure, it’s been a while since I’ve done a funeral, but I’ll be glad to do it,” Preach replied. “I have to say, after your father’s off-the-cuff eulogy at your house the other night I found myself thinking about what I would say if I were asked to do it. I really probably ought to sit down and have a few words with your father, I could see him in the morning.”

“Why don’t you just call him and work something out?” Randy said. “I feel like I’m in the middle on this one.”

“Sure, sounds like a good idea,” Preach said. “Why don’t I call him right now?”

“Good enough,” Randy replied, giving him the number. “I’ll go harass everyone else for a couple minutes while you do.”

Preach headed to the kitchen to use the phone while Randy took a minute to talk with the people in the living room. “Sorry this is eating into the time we can spend with you, Crystal,” he said after a moment.

“That’s all right, it can’t be helped,” she said. “Hey, thanks for asking Preach to do that. I don’t think he wants to be a regular minister again, but it’s nice when he can do something that touches on it once in a while.”

“I have no doubt that he can do a better job than that joker we have at the Methodist Church,” Randy shook his head. “Methodist preachers are like streetcars. If you miss one there’ll be another one along pretty soon.”

“I think that’s part of why Preach doesn’t want to do it as a regular thing,” she said. “You get yourself established in the community, and then you’re gone. It’s one thing to be a little footloose, but it’s another thing to have to build things up and then tear them up right away. Don’t get me wrong, I love Preach as he is, but I don’t think I could be a minister’s wife.”

“Well, I never thought so either. I think that’s why you and he surprised everybody.”

“I keep telling people that it surprises me as much as anyone,” Crystal snickered. “But I’m not complaining.”

In a couple minutes Preach came back from the kitchen. “Well, that’s worked out,” he said. “I’ll have to get with your dad during the day tomorrow and spend a few minutes getting things set up at the funeral home, but it shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“Good enough,” Randy said. “I guess I’d better get heading back. We’re going to have to get together when all this stuff is over with and get back to some serious visiting.”

“This stuff happens, Randy,” Preach said. “We understand. Don’t put yourself out over it.”

The funeral was the next day. It was a fairly big service, since Brent Clark had been an important man in the community, but Preach had primed himself for the service by talks with Randy’s father Ryan and Randy himself, and he at least had a dim memory of the man.

“I’m sure there are many here who could tell you more about Brent Clark than I can,” Preach concluded in his eulogy. “I only met him a couple times, and then briefly. But those brief occasions taught me that he was a man worth knowing and worth remembering. He influenced a lot of people in his life, and those influences will remain long after my feeble words vanish from memory. I have to say that I envy those of you who knew him better than I did, for it’s in you that his influence will remain. There are worse legacies that a man can leave.”

By the time the funeral was completed Crystal and Preach’s stay in Spearfish Lake was drawing to a close. They didn’t get to spend much more time with Randy and Nicole, mostly because Randy had a lot of loose ends to pick up, both legal and with the company. As expected, Clark Construction had been left to him; he commented once that it wouldn’t mean much of an increase in pay but a huge increase in ultimate responsibility. It seemed to both Crystal and Preach that Randy seemed ready to shoulder it and carry on.

All too soon it was time to leave; Crystal and Preach had to drive to St. Paul and get the show booth set up. Very early in the morning they got in the frigidly cold minivan and drove up to Randy’s house to say goodbye there. They left the van running to warm it up while they went in for a cup of coffee before hitting the road, and then before long they were on their way.

It was Crystal’s turn to drive, so she settled behind the wheel of the minivan, which was now at least warm enough to not have to wear a heavy jacket. “You know,” she said, “I feel sorry for Randy.”

“I do, too. Losing his grandfather like that had to hurt. He’s worked with him for years.”

“Well, not so much that. He still would like to get out and have some adventure trips, but his chances were getting pretty restricted even before his grandfather died, and they’re just going to be even more restricted now.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” Preach nodded. “I’ll bet it’s a long time before we see him in the Canyon again.”

“I think so too,” she sighed. “Don’t get me wrong. Randy and Myleigh are my best friends outside of Flagstaff, and maybe then, too. But they have their lives, we have ours, and we’re slowly drifting apart. There were times I felt awkward talking with them since it seemed like we didn’t have as much to talk about as we used to.”

“I could see that.”

Crystal was silent for a moment, as if marshalling her thoughts. “Randy used to really envy me,” she said finally. “Looking at it from his viewpoint, I don’t blame him. I used to have the freedom to go out and do the things I wanted to do, but he didn’t. Most of the time I knew him, I knew that he was going to be tied to the family business, and there was enough money involved between Clark Construction and his dad’s Clark Plywood that he knew there wasn’t going to be any running away from it. I felt like I was lucky to be free of all that. Now, look at us. We’re not much less tied down than he is, and it’s going to get worse as we go on. Back in those days, I never expected that to happen. Now, look at us.”

“I see what you mean. He’s had a lot of responsibilities for years, and now he’s just taking on more of them. We’re a little behind him, but only a little.”

“Yeah, that’s it, or at least a part of it,” she sighed. “But at the same time you have to look farther than just the responsibilities. I mean, there they are, living in that gorgeous house, while we’re still crashing at the Girls’ House when we’re off the river. They have a baby on the way, and from a couple of things Myleigh and Trey said I think they’re kicking the idea of a kid around too. I never thought I’d see the day that would happen. I mean, not with Myleigh, not ever.”

“Having a baby is bound to change things, Crystal. It’s going to happen for us someday, or at least I hope it will.”

“Yeah, I guess. Preach, I hate to say it but while I’m glad we got to see everybody again, in a way I’m almost sorry we came, too. It, uh, makes me feel, I can’t say left behind, but maybe it is that way a little. Let’s face it, we’re taking on responsibilities too, and we’re accepting the restrictions in the process. I keep thinking we’d better be working on that big trip we’ve been talking about, because I can see the chance to do it go flying away, just like the opportunities flew away for Randy.”

“Well, I agree with you on that. I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to have to do it next winter or we’re not going to have the chance to do it at all, unless we do one of those two- or three-week quickie trips like Randy was talking about.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you on the quickie trips and the door is pretty much going to stay open for them. It would even be neat to do one or more of them with him. But you’re right about the long trip, we’re going to have to get it in or we’re not going to be able to do it.”

“So what do you think?” Preach asked. “Tasmania or Patagonia?”

“Good question. After seeing all those photos Nicole took, I’d love to go to Patagonia, and it would be a real challenge. At least they speak English in Tasmania, and if we’re going to head out into remote country, that’s an advantage. I know Dave and Mary speak Spanish; it’s why they’ve spent their winters in Mexico and now Costa Rica. I don’t think we have twenty words of Spanish between us, so that argues for Tasmania, at least without doing more research.”

“I could live with that,” he agreed. “Either one is going to be expensive, though.”

“Yeah, we’d better start saving our pennies,” she sighed. “I mean, I know the bank account isn’t hurting, but there are other things we’re going to have to deal with in the foreseeable future. Preach, crashing in the Girl’s House has been fine for years, but I think the time is coming when we’re going to have to get past that, especially if I’m going to have to spend a lot of my time topside.”

“I agree. The Girl’s House is all right for now, but I can also see it’s something we’re going to have to get out of in the near future. Look, Crystal. I know you want to go to Costa Rica and hang out, and I do, too. But it’s going to be expensive. What would you say to just dumping it and putting our money toward the big trip, and toward a house after we get wrapped up with it?”

“That’s pretty close to what I’ve been thinking,” she said. “You’re right, I’d still like to go to Costa Rica, and maybe we can some day. Maybe if the big trip doesn’t come off for some reason, we could go there next winter. In fact, if we time it right, we might even be able to get Randy and Nicole to come along for a week or so.”

“I don’t know how badly she’d want to leave their baby behind.”

“By then she might be just as happy to have a break,” Crystal snickered. “No way of telling, but Randy and Nicole have grandmothers right close by who are already fighting with each other over who’s going to take care of the kid while Nicole is in school.”

“That ought to simplify things for them,” he agreed.

“You know,” she said after a moment’s thought. “That’s something that really bothered me, too. The first night we were there, we sat around talking about kid’s names and baby care and all that stuff, and well, it seemed like it was off in another world. I mean, they were talking about it and pretty enthusiastic about it, while there really wasn’t anything I could add. It just wasn’t in my world, so to speak.”

“I caught a bit of that myself,” he agreed. “Honestly, Crystal, I was thinking that someday I’d like to be dealing with those issues myself.”

“I know you’d like to have kids. We’ve talked about it often enough. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet. Close, but not there. We’ve always known that having a kid is going to restrict me to staying topside most of the year, and now we’re getting to the point where I’m going to have to spend a lot of time topside anyway. I’m pretty sure it will be worse in future years. There’s no reason you can’t lead the church trips without me, so it could well be that the only times I’ll ever really have the option of taking a trip will be in the spring or the fall.”

“And that could be difficult if we had a family,” he finished the thought for her. “Again, that’s something we knew would be coming, just like we knew that I’d have to be on the river and you’d have to be topside when it happens. I’m hoping we can work it around so I don’t have to be away from you a whole lot, but I guess we’ll have to see what happens when it happens.”

“It’s coming,” she sighed. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s coming. We’ve always said we wanted to have a house of our own before we started having a family, so that’s got to be on the list for pretty soon, too. Let’s try to get the big trip in next winter, and then I guess we can start thinking about that house, and then some kids since I’ll be topside most of the time anyway.”

“I think it’s been coming just like that,” he agreed. “It’s just that we’ve never set a timeline on it. Crystal, that timeline works for me.”

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To be continued . . .

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