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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 36
Monday, September 13 – Friday, September 17, 2004

One of the things that can usually get an argument going in the Burro is the question of which rapids in the Grand Canyon are the toughest. Although there are people who would contend that Hance is the worst, they are in a minority. The real fun starts with the argument over Crystal Rapids at the end of Adrenaline Alley, or Lava Falls, far downstream.

It’s a question that probably will never be settled. Crystal isn’t as steep as Lava but goes on much farther, while Lava is one big, tough drop where it’s easy to put a raft into the wrong place and come out worse for wear. Every boatman on the river has tales to tell about either of them, and it’s likely that the argument will never be settled.

Like any other boatmen on the river, the White Team was not immune to finding trouble at Lava, and one afternoon on the trip after the second Christian trip it happened to Crystal, of all people. The members of the team had long since conceded that she was the best raft handler among them, so it was surprising when her raft barely made it through the seething water. It had been about the closest Crystal had ever been to actually flipping a raft, and even she couldn’t say why it hadn’t gone over and left the customers and her swimming.

The thing that irritated Crystal about the affair more than anything else was that Joe Balsam, of all people, had about as clean a run as it was ever possible to get in Lava. His customers barely got damp while everybody else on the trip was soaked. Joe was a fall replacement since both Mark and Nanci were back in college, Mark at Brigham Young and Nanci at Black Mesa.

While Joe had been down the river approximately a zillion times on four- and five-day baloney boat trips for GCR, when it came to running an oar boat he barely knew which end of the stick went into the water. That had meant he’d had some real adventures, if the term could be used, while he got things figured out further up the river.

Naturally – and probably rightfully so – Joe was doing some serious gloating when they pulled in to a rocky beach just below Lava to wring out and put on dry clothes. Joe had somehow even one-upped the other baloney boat fall replacement, good old reliable Jerry Palmer, who had quite a bit of experience with oar boats at Canyon Tours before he switched over to motor rigs.

Given that it was a cool, overcast day and the fact that everybody was pretty wet it took a while to get dried out, so Preach decided to only run a few more miles that afternoon and get off the river early, so that’s what they did. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best day the White Team had on the river all summer, but there was only one more trip left in the season and then winter would be upon them. Right at that moment Crystal didn’t feel like she minded all that much.

Since almost everybody was on the wet and miserable side after the run, they decided to dig out the stove and get some coffee brewing. There were some tamarisk trees around the camp, and most of them had wet clothes hanging on them here and there. Kevin, Joe, and few of the customers decided to explore up a small side canyon; the rest were mostly sitting around sipping coffee and hoping the weather would be better tomorrow. The trip was winding down, and everyone hoped it would at least end on a higher note.

Crystal and Preach decided to take the opportunity of the relative inactivity to get away from the group for a little while, so they walked down the riverbank a short distance to be alone for a bit. They hadn’t had a great deal of alone time in the past few days, only what they could get in their sleeping bags at night. Considering that they had to get up early, sleep was of a little higher priority than talking.

“I’ll tell you what,” Crystal grumped. “Right now I envy Nanci a little. I mean, she’s sitting there in a nice, warm classroom wishing she were out on the river. I’ll bet if she was here that classroom would look pretty good to her right now.”

“Well, you’re probably right on that,” Preach conceded. “Except that if the classrooms at Tennessee Baptist are any guide, those chairs are a little on the hard side.”

“Not as hard as rocks,” Crystal snorted. “I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but this jazz gets a little old after a while. I keep imagining a nice, comfortable living room chair, and even better, a nice big comfortable bed.”

“Yeah, I do, too,” Preach agreed. “And I’ve been out on the river more than you have this year. I think I can hack the comforts of civilization for a while.”

There was a big question hanging between them, and they knew it, but it seemed like neither one of them wanted to say the words. “Yeah, I guess I do, too,” Crystal said finally, then decided she had to be the one to at least open the door to what they were really discussing. “You know, right about now I’m not very sure I want to do the Tasmania trip. I mean, it’s going to mean more wet, more cold, and more sitting on rocks.”

“I’ve been thinking pretty much the same thing,” he conceded. “The more I think about it, the less it appeals to me.”

“The heck of it is that we’ve got to make up our minds pretty quickly. I mean, like before we get off the river. We should have had it settled by the end of the last trip, but we’ve still got time to get it going if we get the reservations and stuff nailed down this weekend. If we don’t, well, I guess we don’t get to do the trip anyway.”

“I guess failing to make a decision is a decision in itself,” he replied philosophically. “But if we’re not going to do it, I’d just as soon we made the decision ourselves, rather than letting it make itself.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said finally. “I don’t really want to say to not do it, but I don’t really want to do it, either. I think that’s why we’ve let this one slide so long.”

“You’re probably right,” he agreed. “I guess I feel that way, too.” He squirmed around a little trying to find a more comfortable position without much success, then put his hands behind his head for a moment. “You know, I think I understand where your mother is coming from a little better than I did before.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“You know it as well as I do. Ever since she’s been with Al, she’s been trying to catch up on the things she missed out on when she was married to Pete. Being a boatman of course, but skiing, surfing, SCUBA diving, and I could name other things.”

“Yeah, and I think she’s trying to catch up with me a little, too.”

“I’m sure she has. She envied the freedom you had while she was trapped in her marriage to Pete, although I don’t know if she would put it that way.”

“I still don’t get what you’re trying to say, Preach.”

“Well, what it comes down to is that I’ve been the same way a little. I mean, those years when you were roaming, hiking the Appalachian Trail and all those other things you did, I was either at Tennessee Baptist, or seminary, or at Glen Hill Road, doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing and feeling a little trapped by it. If I had known all of what you’d been up to, I probably would have felt a lot more trapped. Then you and the Canyon came along.”

“I get it. You’ve been trying to catch up yourself.”

“Yeah, that’s it, although it hadn’t really come to me like that until recently. When Nanci quoted that line from First Corinthians to me on the bus on our way up to the last trip, it really hit me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.”

“You mean that line about putting away childish things? That one hit me pretty hard, too.”

“Your sister has the knack of being able to sometimes say the right thing to hit you in the gut,” he said. “Or, at least God gives her the leading. Same difference. Crystal, I might as well come out and be the one to say it. The time has come to put away the childish things, and I think the big trip falls in that category. Maybe that’s why I can’t get enthusiastic about it anymore.”

Crystal was silent for a moment before she said, “All right. I guess we might as well dump the whole idea. I’d still like to do it, but I can see we have other things we need to do.”

“My thinking exactly. That doesn’t mean we can’t go take trips and do things, but I think we need to keep them in proportion. Like, we were talking about taking that trip to Hawaii a while back. We could still do that without it getting in the way of other things very badly. Or, maybe that trip to South Africa that Randy was talking about last winter. We don’t even have to do it this winter. We’ll have other times for trips of that length.”

“Yeah, and maybe we could even get Randy to go with us on something like that,” she agreed. “I’ve only talked to him a couple of times since they had their baby last spring, but between the baby and Clark Construction, he really doesn’t have the desire to get away like he used to. Or, at least that’s the impression I’m getting.”

“So he’s learned to give up some of the desire to do childish things, and accept the responsibility of growing up, like we’re going to have to do, or maybe like what we’ve just decided to do.”

“You know,” she replied after a moment’s thought. “I guess I’ve seen this coming ever since we were up to see them in Spearfish Lake last winter. I mean, there we were. They were talking about what to name their babies, how they were going to handle child care, and that sort of thing, and I really felt left out. It only came to me slowly that we weren’t being left out but left behind. They were getting on with their lives, and we weren’t. I mean, Randy was a good buddy back in college and for a long time afterwards, but his life changed as his responsibilities grew. When I realized that, it started to hurt a little bit and I knew something had to change.”

“I felt the same but I didn’t want to put it to you in that way,” he replied. “Crystal, we were still pretty independent when we got married, and it’s taken both of us some learning to really become a couple. I had some doubts when we first got married. I thought it was too soon, but it seemed like a good idea at the time for other reasons. But I think we’ve both managed to build something that works for us.”

“Yeah, there’s a give and take I hadn’t realized,” she replied. “It wasn’t always easy for me to learn.”

“I had some learning to do, too, Crystal. I had a rather traditional view of marriage, and I had to learn to accept the fact that we have to be co-dependent on each other. Both of us wanted to take the lead there for a while, and we had to work out those differences.”

“I guess,” she said reluctantly accepting the decision, although it had been clear it had to be made. “That means we start looking for a house, huh?”

“We might as well. I don’t think we’re going to be able to do much about it this weekend, but we’ve only got one more trip and then we’ll have time to get serious about it. It’s probably not going to be an overnight process, Crystal. I would be surprised if we’re in a house of our own by Christmas. I don’t know a great deal about it, but I do know that these things take time, even if we find the place we want right off.”

“I’ll admit that the last time we were in Flag I kept my eyes open for real estate signs,” she smiled. “I mean, I’d see this house or that house and wonder what it would be like to live there.”

“That thought has crossed my mind, too. Like I said, there’s not much we can do about it until we get off the next trip, but we should be getting things going pretty soon after that.”

“I don’t know how happy I’m going to be being stuck in the Girls’ House that long,” she shook her head. “I mean, with the prospect of a house of our own out there, after all.”

“It won’t be that long,” he rationalized. “It’s just going to seem like it. We’ll be off the river first, but Dave and Mary will be joining us the week after that, then Scooter and Jim. But they probably will only be around until after the post-season party the first part of November, and then they’ll probably be off to Costa Rica, at least if the last I heard about their plans is correct. Then we’ll have the place to ourselves again, and we’ll probably be in our own place by the time they get back. I think we can survive that long. We’ve done it before.”

“I suppose,” she sighed. “The thing that worries me now is that since we’re not going to be taking the trip, we’re going to have free time, and as soon as Pastor Jordan hears about it he’ll be after us to do more church visits.”

“We have the perfect excuse to not do them,” he smiled. “I mean, having to look for a house, and jump through all sorts of hoops we don’t even know about yet. Then, we’ve still got to get our new house set up. I mean, furniture, kitchen stuff, and I don’t know what all. We don’t have much of that, and it could take a while to get it. Then, there’s a good chance we might decide to get a fixer-upper, and since I probably won’t have much else to do this winter, I can throw my time at that. It doesn’t take long to make doing the church visits an impossibility, and I have to admit I’m getting about as tired of them as you are.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a point, and it’s going to be a lot of work, especially if we get into a fixer-upper deal. If we do, a lot of the work is going to have to fall on you.”

“I would much rather be fixing up a house and building a future,” he grinned. “We started the church trips to help build business for Canyon Tours, but I think the church trips are self-sustaining now. I’m sure your Dad will find shows for us to go to if we’re available, and those are a little different.”

“I don’t mind doing a few of them, but I don’t think I’m going to be up for being a booth bunny all winter,” she said, then brightened. “But a new house gives us an excuse there too, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does. Look, Crystal. As you get more involved in working in the office, you’re going to be less able to do those kinds of things. In the future, I mean after this winter, I probably will be more available for them, and I’m willing to consider doing a reasonable amount of them without you, if it comes to that.”

“Hey, I’m going to miss you enough in the summer as it is, and there’s no way you’re going to take off for half the winter on me too. I guess that’s something we’ll just have to work out with Dad and Mom. On the other hand, I might not be able to get away that much if I’m taking care of a kid or two.”

“You think you’re ready for that, too?”

“There’s a part of me that thinks I’ll never be ready for it, but then, Michelle thought the same way and look at her now. It was ready for her whether she was ready for it or not. At least we have the opportunity to plan for it. But since it looks like I’m going to be off the river more and more in the coming years, we might as well go ahead and do it. After all, I’m going to be turning thirty next May, and maybe that’s long enough to wait.”

“I’m looking forward to it, Crystal. It will have been worth the wait.”

*   *   *

The old bus that Canyon Tours used to drop off and pick up boatmen had been getting pretty wheezy over the last couple of years, and it had been getting harder and harder to keep it going. Jeff and Dan had been tickling it more and more, but with progressively less success. It was running pretty rough as they came back up the Interstate from Diamond Creek Wash, and finally thirty miles west of Flagstaff near Williams it crapped out completely. It left them sitting on the side of the highway in a cloud of steam.

Jeff had gone ahead with the pickup towing the trailer loaded with the rafts. Dan was driving, and he was mechanic enough to tell that there wasn’t going to be any patching up to let them limp in, so there was nothing to do but call for a tow. While they were waiting for the tow truck Al and Michelle showed up in separate vehicles to take the rafters back to the shop since it might be a while before the bus got there.

Crystal and Preach wound up riding back with Al, three across in the front seat of his pickup, the back stacked high with the river gear that had been on the bus. “I hate to say it,” he said as they got back under way, “But I think the end of the road is getting near for that old thing.”

“I’ve wondered about that,” Preach said. “It would seem like it’s paid for itself.”

“I think it has,” Al agreed. “I don’t know if it can be patched up enough to get it through the rest of the season, but even if it can be I think we’d better be thinking about doing something different this winter.”

“You’re probably right,” Crystal put in. “Dad, just thinking about it, what would you think about replacing it with a full-sized school bus? I mean, not a new one, I know they cost a ton, but maybe we can pick up a used one in pretty good shape for a reasonable figure.”

“That seems like an awful lot of machine for what we use it for,” Al protested.

“Well, yeah. But if we took out a bunch of the seats in back and put a trailer hitch on it, we could tow a trailer and take the gear all in one pass, and that would save the expense and trouble of an extra driver and vehicle.”

“I don’t know how good it would be getting up Diamond Creek Wash,” he pointed out.

“I’ve seen school buses down there before, and so have you. It’s a clearance issue, and that’s what makes it too rough for most cars, but if there’s one thing a school bus has, it’s clearance. It would be tough enough to do the job. If the old bus could make it up and down there without problems, I don’t see why a regular one wouldn’t, and that would mean we could take out without having the bus make two trips up the hill, with all the extra expense the tribe charges us.”

“You know, you might have something there,” he said. “We’ve got seven more trips this season, and we can probably get along somehow with two pickup trucks doing the drop-offs and takeouts, maybe with the minivan to help out.”

“It would probably work all right to go up to Lee’s, but I don’t know how bad we’d want to take the minivan down the hill at Diamond Creek. I don’t think it would have the clearance.”

“We could probably get along with two pickups,” Al replied. “We could just stack the customers in the back to go up the hill since it’s not a public road. It would be a pain in the neck, but it still might be cheaper than throwing more money at that old thing. Let’s get through this weekend, and I’ll work on it next week. So, to change the subject, have you kids got anything planned for the weekend?”

“Yeah,” Preach said. “We’re going to start looking for a house. I don’t know that we can settle anything this weekend, but we can at least get started.”

“Looking for a house?” Al nodded. “I take that to mean that you aren’t going to be taking that trip to Tasmania or wherever this winter?”

“No, we decided to give it a pass,” Crystal replied. “We finally came to the conclusion that there’s too much against the idea.”

“It’s your decision to make, but I’m glad you decided it that way. There are things it would be nice to have you around for this winter. If you’re not going, we need to sit down with Karin and work on our winter plans and schedules. There’s no big rush yet. We can do it after you get off your last trip.”

“That’ll be fine, but we don’t want to be gone very much if we can help it,” Crystal pointed out. “We’re going to be starting pretty close to scratch in putting a household together, and we’re going to need the time.”

“Well, Karin and I had planned on doing most of the running anyway, so that’s probably not going to be a problem. But I’ll tell you what, Jeff is going to be glad you’re not running all over the place. One of the guys who has been filling in at the Fellowship had a heart attack. He’s probably not going to be available very much for a while, so Nanci has driven up from Phoenix to do the service the last two weeks.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t mind, but that has to get a little tiresome after a while,” Preach said. “I suppose I could fill in for her if she wants.”

“You probably ought to get with Jeff when we get in and tell him that.”

“I guess we can,” Preach agreed. “I’m surprised he didn’t say anything to us down at Diamond Creek, but we were pretty busy. I probably ought to try to catch up with him tonight so we can work it out with Nanci if needed.”

“You know,” Al mused. “That’s something you might want to think about. If you’re pretty much going to be around, they might be interested in you becoming their regular preacher.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Preach replied, “But my answer is going to be the same as it’s always been. I don’t mind filling in every now and then when I’m asked, but I don’t want it to become a regular thing. And I’m still not going to take any pay for it. Besides, I’m still going to be a boatman and be gone a lot, so it could well be that I’m going to be even less willing to do it in the future.”

“You still don’t want to have a church, do you?”

“No, Preach replied, “I don’t. If anything, even less so than before. I have come to realize that I’m not a preacher, I’m a teacher. I’m perfectly willing to help where I can but I don’t want to be expected to do it. I was a long time reaching the realization that it’s not for me, and it wasn’t easy. But I think I can say that I’m on track to leading the life I really want to lead.”

“Do you think that’s why Nanci is having trouble with her decision to go to seminary?”

“I’m sure that my example has given her a great deal to think about,” Preach admitted. “But she has other issues, too. We’ve talked about them, and realistically, she has a right to have her doubts. I think she’d make a fine minister, but that’s only what I think. She’s going to have to convince herself of it, or maybe I should say that God is the one who is going to have to do the convincing.”

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To be continued . . .

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