How long does it take to launch a sixteen foot fibreglass boat with a thirty-five horse motor–twenty minutes maybe? And when launching it over a grave? No longer.
I pull up to the dock where three fishermen are gassing up, themselves already gassed to the eyeballs. Thank god my old friend Bill, from the river days, thought new to this “marina business”, is here to assist however he can. As we launch and load the gear for my first death-watch trip on what Russell Martin calls The Foul Little Fjord, one of the anglers steps into the middle of our progress and tries to draw me into conversation. I’m in no mood for chit-chat; my attention riveted on getting out of here and into what was left of my half-drowned and drift-clogged side canyons, so I ignore him.
Undeterred, he tosses his beer can into the reservoir, leans over my windshield and slurs, “Li’l girls like you shudd’n go out on this wild lake by thurselves; they liable t’git lost.”
My stomach flutters and hot saliva floods my mouth, choking off what I’m about to say, as he blunders I on, “You better come along with us so’s nuthin’ kin happen to you.” I turn to face him, sneer and opened my mouth for the kill, just as Bill walks between us.
Standing eye to eye, three inches from the drunk’s unshaved whiskers, he says with a warning tone, “Mister, this lady was here ten years before this reservoir was–she even named a bunch of these canyons you’re going fishing in–she ain’t gonna get lost. You might, but she won’t.”
Bill steps back, unties the bow and stern lines, winks, then tosses them to me. I blow him a kiss of appreciation and turn my back on the big outdoor sportsman, still so dense he doesn’t know he’s been dismissed. As I start the motor, he turns to me, puts one foot on my boat deck and continues, “Then maybe you kin show us where the fish are in this damn lake, cause we ain’t seen any.”
My answer is in the form of a golden opportunity! So sure it’s going to happen, I’m already choking with laughter, I push the throttle fast forward, leaving the dock; then look back to watch the idiot fall butt first into the water. Instead, I see Bill grab the him by the neck of his jacket and yank him back onto the solid marina walkway.
“No-o-o, Bill! Why’d you do that?” I holler, making an arch of spray as I curve away from the marina toward downstream—it will always be downstream to me, regardless of the flat puddle hundreds of feet above a once cavorting river.
Lost Eden Canyon is truly lost now–of the standing rock monolith at its entrance, only the lizard’s head is visible; the kiva and storage bins beside Schock Trail are covered over; the cataracts at Lake Canyon lie buried 50 feet below as is Lake House Ruin.
When at last I arrive at my destination, over miles of sullen water, I note that Major Powell’s name for Hidden Passage is utterly invalid. The entrance, no longer hidden, is agape and uninteresting like all the rest. After many years of walking, climbing, swimming around curve after curve in this sinuous canyon; now, a hundred feet above on flat-mirror water, I have no clue as to what part I’m in. It is scummy and clogged with driftwood. Now I understand what Frank meant when he told me of the hundreds of beaver and deer that had died in the canyons. Once forced up a canyon like this the deer couldn’t swim out because of the wood—they starved or drowned. The beaver cut every tree and sapling, frantically trying to stem the tide. Their food rotted, their homes floated on the still, indifferent water. In today’s flotsam I note that the ubiquitous beer can shares equal billing with motor oil cans and plastic containers.
“Pigs!” I spit, inching my way through the mess.
Trees poke from the muck, looking as if they’d been stripped by locust. Easing throttle, backing up, going around the submerged tangle, I try to get away from the smell of sick water and exhaust fumes. Cottonwoods beckon in the distance, brilliant in their fall colors. I cut the motor and paddle ahead, but have to give up fifty feet from the bank.
“Christ, I couldn’t get through here with a crowbar!”
I’m ready to turn back when I hear the trickle of living water and the song of a canyon wren! My heart leaps to the familiar call and I shout:
“I will get up there and out of this puke…I will, goddamnit!”
I strip and crawl over the side, taking the bow rope and winding it around a tree anchored in the mud. The ooze clutches my legs and I sink to my hips, but bedrock stops me. I emerge a gooey fish-smelling mess, but once on solid ground I race up Hidden Passage and wash off in the first clear pool.
A warm breeze drifts down. I walk…and walk, splash through the stream, talk to it, drink thirstily of the crystal water, wiggle through each shallow and slow down only for my tender feet.
A redbud tree in full green leaf stops me—the tree of a million emerald hearts—the Glen Canyon Tree. Tenaciously they cling to rock and crevasse in the side canyon bottoms where flash floods work to cut them loose, and seldom ever do. They seem to flourish just beyond the floodtide of the river, up the raw, narrow throats of the small tributaries until they open to more sun than a redbud can tolerate. Never found on sunny slopes, they hug the slickrock, splash it with pink/purple blossoms in the spring, full-hearted leaves in summer and arched delicate branches in winter.
I reach for the leaves, brush them across my cheek and say, “Thank you for your splendour,” and walk on, seeing the canyon like it always was, feeling its earthsong and color tones, stopping to press my tongue against the sandstone and taste its dusty sweetness.
After an couple hours I turn back, gathering dry wood to take aboard, determined not to cook on the gas stove I’ve hauled along in the boat. In tune with my wholeness once again, intoxicated by the dynamic, living canyon, I fail to hear the sound of voices as I round the bend and come in sight of my boat.
“Wow-wee!” a voice rings with an all too familiar connotation.
Startled, I drop the wood and look up to see two men and a woman fishing over the side of their boat. I neither run for cover nor feel I’m out of place.
‘Hey, lookit the babe with no clothes,” says one. The other snickers. The woman looks away.
“Looks like we invaded a nudist camp,” says the snickerer. “Wonder what’cha got t’do to join?”
I smile, thinking of the poet, Frank Townshend’s lines ‘…Then they fled, with cries and twitterings/ Like a lot of doves disturbed by a snake./ Yet we were of the same race/ And I meant them no harm’….but I say nothing; only pick up my wood and move to my boat.
In a nasal, scolding tone the woman says, “Young lady, you’d better get some clothes on.”
I stop, muck and water to my knees, and blandly ask, “Why?”
“Well now, just a minute. This is a public place. You could be arrested!” They look apprehensively behind me as if expecting me to be joined by others.
“Really? Am I bothering you? Are you being molested in any way? Besides, this is a very private place.” I raise my voice and bite out my words. “And I will take my clothes off here any goddamn time I please!”
The men reel in their lines. “Now look here…we…”
“I’m looking,” I snap, “and I see three maggoty looking slobs in a boat with a tittsy-poo awning over it so they won’t get any sun on their white flab, plus several beer cans and candy wrappers floating around. That’s known as litter, and that is against the law!”
I slam the wood on the deck, extricate myself from the mud and point my rosy buns at them as I wiggle over and into the pilot’s seat.
“We’ll report you to the…to the…”
“Try the Mermaid Society,” I say as I start the motor.
Unable to make a grand sweeping exit through all the debris, I veer as close to their candyass boat as possible, lean over, and sneer:
“You poor, sick, dirty-minded old farts! Get a life!
© Katie Lee – 1996
From unpublished novel:
Wall to Wall Water