Friday, March 13, 2009

Day Nineteen: In Mourning

Monday, April 24, 2000, more or less - There was only about an hour of light left when we shoved off and much of that was spent adjusting ropes and rigging as we floated along. We puttered along as the light faded mostly lost in our thoughts. I tried to feel some regret of having ditched my fellow clients now probably in their tents back at camp but couldn't. I was leaving in my own way to mourn the end of the trip and what had become a life changing experience and for that I couldn't apologize. When darkness enshrouded us and we could no longer safely travel even with the air of a flashlight, we anchored on a sandbar, I crawled into my sleeping bag and dozed off to the gentle rocking of the boat.

A nearly full moon arose and all too soon, a voice said, "it's time." I crawled out of my warm cocoon, untied the rope and pushed us once again into the current. We had made good time so we drifted for a while and sipped some warming whiskey. The canyon walls were getting lower to the surface of the water the nearer we approached the lake proper and as any group when around the dead, in this case a free running Colorado River, we talked in hushed tones. There were long periods of comfortable silence and that was all right because we were all men of the same cloth. Words need not be spoken to be understood. After an hour, we started the motor again, retreated back into our minds for silent meditation and motored through the night watching the canyon walls recede into the murky depths.

The moon shining on the walls of a canyon is perhaps one of the most beautiful sights to behold. The canyon then gathers it, molds it, and shines it down upon me, an insignificant being passing through, blinding me. Twenty days ago, I had set upon a vacation of adventure and for a few days on the river, even believed it. But something inside me changed and I knew it had done so in a fundamental way where there was no going back. I first realized it at Phantom Ranch, then again at the helicopter pad along the river and at Separation Canyon. I didn't want to go back. I wanted nothing more than to be frozen in this place and spend my life running this river over and over. Eternity would never seem so sweet.

As the moon set over the rim and false dawn soon began to take over, I was chilled to the bone partly because the effects of the whiskey were wearing off. I was saddened at the thought of what was now behind me. I wanted to just roll over the side and let what was left of the Colorado river consume me. But dawn's light brightened and chased away my demons and the chills that had entered our bodies like a thief in the night. Soon the world was illuminated and I was feeling more at peace with my fate though I still was visually appalled. The cliffs that had been thousands of feet high were now not more than one hundred feet. Their walls were stained with a bathtub like ring of scum deposited by the lake during one of its higher cycles. The emerald green water we had floated on all week was a stagnate dark blue covered in a slimy scum of motor oil, Styrofoam, and other assorted trash that people had thoughtfully left behind for others to enjoy. I fervently wished I could collect it all, track them down and dump it on their lawn among other things that bordered into the land of the illegal.

We crossed the remainder of the lake in silence, like driving through the scene of a major battle only minutes completed and casualties strewn. When we arrived at the takeout, I carried my gear off to one side out of the way and began helping them unlash the raft flotilla of boats and carry the gear ashore. As the last boat was being stowed onto a waiting trailer, a loud nasally whine from somewhere out on the lake snuck into hearing range and soon into the visual range. A sleek jet boat pulled up and disgorged the rest of the passengers on the shore excitedly babbling about how fast the trip across the lake was. They asked me if anything had happened during the night as we slowly motored across and I told them what they would have perceived, that nothing had. The truth was that yes something had happened during the night. I had said goodbye to the canyon that I had fallen in love with and had left her behind.

6 comments:

Sage said...

The moon rising over the canyons is a mystical experience--a good way to end your trip.

R. Sherman said...

I loved watching the moon from the North Rim. I wish I could see it down on the river.

Cheers.

Beau said...

Beautiful post- I was almost there, and could tell how much it meant to you.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Wow.
What a beautiful post, so well written and vividly described.
It makes me wanna go there NOW.
Heck, 20 years ago I would have left for the Canyon immediately after reading your posts. Now I'll need to think it through and plan. Getting older has certainly taken my adventure spirit away. What a shame really.

Ed Abbey said...

Sage, R. Sherman & Beau - I wish there was a way to capture that moon on the canyon walls to replay any time I wanted.

Mother Hen - I was on a trip full of geriatric cases so you definitely could make it. I think the mental aspect is the hardest thing to prepare for and I don't know if there is even a way to prepare for it.

TC said...

Saying goodbye to something you love is heartbreaking at the very least. Well said.