The waves caused by such falls in a river differ much from the waves of the sea.
The water of an ocean wave merely rises and falls; the form only passes on, and form chases form unceasingly. A body floating on such waves merely rises
and sinks — does not progress unless impelled by wind or some other power. But here the water of the wave passes on while the form remains.
—J.W. Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
In canyon country dawn descends upon you, night
rises around you.
Tiie early twilight on the canyon bottom draws out a bat that swoop-feeds low over a seep spring while high above a red-tailed Hawk playing the currents folds in its wings and dives from late afternoon into evening, through degrees of season, past 20 milUon years of geologic strata, and hits into the bat. Connectedness.
Sitting quietly away from the river in a scoop of the rock wall the sound of spring water seeping from the roots of pre-cambrian mountains brings earth memories. The living stone translated to dream by the deer that bends to drink.
The Forming of the Grand Canyon. Told by Jim Sampson,
Navajo medicine singer.
"Long time ago at the very beginning of things there was only flat land where the canyon now is. In that place lived the male waters and the female waters. There was a great conflict between these two since the male waters were constantly striving to flow downwards, to move down, and the female waters were always trying to move upwards. This conflict resulted in a great struggle that eventually wore away a tremendous hole in the earth until finally the male waters broke away and flowed to the sea, and the female waters rose up as clouds and began drifting eastward bringing tain across the Kaibito Plateau, and over Tonalea, and eventually reached a sacred place called Black Mesa. There the clouds finally touched earth again. But Black Mesa is no longer sacred. Whitemen have built roads and buildings there and the clouds are afraid to touch the earth anymore. That is why it rains here very little now. Also when the whitemen built the dam at Page it backed up too much water, and the motorboats scare away the clouds with their noise."
Wind in the earth. River rising as cloud. Ravens glide beneath hearing in counterpoint to the supersonics flying high above.
In the same river, we both step and do not step, we are and we are not.
He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair. -Thoreau
The last night, camped on Lake Mead I am rolled over by a dream and open my eyes and see a pillar of fire. As sleep falls away all that remains of the pillar is the reflection of the crescent moon on the rippling water.
People are hungry for experience — of any type. Usually it is the people who are successes, who have almost everything, but who lack a story - a personal meaning, who come to the river. They pay their $400 to be guided through controlled disasters - ones that they are able to participate in, usually by way of their camera, and for which they have no responsibility. Many times I have made a good run of a difficult rapid to be greeted at the bottom with moans and complaints that it was nothing, that we had built them up for no reason. They come for disaster with a guarantee.
Once when I was training as a boatman our pilot had the engine quit on him at the head of a bad rapid. The current powered us sideways onto some sharp rocks at the bottom and began to flip us. The boat was at a 70 degree angle with one old man up to his armpits in water and unable to pull himself up. I climbed over to him and grabbed him up and got him off. As soon as he was safe a big smile eclipsed his fear as he told us that he would not have missed this for the world.
Granite Park back-eddy. For days I have watched these scientists from my home state lay open their lives in their casual conversation under the willow tree, or in their grip on a rope in the tongue of a rapid, and I see that more than a continent separates us now. We don't seem to live in the same neighborhood. It's hard for me to figure. We share the same basic premises but something meaningful has been eroded away between us allowing the river of stars to flow down through the gap. What it is that has been lost I'm not sure, but we no longer share a sense,of the sacred. As twilight rises up from the canyon an owl swoops low over the far edge of the Colorado but no one is interested.
Yesterday a researcher chased a large Western Spiney Lizard for half an hour before catching it and coming back to the boat feeling pleased and bragging.
'Did you ask that hzard's forgiveness before taking its life?'
He looked at me funny and I told him that he showed no respect for the life he takes and probably wouldn't until his own life was laid on the line. The researcher was quiet and rode on the far side of the boat.
As I look downriver a flat taste wells up in me and I feel the fall of man flowing through and try to think of other things.
The head researcher on this trip is a well known ichthyologist with North America's largest fish collection. One fish that he didn't have was the rare, endangered species, the Humpbacked Chub which he had been hoping to find during the 12 previous river trips he had made. Three years ago he had actually caught a chub but their raft broke up-in one of the large rapids and he lost his specimen.
We pulled into the mouth of the Little Colorado to let the researchers sweep the shallows with their seine nets, and were there only a short time when a commercial party pulled in and tied up next to us. I was leaned into some 10 o'clock shade talking to several of the researchers when the boatman from the commercial trip, Big .lim Hall, ambles over.
'Would those guys down in the river like me to catch them one of those humpbacks? I know where a school of them are, but I'd have to use a hook and bait.'
The other researchers sitting around were turning red- trying so hard to hold in their laughs. I told the boatman sure to go ahead. He had a look in his eye that seemed to say he knew what he was talking about and probably could have described right then exactly what that rare chub tasted like.
The boatman moved a short way up the river to his fishing hole, rolled a little blood bait onto the hook, and threw in his line. As soon as the hook hit the water the boatman was reeling in a chub.
The head researcher saw from the river what had been hooked, dropped his work, and moved quickly to the catch. The boatman asked him if he needed any more and the researcher hurriedly said four. Back near the boat researchers were bumping into each other running to get their cameras and notebooks. Within 20 minutes the boatman had pulled in four of the rare chubs, but that wasn't the end of it. The fever struck. The other researchers became hungry for their; own specimens, grabbed the seine net and started sweeping the boatman's fishing hole. After an hour all they had caught were a few fingerhng suckers. They didn't know the boatman's song,