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In 1963, the U.S. Government's Bureau of Reclamation (the "Wreck-the-nation bureau", Katie calls it) shut off the flow of the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam, beginning the process of flooding this natural treasure. Two generations have been born since the dam was built, and in a few more decades there may be no one alive who will have known the place. Katie Lee won't forget Glen Canyon, and she doesn't want anyone else to forget it either. She tells us what there was to love about Glen Canyon and why we should miss it. The canyon had great personal significance for her: She had gone to Hollywood to make her career as an actress and a singer, but the river kept calling her back, showing her a better way to live. She very eloquently weaves her personal story into her breathtaking descriptions of the trips she made down the canyon.
In recent years, Katie has found allies in her struggle to restore the canyon. The Glen Canyon Institute has been joined by the Sierra Club in calling for the draining of Lake Powell ("Rez Foul", in Katie's words), and the idea is being debated on editorial pages across the country and in congressional hearings. All My Rivers Are Gone celebrates a great American landscape, mournsits loss, and challenges us to undo the damage and forever prevent such mindless destruction in the future.
A Grain of Sand
The room is dark except for a light-cone pouring onto the screen, and quiet but for the whir of the sixteen-millimeter projector.
We're sitting on the floor of my mother's living room in Tucson, Arizona, watching my friend Tad Nichols' movie of the first Mexican Hat Expeditions powerboat run on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. It's March of 1953. I don't know about the others, but I'm hyped to the quick. I've just given a two-hour folk music concert at the Temple of Music and Art and haven't even started to unwind, deflate, cool down. The party is in honor of my first "back home" performance after five years in Hollywood, and Tad has promised to show his movie before I split for Tinseltown tomorrow.
I cannot believe what I'm seeing!
These scenes have to be fake, like the movie sets I've been working on, but they're not fake! The twenty-one-foot Chriscraft Cabin Cruiser, a kit boat with a sixty-five-horse diesel engine, is being tossed ten feet above the spray of this boiling, chocolate rapid to come slamming down into a whirlpool on the downstream side with only its nose making circles above the waves. The people on the back deck have to be drowned! Next scene: They're jumping up and down, laughing, screaming (I can tell, even though there's no sound), hugging the boatman, hugging each other, and wringing out their clothes. Well, I can understand the hugging. They want to make sure they aren't dead!
I remember sitting there stunned, through the excited babble of my guests, knowing only one thing for sure--that I had to get there somehow, see and feel that place. But how? Lotta money for a struggling actress-folksinger-guitarist--$500 for the upper half (Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch) $500 for the lower half (Phantom to Pierce's Ferry). The man running the projector was Jim Rigg, boatman and part-owner of Mexican Hat Expeditions. Though I didn't know it at the time, he would come up with a solution to get me on the river that hadn't occurred to anyone else and be able, with his innate charm, to convince the rest of the crew that it was loaded with potential.
Often someone will ask how I got to the river. I usually smile because they never ask the important question: How did the river get to me?
Sunday night, June 14, 1953--a basement apartment off of Barham Boulevard in Hollywood. It's after eleven o'clock, I've just gotten to sleep, and the phone is ringing.
Who the hell is calling at this hour? "He'o ..."
"Kay, are you awake?"
"Not really ... wha'ya want? Whoizit?"
"It's Tad. Do you want to go on the Grand Canyon run?"
"Tad? The Gra ... what?" Awake now, I lament, "Tadito, are you outta your mind? You know I don't have that kinda money!"
"Not to worry. There's been a cancellation at the last minute. You can come for just the price of your food--fifty bucks. But you've got to be in Flagstaff by noon tomorrow, and Jim says the deal is you bring your guitar and sing for the passengers."
Sing for ... will it be the powerboat run?
Their second run in history. His voice is smiling.
I leave the valley at two A.M. and am in Flagstaff by noon Monday.
What surprises me when I read my journal of that first Grand Canyon run was my inability to express thoughts about what I saw and felt. Aside from not being able to find words for that awesome experience, there was a deeper reason: I was in shock, literally, like being in a car wreck and coming out unscathed. Nothing of that magnitude had happened to me before. To be on the razor's edge--to know you can die, to see how insignificant you are in relation to time, space, nature, beauty, history, our planet--is to be firmly put in your place. A grain of sand. That's all you are. So I wrote it down at the end of each day with all the individuality of one grain of sand, unaware that the course of my whole life had been altered, that nothing from here on would be as before.
There were eight of us in two Chriscrafts--two boatmen, Jim and Bob Rigg, six passengers (four men, two women). The run was six days; the flow 66,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), the volume of water flowing past a given point. And the grain of sand wrote ...
Journal Note: June 16, 1953
The sound of that first one is really something. I am prepared for anything, and nothing, because you can't know until you've had the experience just how wild your adrenaline rushes can be ... Jim starts singing every time he sloshes into white water ... as far as he knows, I'm the third woman to run all the rapids in the Grand Canyon--for sure we can't line these monsters. [Keeping lines from shore on both bow and stern--half floating, half lifting them over and around rocks.] This boy is one helluva boatman, been through this canyon more times than any other person, living or dead--this is his eighth trip. Tad tells me that two years ago Jim and Bob each took a Cataract boat from Lee's Ferry to Separation Canyon, 340 miles, for a record speed run of thirty-eight hours, running every rapid, arriving long after dark of the second day! With that in mind I'm not too worried, just a little scared ... High on a ledge in the Redwall is a whole skeleton lying beside a fire pit, one leg bone charred. The story Jim tells is that they are the bones of an old prospector who tried to find his way out of the canyon, broke his leg, and died in his sleep beside the fire ... The beauty I'm seeing in this new world makes me want to be a poet, or rather wish that I could create something--anything--that might last even an echo as long as these magnificent works of the "Old Lady." Down here we see how the earth is put together, then torn apart through millennia--humans aren't even a millimeter in this strata ... Oh-h-h, it's true, its true, the Little Colorado is BLUE, not in flood ... I've hoped and wished for this exquisite sight all the way. Water flows from travertine springs several miles up canyon, and when the silt-laden Little Colorado river runs dry we get to see the true color from those springs. I push my arm into the soft silt banks and find when I pull it out a rainbow of colors--red, light grey, black, coral, blue, yellow, soft green, and brown from strata high above us, and far away. Never will I forget looking into this living, opaque, turquoise jewel, then swimming in it, and I thank whatever powers let me see it, because I have a feeling I shouldn't be here at all, that I'm looking on something sacred. <END JOURNAL>
[Sally Bailey, a lovely Navajo lady I came to know, would sometimes come to see us off on the San Juan trips. She told this story shortly before she died trying to retrieve her whole Navajo wealth--her silver and turquoise jewelry--from a fiery hogan. Her speech, so clear in my memory, had the distinctive Navajo halting in the middle of her words, begetting a shamanlike authority to her story. I loved hearing her talk. She pronounced her own kind "In-nians."
Sally: "We were telling how the In-nians used to worship the wa'er ... an' we din' quite remember ... but it got to my mind and I said, Ohhhh, I think that's one time I heard how the In-nians they went to get their salt. And they had to worship the wa'er ... I din' know just where that is ... I think is way in Arizona, on the Colorado, or somewhere ... and these In-nians they go over there and they come to that spring ... they have a li'l place, a hole in a rock where there's some wa'er w-a-a-y down in the rocks ... and they have to sing, and they have to pray to make that wa'er rise to the top ... so the wa'er pushes the salt up and the In-nians wade right into that wa'er and fill their bags full of salt. When they get done they sing and say some prayers. And that wa'er just goes away back down into that hole. That's the way the Navajos used to get their salt."]
Journal Note: June 18 (below Phantom Ranch)
My guitar comes out every night. I play for an hour, more or less, the folk songs I know, the river songs I'm learning--even feel a few of my own coming on. Hearing the soft strings of the guitar a mile deep in the earth, while looking back millions of years through time and evolution, is pretty inspiring; maybe I will write something before this is over. Somewhere in the Middle Granite Gorge below Phantom Ranch, where mules come down from the South Rim packing sore-butted tourists, Jim is hurled to the floor with such force I think he's going through the bottom, but he's back on his feet faster than he went down. The stern seat of the Lollypop (our boat) is flat with the river when a wave in Granite Falls rapid bucks us up and finally over the other side! Jim says, "Did that make a Christian out of you?!" He stands on the motor cover to see over the windshield when he goes into a rapid. After lunch we take on Lava Falls without stopping to look, because Jim says it's the same as last year. On that trip (the one I saw in the movie), Tad says, "He laid down on the back seat for about five minutes, then sprang up like he was stung and just took it!" Tad wants to photograph our run from the boat this time, but halfway through the mad turmoil he loses footing, the Bolex flips out of his hand, spins, and lands beside me on the stern seat! We stop below to wait for Bob--who seems forever stuck in there before his boat crashes up and out of the huge waves. We talk halfway through the night about life, the river, the canyon, the beautiful places--Toroweap, Nankoweap, Havasu, Shinumo, Thunder River, Matkatamiba, Vishnu, Kwagunt, Deer Creek Falls--the river, geology, star-bright sky, the river, people, history, moonlit water, shadow play, riveriveriver. ... There's an art gallery in the Lower Granite Gorge where the river brings his finest tools of sand and silt to sculpt and polish quixotic, not to mention erotic, forms in the granite cliffs--configurations that would make the greatest artist envious! We see no other souls but Dock Marston's gang in their flat, waterbug-looking speedboats. (Dock: canyoneer, eminent river character, historian, documentalist, and agitator). They are at Diamond Creek, where we're initiated into the River Rats' Society. Dock talks with Jim and Bob for a while, then zips off. We hike to Emery Falls, which is now about a quarter mile away from the river due to mud flats built up by Hoover Dam. I have a shower under the spray falling from fifty or sixty feet. Too soon, Pierce's Ferry. What a nothin' place to end this most magnificent trip! How lucky can one person be, to have seen the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River from the bottom up? I can take a lot more of this. Yes, a lot more! <END JOURNAL>
Around our campfires and during the few stretches of quiet water, we'd talked about the traditions and superstitions that had come down from the bare beginnings of river running, and they were pretty bare--I was the 175th person to run the Grand Canyon after Major John Wesley Powell's first run in 1869 (according to Dock Marston's records), an average of two people a year in eighty-four years. But one tradition not mentioned, that seemed to prevail, was that women tended to fall for their boatmen, and sometimes the reverse. So that's what we did. Anyhow, that's what I thought back then. In reality it wasn't the boatman who got my love. It was the river.
Jim was all for muscling me onto Mexican Hat Expedition's oar-driven Cataract run a couple weeks later from Green River, Utah, to Lee's Ferry, with the approval of neither his partner, Frank Wright, nor any of the passengers who had already signed up. (The Cataract boat was a sixteen-foot wood/fiberglass hull designed and built especially for the Grand Canyon rapids by Norman Nevills; more about him later.) But I was smart enough to decline that offer, hot pants or not. I'd just been through a firecracker pinwheel of sensations on that river; had run an emotional rapid, tugging-swirling-blazing-whispering-caressing-howling-questioning constantly for six days and nights, and was still in shock. I needed time to absorb what had happened to me down in that great slice from Mother Earth, time to sort it out. From that whirligig, my first river song literally erupted! It was about Jimmy and what he felt for that restless, haunting water--about my feelings, too, emotions stronger and maybe even more lasting than his ... "The Boatman's Song."
That fall of '53 he came to Los Angeles for a semester of pre-med at UCLA, which gave us weekends of water skiing on Lake Mead; time to work on the two Chriscrafts that were dry-docked at the Boulder City, Nevada, airport; time to ferret out paying passengers and plan trips on the San Juan and through Glen Canyon for next year. For my part, I learned and wrote more songs. Best of all, I learned in greater depth a river I'd only plunged through for one short week.
When Jim, the crew, and passengers came off the Green River/Grand run in the Cat boats a month after my trip, I was at their farewell dinner in Boulder City with my guitar, singing their songs and mine, and they were singing with me. I'd been afraid that I would be out of place with all those veteran river rats -- after all, I hadn't been with them on their trip, they didn't know me but Jim had paved the way. He'd been their "singing boatman" since the forties, when he'd worked for Nevills (killed, along with his wife, Doris, at the height of his river-running career in a plane crash in '49).
Unknown to me, my whole future on the river sat at the head of the table that night--Frank Wright, the leader and co-owner, with Jim, of Mexican Hat Expeditions. Frank was to add the final dimension, to make it possible for me to heal my soul and know my real love--the one that has never died, or been replaced.
The Boatman's Song
Last night I lay in a restless bed
A hum-drum life pounding in my head
When out of the night came a mighty roar
The river calling me back once more.
My heart knows what the river knows
I gotta go where the river goes--
Restless river, wild and free
The lonely ones are you ... and me.
Today I know your magic call
Will lead me back to the canyon wall
And the music in your rapid's roar
Makes this boatman's song from his soul outpour.
Tonight, as on your banks I sleep
Like a woman, soft, you will sigh and weep
And I will dream of a sweet warm kiss
By a moonlit stream, and the love I miss.
Someday, before I'm old and grey
I'll find a woman who'll go my way
She'll take the rapids strong with me
And she'll blend her voice in a song with me.
One more chorus:
June 11-17, 1954, San Juan River: Mexican Hat to Lee's Ferry, Arizona
Frank Wright is a slender, long-muscled man with sloping shoulders, and tall--a couple inches over six feet. His dark hair is close-cropped, thinning a bit on top with hints of grey at the temples. He is fifty-one years old, sixteen years my senior--a Mormon High Priest with wife and six kids. To many lady passengers he's a father-confessor, gentle and sympathetic. I soon learn he'll be the same to me. His hands are big, the fingers blunt, the hands of a farmer. But he isn't a farmer, nor has he ever been; he's a mechanic now, when he isn't leading river trips. Many years ago he was a music teacher, yet I've never heard him sing, though one of his sons tells me he has a fine voice. Frank just listens. Listens with dark, heavy eyebrows pulled down in concentration or lifted in amused revelation, a wide smile stretching out the bowed dip in the upper lip of his generous mouth. His voice is deeply placed and soft. I've never heard him shout (even when it was necessary), and his speech has that distinctive, rural, Mormon cadence, I'd know it anywhere. I suppose he's a white man, though it would be hard to say unless he removed his wide-brim Western hat, or for some reason undid more than the top button of his shirt, exposing the skin beneath the hair crawling up to his collar. The cuffs of his khaki shirt are buttoned down over his garments, leaving dark brown hands, neck, and face the only spots free to meet the elements.
We need a bit of river history here to clarify who did what for whom, and when. Back up.
Norman Nevills is credited with the first commercial river-running operation on the San Juan and the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. He built his first boat at Mexican Hat, Utah, in 1934; his first paid run of the San Juan was 1936. His Cataract boats--often called "sadirons" because of their square sterns and pointed bows--were designed for heavy rapids and used on his first commercial run of Grand Canyon in 1938.
Frank and Jim had taken over Nevills River Expeditions after Norm's death in 1949, had renamed it Mexican Hat Expeditions and worked hard to make a four-months-a-year operation pay. They were the only commercial outfitter back then offering an eighteen-to-twenty-day trip through the Grand Canyon, yearly, around the first week in July. They ran the Green River, San Juan, and Glen Canyon until the water dropped so low it was better to walk. All the trips were oar-driven until Jim came along with the idea of the two Chriscrafts in 1952, but the power cruisers only lasted for three or four years. Frank never thought thema "practical" way to run the Grand Canyon, and he was right. When Rigg and Wright split the expedition's blanket, Jim took the power boats, Frank the Cats and San Juan boats.
The only method they had to garner paying passengers was to get a group together in a large city--usually through the efforts of former river runners--and show the river movies, like the one that nailed me. Now and then they would get lucky with an article in a newspaper or magazine travel section, but the cost was up there in the box seats. Most young people who'd really love to have gone could ill afford it. When Frank came to Los Angeles on his publicity trip, five months after I'd first met him in Boulder City, he stayed about a week, showing the movies every night to a different group: one night at my place to a group of writer-actor-directors; another couple of nights in Beverly Hills and North Hollywood.
I went along and sang some of the songs, and here is where I began to know something about Frank Wright. His love of music was our first connection. I had no idea how much he'd been affected by the songs (hellzbellz, I didn't even know how deeply I'd been affected) until he wrote me that spring of '54, "... one doesn't sing as you do unless there is understanding and a deep feeling to be drawn upon. 'Muddy River,' as you sing it, is so full of feeling that everyone who hears it can't help but notice that there is a heart tuned to the song. ... "Yet I was inspired to write "Muddy River" before I ever went on the San Juan. I'd gotten it all from one Grand Canyon trip, the movies, and the stories of Frank and Jim.
Now if I had Mexican Hat I wouldn't put it on
I'd jump right in from its broad brim
And swim down the San Juan
And if somebody made for me a good old Gooseneck pie
I'd rather float on down his throat
In a river boat, says I.
Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, Muddy River
Oh-oh-oh, on your way down to the sea.
I'll take your rapids and your roar
Like they ain't never been took before
And come a-runnin' back for more
Cause you don't worry me!
There is a stretch at Piute Farms that sorta makes me doubt'cha
Your throat will parch from this death march
And take the starch from out'cha.
And then the San Juan flows right on to meet his blood relation
And if your ear is tuned, I fear
You'll hear this conversation:
Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, Muddy River
I'm the Mighty Colorado, that I am
You mud with me, I'll mud with thee
We'll send our flood down to the sea
I'll meet'cha there for a big party--
We'll bust out Boulder Dam!
Then Lee, he built a Ferry there and Brigham Young did boss it
He spent his life to pay the price
For all his wives to cross it.
The Little Colorado has a habit quite peculiar
She'll turn her hue to a turquoise blue
My gosh! I hardly knew ya!
Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, Muddy River
Oh, Little Colorado marry me
And over Hermit we will forge
We'll snuggle up in the Granite Gorge
And on to Lava we will roar
Just crash along with me!
Oh, the mules work hard at Phantom Ranch
But the deer are really livin'.
Just have a seat and a buck will eat
All the buckwheat cakes you'll giv'um.
At Toroweap I went to sleep a dreamin' of an actress
I woke up there in great despair
The air gone from my mattress!
Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, Muddy River
Oh-oh-oh, on your way down to the sea
At every turn you give a show
And may you, crashing, ever go
"As long as our rivers shall flow"
Hey, you can carry me!
At Lava Falls the roar appalls and no words can define it
We stood on shore for a week or more
And swore that we would line it.
"No guts!" I heard a boatman say as down the tongue he rowed it
He pulled ashore with a broken oar
Some forty miles below it!
Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, Muddy River
Boiling, seething, churning to the sea
Your rapids took me, and your roar
Like I ain't never been took before
I ain't so sure I want some more ...
A Christian you made me!
The Piute's River. The Navajo's River. The Fun River. The Sandwave River. The Air Mattress River. The Gooseneck River. The Stand-up-in-the-middle-and-walk River.
The San Juan River.
Out of snow melt, down from the majestic San Juan mountains in Colorado, it tumbles, gathers, meanders, flows, flattens, and carves its way to the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Utah. It was June of 1954--a year after my Grand Canyon powerboat run. I had been invited by Frank, personally, my way paid, as before, with guitar playing and singing by a driftwood fire at day's end.
Six San Juan boats, decked over blunt stern and bow, carrying twenty-six folks from Mexican Hat to Lee's Ferry. Wow! Jim was one of the boatmen, of course, but I hadn't seen him since his dad removed him from UCLA to a pre-med school in Denver. By then our little romance had scaled down to the plaintive sound of a thin reed--a little on, a little off music, mostly off. But to hell with that, I was on a river again, and so was my good buddy Tad. Hollywood and all its glitter, competition, and bullshit was out of sight, out of mind!
What knocks me out about our western rivers is their smell. The only way I can describe that smell is to call it more dry than wet, more dusty than dewey. Pungent, earthy, not fishy. A clean-dirt smell, strongest on the upstream wind when the rivers are nice and silty. I call it The Great Mother's cologne. It enveloped me when I walked down to the boats near the suspension bridge at Mexican Hat, and it kept me wrapped in its aura the whole trip--a kind of synesthesia. My ears felt it, and I certainly tasted it. Even back in Hollywood, I would sometimes smell it in my dreams and wake up smiling.
There were long, clean beaches full of the San Juan's little secrets--pinecones from the snowcap, every kind of driftwood from twelve thousand feet on down, smooth-as-a-baby's-bum rocks and tiny pebbles in rainbow-colored spectrum from the wild southeastern Utah strata, little marbles of deer droppings and sheepshit, and chocolate mud! O-o-oooo ... so fine ... so smooth ... perfect to take a mudbath in ... let dry ... and draw ... and crack, like the medicine it really is when baked on your bod in the hot sun, then peeled off, leaving your skin like satin.
But not with twenty-six passengers and five Mormon boatmen. I learned about that a few more riffles down the line.
Frank was the undisputed leader of that trip---my first on the San Juan--with almost half of the others repeating the run. The river wasn't very high (1,900 cfs), but the rocks were, which made it a kind of pinball game for the boatmen. I spent a lot of time riding the sand waves and swimming, floating in my life jacket or on the air mattress, learning to read the water, feel the currents, figure where the flow would go around the next bend, or not figure and get pulled in behind a rock and dumped. We slogged, pushed, and pulled the boats through Piute Farms, where the bottom comes up to meet the top and the river is over a mile wide. I made the mistake of getting in front of the boat on one of these maneuvers, up to my ankles, hauling with all my might on the bow rope. Next step I was out of sight, with the boat on top of me!
Journal Note: June 13, 1954 (Third Day Out)
Wonderful, wide beach for camp tonight just above Piute Rapid--from here it sounds like a conversation with intermittent laughter. I walk down to the lagoon and take yet another bath. The moon rides in and out of fleecy clouds, sliding shadows along the walls that make the cliffs look as if they're moving upstream. Well, here I am, me again--even singing at night, I don't feel "on." Everyone just leans back on their bedrolls and listens, or sings along with me. Some tell me how much they like the songs, here especially, with guitar. How nice! Jim won't sing at night--he sings on the boat or hiking up a canyon, even running a rapid, like he's singing to the river, not the people. Maybe he is. Frank says there'll be a place for me on any of his trips that have room. Holy Moses! It give me chills to think I can come to this place every year. Why do I feel so new here? I don't mean new to the place; I myself feel new, fresh, innocent. (That'd make lotta folks I know laugh if they could read this.) Well, I don't know how else to say it. I know I have to get out of Hollywood pretty damn soon. I can't stand television, radio is dying, movies give me a pain in the butt, and there ain't no theater. Nightclubs scare me, but where else is there? ... I can go ask the river swirling around down there ... maybe he knows. Egad! I must be getting dingy! <END JOURNAL>
A week before I left for this San Juan trip, I had a session with my venerable friend and mentor, Burl Ives. I asked if he'd please come to Cabaret Concert (out co-op theater, managed by various artists and directors) and watch my performance. I needed his advice. He graciously did so, after which we went for a drive.
"Darker'n a bat's ass up here. You sure this is the way?"
"Yes, Kathryn. I told you, I've been here before."
"So have I but it was twenty-five years ago, and I'll bet it's still loaded with poison oak. Poison oak loves me. How much farther?"
"Bitch, bitch, Bitch! About fifty feet on your left I think there's a big rock for me to sit on."
Pausing for a minute to get his bearing, he asked me to carry the bagpipes. I was all duded up from the stage, wearing a full skirt and those high heels we women execute ourselves with, walking a trail overlooking the twinking, trailing lights of the city. Here and there searchlights fanned upward, pooled against the fog, and moved along the tops of the hills, offering a faint glow.
Ole! Found your rock.
He felt for the contour he wanted to cast his bulk upon and sat for a few minutes catching his breath. I handed him the bagpipes.
Then, on the midnight air, over Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood hills, floated an altogether alien sound. I think he said they were Northumbrian pipes. I stood there, rapt, hearing melodies we both knew and played on our guitars, but the drone underlying them put them back on the Emerald Isle.
"How the devil did you learn to play that thing, Burl?"
"It's not hard. All you need is a lot of breath. The pipes were given to me by a friend in Ireland--figured the least I could do was learn to play them. Christ, I love that place. You know, I sailed over there last year. I'm thinkin' of buying a house on the coast. By god it's a wild one, that North Sea, like your river you've been telling me about. Kathryn, you are ready to get the hell out of here. This town is full of clowns showing off for each other, too phony and full of themselves to appreciate what you're singing."
"But, Burl. Nightclubs ... I can't ..."
"The hell you can't. There are people out there who want to hear your songs, the way you sing them. Clubs, and especially coffee houses, aren't what they used to be; they're like your Cabaret Theatre. People listen."
"But, Burl, my material isn't ..."
"Your material's just fine, Sergeant! (another per name he'd added to Bitch). Christ, but you are stubborn. Just go!" He started pumping the bag again. "You're so damned worried about your material, when you come back from your river, we'll go through your repertoire and I'll help you pick what's best. All right, Kathryn?"
Being on a river with so many people left little time to explore the side canyons or do much hiking. I mentioned the San Juan was mean, low and rocky. The boatmen were anxious to get to the confluence, about halfway into Glen Canyon, where they would pick up more water. But we did walk up Slickhorn and Grand Gulch a way, stick our noses into Desha and Nasja Canyons on the Navajo Reservation side of the river, and fill our canteens while standing under icewater falls in Redbud--a heavenly little grotto, verdant with that delicate tree and banks of dripping maidenhair fern, scarlet monkey flowers, and most enchanting of all, the magic flutelike song of the canyon wren.
Journal Note: June 14, 1954 (Fourth Day Out)
I'm just bobbing along in my life jacket, letting the San Juan have its way with me, when I feel a change, a kind of nudge in the current. On the surface the color turns a darker red, a boil bubbles under my chin, and I hear a whisper in the water as it swishes between my legs. Then the current dances me in a tight do-si-do like a square dancer, lifting my legs up and down to its rhythm. It would be useless to argue and foolish to resist this new dancing partner. He is the Mighty Colorado Rived <END JOURNAL>
I do not forget that meeting at the confluence of the two big rivers. Nor can I explain why it was different from others, more exciting, more enigmatic, both before then and after. I can say it was somehow an understanding, an agreement, a handshake. We would know each other. Yes.
And maybe more.
One of the highest straight-falls in the Glen, from Navajo cap to riverbed, was less than a mile below the San Juan confluence. The walls seemed more massive there, double strength, to hold the combined rivers' flow. Desert varnish streamed down the cliffs, flashing iridescent blue-purple in side lighting; black, maroon, and deep rose in the shade. The two rivers mixed their muds, intertwined their currents, and traded gossip from the ranges up north from whence they spring. Looking down from the top of that great rim, as I did many times in later years, it was wonderful to watch them play, easy to read the anecdotes they told each other, and delightful to eavesdrop on their whispered and chortled conversation.
Journal Note: June 14 (Continued)
Hidden Passage. Exactly. If the shadow that reveals the passage isn't there--if you come upon it in bright morning sunlight, or late afternoon, or on a cloudy day--you'll miss it, most likely. The Passage, pulled from the slickrock, grain by grain, eon by eon, is smooth from the rub of rushing water and funneled winds. On its bedrock it twists, curves, and bowknots gradually upward to falls that can be navigated by one if he's agile, two if not, and maybe three if the one between the puller and the shover is chunky. (We have some of those on this trip.) A mysterious quality hangs over it that I can't explain. Maybe ghosts convene here. Our voices, though muted, rise up ringing, only to dissolve before forming an echo, and once around a bend you can't hear or be heard by anyone. All the river parties stop here. It's one of the best, even though most hiked of all, yet there's no indication of that once you're inside. I suspect even a modest rainstorm could wipe it clean of all but tree trunks and boulders.
This afternoon I am privileged to sing in my first real church: Music Temple, named by Major Powell in 1869. I can see why. A song can be heard from beneath that dome to the river, nearly a half mile away. A nostalgic spot, so full of whispers of the past, so lovely--the pool, the stone estrade, the bank of ferns and columbine backing the pool, hanging baskets of them overhead clinging to a seep, and the sandstone spire twisting mysteriously out of sight way above, from where pours a crystal ribbon of water that drops musical notes into the pool. <END JOURNAL>
I sang in Music Temple every year for ten years. In all that time, I never heard anyone shout. Kids didn't race about; no rough-and-tumble, no games. It seemed like when they turned that last bend under the dome and looked upon the scene before them, they treated it like a holy place. None of the guides said anything but, "We'll stop at Music Temple, where you can see the Powell party's names and dates carved in the sandstone." So it had to be the secret of the sounding rock itself that spoke to their subconscious reverence.
Journal Note: Still June 14
Why do these giants, rising on both sides of our tiny boats, feel like a protective cape drawn around me? What is the intimacy with this water all about? Was I once a fish? I'm in the river more than anyone else. I seem to have a need to know what's going on under the surface. I want to feel the tug and push of the current. We float from Music Temple to Forbidding Canyon (Aztec Creek) in moonlight so strong it seems to have a sound. Under its glow every harsh, jagged edge (and there aren't many of those in the Navajo formation) turns soft and sympathetic, inviting even. A shadow falling across two towers makes me want to go nestle between them. When we aren't singing, we hear only the squeak of an oarlock or water dripping from the blades. The river whispers or giggles or growls over a rock bar, and I swear I can hear him burp! We beach at Forbidding Bar and, after unloading, trail off to find our special sleeping places--the boatmen usually where they can get quickly to the boats if need be--some in groups, some couples, some separate and apart. I'm one of the latter now, way apart. Full moon tonight. Will I get a full-moonburn if I fall asleep face up and ... uh ... exposed? I hope so. <END JOURNAL>
Journal Note: Next Morning, June 15
Frank and Tad (the one who got me into all this, bless his heart) try to prepare me for the Rainbow Experience. They don't. In this life I never expected to stand on top of a rainbow frozen in the sky (much less walk across the bow to where the next step is the fast way down), see other partially formed rainbows from my seat in the blue, and watch our party of ant-people below picking their way up Bridge Canyon. But I do it all. From here it doesn't feel as if this stone rainbow is attached to the ground. This spot is pure magic! All of nature's intelligence, her artistry, and crying beauty are visible ... Jim, Tad and I are the first up and the last down. I swim all the long serpentine pools, 5 miles, back to the boats.
Again the moon is brilliant, with strip-lace clouds crossing her face. I write by the light ... Art Green in the Tseh Na-ni-ah-go Atin comes up from Lee's Ferry to dump his little gift package for us--two more of our River Rats, who'll finish the trip with us. <END JOURNAL>
My god, that boat was an interesting piece of architecture. Tseh Na-ni-ah-go Atin in Navajo roughly means "place where the bridge crosses over." She was a flat-bottomed aluminum hull, more or less eighteen feet, with an airplane prop and engine mounted at the rear. Art, who owned and operated the boat and Cliff Dwellers Lodge about ten miles west of Marble Canyon bridge, piled as many as 20 passengers into her and planed them up to Forbidding Canyon for the hike up Aztec Creek to Rainbow Bridge. It was an overnight trip in spring and early summer, so Art had a permanent camp set up on Forbidding Bar--just a semicircle of rocks and logs, no civilized junk. He gave me a five-minute ride in that sucker once, and it nearly tore my ears off. Jesus! What a way to experience Glen Canyon. I couldn't imagine anything worse.
Nor can I imagine why we went from Forbidding Bar to West Creek Canyon in time for lunch--there were seventeen explorable canyons between them! But those folks weren't granted the favors that later came to me. They signed up for a 191-mile trip encompassing seven days, and the boats were oar-driven. For that alone they could be thankful.
After we'd hit the confluence, I kept asking Frank, Jim, or Tad whenever we'd pass a little niche in the wall, "What's in there? What's it like?"
"Don't know. Never been there."
After running this river since the mid-forties, they'd never been there? Seems after Norm explored several of the more accessible canyons, and took his passengers to the same ones every trip, Mexican Hat just followed suit. Jim had poked into a few others, but they still weren't on the regular agenda.
Hmmmm. In just a couple more weeks, Jimmy and I had two successive Glen Canyon trips signed up--nine days each, 162 miles, from Hite to Lee's Ferry. Frank would be on the first one, my Hollywood movie friends on the second, and it would me my first Hite-to-Lee's Ferry run.
The agenda was about to be amended.
|Introduction by Terry Tempest Williams||ix|
|Part One: Two Opposing Realities||5|
|1. A Grain of Sand||7|
|2. The Handshake||14|
|4. Eddying Out||38|
|5. Tinseltown Transformation||46|
|6. Induction by Fire||60|
|7. The Pagan||69|
|8. A Storm Moving In||82|
|Part Two: Getting in Step with the Stone||93|
|9. Tale of the Ticaboo||95|
|10. Chameleon Light||109|
|11. Killing Loveliness||119|
|12. The Bond-fire||130|
|13. The Eye of the Beholder||141|
|14. The Bubble Trail||151|
|15. Subtle Currents||161|
|16. Earthstone Drums and a Crystal Wave||171|
|Part Three: The Wild Secret Heart||183|
|17. The Hour Glass||185|
|18. Shamans and Fools||196|
|19. A Night with Thor||206|
|20. Down the Tongue||217|
|Part Four: Fighting the Upstream Wind||223|
|21. Big Dam Foolishness||225|
|22. At the Bedside of the River God||234|
|Epilogue: The River Knows the Way||243|