Into the Canyon: A River Novel

( 3 )


An exhilarating, powerful story from the bestselling author of The River.

Some stories take generations to unfold.

Gabriel Clarke has The River in his blood: The River that he loved as a child. The River that took his father, John. The River he feared, fled . . . and has come back to now.

Jacob Fielding owes the last twenty years of his life to John Clarke?the stranger who drowned saving him and his brother ...

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An exhilarating, powerful story from the bestselling author of The River.

Some stories take generations to unfold.

Gabriel Clarke has The River in his blood: The River that he loved as a child. The River that took his father, John. The River he feared, fled . . . and has come back to now.

Jacob Fielding owes the last twenty years of his life to John Clarke—the stranger who drowned saving him and his brother from their own boyish recklessness. Since that day, Jacob’s gratitude has extended to everyone around him . . . especially Gabriel, that brave man’s son.

But while the death of John Clarke became a powerful force for good in Jacob, it has been an unshakable source of darkness in another man. When gratitude and guilt meet at the River, two decades after that fateful day, Gabriel finds himself face-to-face with a stark choice for his own future: anger or forgiveness, hatred or love, death or life.

So much more than an allegory, Into the Canyon will inspire you to love deeply, forgive extravagantly, and live large.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Two brothers rescued by John Clarke from a kayaking accident decades ago take divergent paths in life. Jacob dedicates himself to becoming a river guide; his brother, Billy, can't overcome his guilt and shame for what he allowed to happen in his life. Now, their rescuer's son, Gabriel, has returned to the river where his father died to reconnect with his past and to conquer his own feelings of regret and fear. VERDICT Much more than an allegory of rising above the struggles of life, this heartrending sequel to songwriter Neale's best-selling book The River is an introspective story of how to move on from past losses to a future filled with forgiveness. This is a perfect pick for a discussion group and for readers who enjoy character-driven fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401688509
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/2/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 677,792
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Neale is a best-selling author and Dove Award-winning songwriter. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant, Rebecca St. James, and Todd Agnew. Michael leads worship and teaches at conferences nationwide. In between travels, he serves as a worship leader at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, where he lives with his wife, Leah, and their children, Micah, Maisie, and Wyatt. Twitter: @mwneale Facebook: MichaelNealeOfficial
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Read an Excerpt

Into The Canyon

A River Novel

By Michael Neale

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Michael Neale
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4016-8850-9


The Cathedral of the Sun

March 3, 1973

"Hey!" Gabriel braked the truck at the welcome sound of his friend's voice. "I packed you something for the road."

Ezra leaned in the window and handed Gabriel a brown bag.

"You didn't have to do that, Ezra. I didn't even think you'd be awake this early."

"Cinnamon rolls, my specialty. They soothe the soul, son. And there's some hot coffee in that thermos. I even threw in a few pieces of jerky for that giant canine of yours."

Gabriel chuckled and reached over to pat Rio's head. The husky had appeared at the mention of jerky.

Ezra took off his reading glasses and let them dangle around his neck. He squinted as he looked directly into Gabriel's eyes.

"The past colors our lives, young man, but we can't let it cripple our future. It's good to remember what's good to remember." Ezra swallowed and seemed to gather himself. "It's going to be a good day for you, son. Say hello to him for me."

Gabriel nodded and put the truck in reverse. "I'll see you tonight, Ezra."

Gabriel glimpsed Ezra in the rearview mirror. Ezra waved, then watched Gabriel drive away.

* * *

"I don't think it's too much farther now, boy."

Gabriel's pulse quickened as the trail gradient rose sharply. With every pant, steam puffed from his eager dog. The mist was thick and the air crisp as the glow of the morning sun gradually lit up the canyon. He had never been back to retrace the steps he and his father took to Splashfire Canyon. He'd never had the courage ... until now.

With every crunch of his boots on the terrain, Gabriel recalled memories of that fateful day. Soft flashes of scenes from his childhood emerged. Riding on his dad's shoulders, holding on to his dad's bushy blond head as they ascended the trail. He remembered hearing his father laughing. He remembered the chipmunks' chatter.

Gabriel paused for a moment to catch his breath and take in the surroundings. He looked up into the towering spruce and fir trees and then glanced back down the trail, noticing how far he'd come. A gentle breeze flowed up the trail as he drank in the morning air. He took a deep breath through his nose. Rio kept sniffing the trail ahead at least thirty yards or so; then he circled back around and playfully sprinted to Gabriel's feet.

"It's hard to believe it's been seventeen years, Rio."

Rio chomped his jaws and whined.

Seventeen years since five-year-old Gabriel witnessed that life-changing scene. Now he felt a million miles from those grief-drenched days growing up in Cairo, Kansas, with his mom. His days were hard there, but with the help of a determined single mom and some providential characters, Gabriel grew up safe and loved. The Cartwrights loved him like the best of grandparents. Miss Collingsworth knew him better than anyone, believed in him, and understood his sense of loss. His buddy Jimmy Bly looked out for him, and fittingly was the one who invited him back to experience what he was truly made for. The River never stopped calling.

Gabriel reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a twice-folded piece of paper and opened it up.

"Okay, Ezra, let's see how we are doing."

Gabriel read aloud.

"'You'll come to a fork in the trail ... stay left.' Okay, we just did that." Gabriel glanced back down the trail. "'In about two hundred yards you'll begin to hear the falls. The trail will curve back into the woods, to the right, but don't let that fool you. Stay the course. Then it will turn back to the left, and in about five minutes you will run into a clearing overlooking Splashfire Canyon.'" Gabriel folded the paper back up and stuffed it in his pocket.

"Okay, Rio, this is it."

Gabriel took a deep breath, cinched his backpack a little tighter, and headed up the path. The smells of the forest pines were rich. As Gabriel wound his way back into the woods and then back toward the cliff on the narrow path, he could hear the roar of the cascading water in Splashfire. When he arrived at the clearing overlooking the falls, he took off his backpack and sat down on a fallen tree trunk to catch his breath. Rio sat down at attention on his hind legs facing the young man. Gabriel grabbed the fur of the dog's neck behind his ears with both hands and tussled him.

It's like this place was just waiting for me to return.

A memory played vividly in his mind's eye. He saw his father's strong right hand drawing a deep circle in the reddish-brown dirt and his left dumping the bag of marbles. The Bennington marbles donned vivid oranges, blues, and purples, clacking off of each other. He saw his father look up at him.

Ready to play? Gabriel heard it in his mind.

The sound of The River thundered in the background. The cloudy mist ascended from the falls.

Gabriel then heard the instruction of his father.

Don't go past this tree. Got it?

Gabriel walked up to the tree ... the one he clung to as he watched his father go in after the kayaker. He leaned against it, stared down at the falls, and the memories moved faster.

Don't go, Dad! Don't go!

He heard his five-year-old's terrified self scream.

His father waving his vest, shouting, Danger! Danger!

The kayaker going over the falls.

Then—a flash of his father's hand reaching out of the torrent.

In this moment, it was like his ears closed up, the roar of The River becoming muffled. Gabriel carefully scaled down the graveled canyon wall, using the trees and rocks to brace himself. He made his way to The River's edge, just over the moss-covered boulder ... the last place he saw his father alive.

He sat down facing the water as it powered by him, the cold spray hitting his skin as the air pushed the mist from the falls.

His heart was in his throat. A solitary droplet spilled out of his eye and down his cheek as he stared at the rushing current.

Rio joined his side as if he knew exactly what Gabriel needed in that moment.

He wiped his face on his sleeve.

"Hey, boy. It's good to remember, right? How great he was? Yeah."

Rio stopped panting for a few seconds and tipped his snout up at Gabriel. He put his arm around him.

"I had five good years with him, Rio ... five great years." He gained his composure.

A shriek high above the canyon interrupted his thoughts. An albino red-tailed hawk floated effortlessly high overhead. Gabriel smiled as the hawk circled around the canyon for a few moments before gliding into a tree about fifty feet up the canyon wall on the other side of the water. The raptor perched at the top of a pine as if to watch the young man and his dog over the canyon.

"How about that, Rio? I think He's with us. He's still with us. Let's go, boy. There is one more place we need to visit today."

Gabriel got up and wiped the moist dirt and clay off of the back of his pants. He took his first step to climb the steep grade, back up to the clearing where he left his backpack. As he turned, he came face-to-face with a deep carving in the bark of a bright-colored silver birch tree to his left. It was a deep, squiggly horizontal line, a groove about four inches wide. He paused for a few seconds and ran his fingers over the carving.

I wonder who etched this here? What does it mean?

He continued his ascent. Rio beat him up the hill and watched from above.

"It's not fair; you have four legs!"

Rio started to bark. Gabriel glanced over his shoulder toward the object of Rio's attention. Across The River, Gabriel thought he saw a human figure slide behind a tree. His heart fluttered. He'd thought he was alone. The person was at least one hundred yards downstream so it was hard to get a good look. The bouldered terrain on the other side was rough and steep. Gabriel watched for a moment as the man wearing a black knit cap and red jacket scurried behind some more trees and then out of sight. Rio kept barking. Gabriel finished his climb up to the clearing.

Maybe it was just another hiker. Who would be this far out here and especially on that side of The River?

Gabriel was a little spooked by the experience. He always felt safe having Rio with him, though. He sat down and removed the thermos from his backpack, unscrewed the lid, and poured the piping hot brew into his favorite tin mug that Ezra had given him. He smelled the wafting fragrance of the java.

Rio started sniffing out the entire area. He zeroed in on a spot next to a stump about ten feet away and began to dig fiercely. He dug his nose in the dirt and started to sling clay out through his hind legs. Gabriel had to slide over so the flying dirt didn't hit him.

"Geez, Rio. What did you find? Is there a rib eye under there or something?"

Gabriel took another sip of his coffee.

Rio didn't come up for air. He spun around and bucked and then scratched some more. The hole was nearly a foot deep now.

Gabriel stood up and went over to see what he was after. Rio kept digging, probably after some bugs. As Gabriel got closer, he recognized something that took his breath away. Lying there at the base of the tree stump, covered in the freshly turned red dirt and clay, was a marble ... a vintage Bennington.

Gabriel reached down and picked it up. His heart thumped as he wiped it off with his jacket sleeve. He spit on it to moisten the crustiness. It was a beautiful blue-and-green swirled marble. It had to be from the day he and his father played marbles seventeen years before.

How could it have survived all this time and stayed right here?

Gabriel was elated.

"Good boy! Good boy! Do you know what you found? A piece of history!"

Rio was oblivious as he snapped his jaws, eating the bugs in the dirt.

Gabriel held the marble tightly in his grip as he finished his coffee. He tucked the thermos in his backpack and hoisted it back on his shoulders.

He opened up his note from Ezra again. He was nervous about the next stop on his hike that day. He knew he had to go. Gabriel read Ezra's directions aloud.

"'Go back the way you came, and at the fork, take the other leg, heading up the mountain. Continue on the path for about thirty minutes. You can't miss it.'"

He folded the note back up, stuffed it in his jacket pocket, and headed out.

* * *

Much of the trail wound its way through the forest under a canopy of juniper and fir trees. Gabriel loved the unpredictable elevation changes of the Colorado landscape. That wasn't all he loved. Every step through the woods brought back memories of his first trip back to The River with Jimmy Bly. A last-minute trip with Jimmy and his friends turned into a destiny changer for him. He thought about the stirring of the waters and his first bumbling conversations with the canyon princess, Tabitha. He could still taste that first strawberry kiss that melted his heart. Kansas—the familiarity, the safety, the comfort of what was known—held him tightly and kept him far away from his fear. It kept him from having to face the past. All that was different now. He was back—back to his roots. Back to what he was destined for. With every day, a new adventure was unfolding. He was on a quest, a quest for his soul and his purpose. Each sunrise brought fresh adversity and new opportunities for victory—victory over his anger and fear—and fresh hope for the future.

Ezra's timing was dead on. About thirty minutes into his descending hike, Gabriel rounded the last bend in the trail to a magnificent site. A vast grassy knoll that lay majestically over the calm River about fifteen feet above the water line. To the right, about one hundred yards downstream, were three giant red rock spires shooting up to the azure sky. The locals knew this formation as the Cathedral of the Sun. The gorge had an opening to the north here, and during the afternoon, the radiant light would come through the surrounding trees and illuminate the spires like a light from heaven. The shafts of light made the dust particles in the air sparkle and shimmer.

"It's just like Dad's journal described it," Gabriel said to Rio as he stood gazing, awestruck at the scenery. He had thought about coming back to Colorado several times throughout his childhood in Cairo, Kansas, especially as he got up into high school. But it was easier to not talk about it. He had pushed the bad memories down deep, until he almost forgot where he came from.

The River was wide and deep here. It moved firmly, rippling over the stones and boulders on either shore. A gentle breeze came and moved the trees as Gabriel made his way toward the giant rock formation. Rio kept pace by Gabriel's side.

About thirty feet from the base of the rocks, Gabriel unloaded his backpack slowly with his eyes fixed ahead. Rio stopped and sat at attention by the backpack, as if he knew that he was not to go any farther.

Gabriel saw the large moss-covered river stone ahead as it lay under the spires. He approached the rock slowly and knelt down. His heart raced as he ran his hand across the dirt and moss-covered etching.

John W. Clarke 1928–1956 Forever in The River

"Happy birthday, Dad. I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. It's just that ..."

He shook his head.

"I'm back home now ... at The River. I'm a guide, can you believe that?"

He chuckled as he wiped his eyes.

"I wouldn't even go in the water for years. I still have so much to learn, but I know it's where I'm supposed to be. I still have so many questions. I wish we could talk."

He struggled to compose himself. Rio joined him and lay down at his side with head resting against the young man's leg.

"I'll come back to visit more often, I promise. You'd be proud. I'm heading out on the water soon for a three-dayer with some of the other guides. I'm not going to lie; I'm nervous. I did my certification and everything, but I'm still not comfortable yet. I'm very much the freshman in the group. Samuel doesn't seem to have a problem with confidence. He's leading the trip. I'm not sure, but I think he has a thing for Tabitha. He doesn't seem to like the fact I'm here. Have I told you about Tabitha? Dad ... she's perfect. She's really too good to be true. She's a huge reason I came back. I can't stop thinking about her. She makes me want to be a better man. Her dad, Jacob ... he's an amazing dude. We're becoming close. I'm still working through things with him. I still have to fight my anger sometimes. I know he's a different guy now, but because of him, I don't have you. His other daughter, Sadie, is cute and quite a firecracker, and Freddie ... oh, you would love Freddie ... he's hilarious. He's dyin' for Sadie ... or any girl, for that matter ... to give him a shot. Love that guy." He chuckled.

He reached down to scrape a clump of dirt off of the stone and noticed another etching underneath. It was that same squiggly line he saw carved into the tree earlier that morning. The groove was deep in the stone.

"What does this mean? What do you think this is, Rio?"

Rio answered with a whimper.

Gabriel thought for a moment and then rested the marble in the center of the artwork. He stood up and took one last look at his father's grave as he brushed his hands off.

"Let's go, boy."

Gabriel turned around and was jolted by her presence. Tabitha stood a few yards away, her eyes glassy and moist. Clutching the backpack on her shoulders, she looked at Gabriel.

She walked toward him, a little out of breath from hiking, her auburn ponytail swinging.

"Ezra told me you might be up here, and I thought you might want some company. I hope it's okay that I came," Tabitha said. "I couldn't wait to see you." She didn't stop walking until she got to him.

He took her in his arms and hugged her close.

After a few moments they released their embrace.

"Why are you crying?" Gabriel said as he smiled.

"Because. I know ... I know what it feels like. When Mom died, I could hardly breathe. I still remember the first time I went back to her grave by myself. It's just amazing ... that you're here," she said tenderly as she rested her hands on his chest.


Excerpted from Into The Canyon by Michael Neale. Copyright © 2014 Michael Neale. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


From an Entry in a Journal, xi,
Prologue, xiii,
1. The Cathedral of the Sun, 1,
2. The First Night, 14,
3. The Stones of Remembrance, 25,
4. The Symbol and Painted Words, 36,
5. Bones, 48,
6. The Agents and the Scene, 59,
7. Billy, 71,
8. Gabriel's Cabin, 78,
9. The Reflecting Pool, 89,
10. Swift Water Rescue, 100,
11. The River Books of Ezra, 111,
12. Under the Waterfall, 122,
13. Anniversary, 133,
14. The Letters, 144,
15. A Surprising Encounter, 155,
16. Millie, 164,
17. The Scare, 174,
18. A Road Trip, 184,
19. The Tractor and the Rain, 195,
20. Cutthroat & Rainbow, 206,
21. The Question and the Promise, 215,
22. Covenant Day, 226,
23. Ezra's Journey and the Gift, 236,
24. Thanksgiving and the News, 244,
25. The Marble and the King of Hearts, 253,
Epilogue, 261,
Reading Group Guide, 271,
Acknowledgments, 273,
An Excerpt from The River, 277,
About the Author, 284,

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 10, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    "Hope, that's what our souls need... The River gave me what

    "Hope, that's what our souls need... The River gave me what I could not give myself...a reason."

    Sweet cinnamon, what a refreshing read. I'm not even an outdoorsy type, most of the time, but Into the Canyon took me straight there, right into the wonder of God's open, living creation, with fantastic imagery from author Michael Neale. And, hey, the book's awesome cover didn't do a bad job at all of setting the stage for the story.

    Admission: I turned on waterfall "white noise" to play in the background while I read much of this novel, but even without my added sound effects, I could have been standing right at The River's edge by way of the images Neale uses to bring Gabriel's story of love, fears, forgiveness, and abundant living to life. Blake's soul-searching account blends in well, and his sentiment while out on the water in Gabriel's enlightening world makes sense: "It was like one part of me started to die and one part of me started to awaken from the dead."

    While Gabriel has fear, grief, and anger issues to work through as a young man, it seems that his turning point is more or less glossed over, that we see him struggle during specific events and express his doubts to Ezra about whether to believe in God, and then the narrator just tells us that Gabriel's perspective is changing, instead of, perhaps, giving us another specific event or words from young Gabriel to show us how the change in his thinking begins. Also, the use of "The River" metaphor/phrase does get somewhat repetitive.

    Yet, the journey into the canyon is worth taking, and I'd encourage readers not to "try" to read into the novel but to let the story find them where it finds them, to be refreshed by it.

    "It's important to share our stories. It helps us know we aren't alone."
    BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 6, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Michael Neale in his new book, ¿Into The Canyon¿ Book Two in The

    Michael Neale in his new book, “Into The Canyon” Book Two in The River series published by Thomas Nelson gives us another adventure with Gabriel Clarke.

    From the back cover:  Some stories take generations to unfold.

    Gabriel Clarke has The River in his blood: The River that he loved as a child. The River that took his father, John. The River he feared, fled . . . and has come back to now.

    Jacob Fielding owes the last twenty years of his life to John Clarke—the stranger who drowned saving him and his brother from their own boyish recklessness. Since that day, Jacob’s gratitude has extended to everyone around him . . . especially Gabriel, that brave man’s son.

    But while the death of John Clarke became a powerful force for good in Jacob, it has been an unshakable source of darkness in another man. When gratitude and guilt meet at the River, two decades after that fateful day, Gabriel finds himself face-to-face with a stark choice for his own future: anger or forgiveness, hatred or love, death or life.

    So much more than an allegory, Into the Canyon will inspire you to love deeply, forgive extravagantly, and live large.

    The River itself is just a river starts at the beginning and travels to the sea so it is not the problem. The problem is the events that occur on The River. Not all the trauma that we were exposed to was dealt with in the first book, there was healing, yes, but not complete. Now we are being given closure. “Into The Canyon” is a marvelous read full of atmosphere and details.  “Into The Canyon” is about friendship.  It is about honesty, rebuilding your life and moving forward in a new direction.  It is about trusting God and learning to lean on Him for His guidance and direction.  Mr. Neale knows how to tell a story that is both interesting and thought-provoking and I recommend it highly.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program.   I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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