I remember three minutes ago. Our small group huddled together up cliff, up river. Pointing toward the maw, discussing loudly our planned lines, unraveling Granite’s tumultuous web, on the scout rock.
Now. Too far left? Stroke right. Wary of the building, crashing rooster-tail wave. Stroke back left, to where I was before. They say when taking tests, trust your first instinct.
Thinking of my boater, ex-re-ex-boyfriend, approaching this wave, his eyes would blaze.
Thinking my now-better-boyfriend would smile fireworks, laughing as his kayak dropped in.
Thinking of the celebratory whiskey waiting at camp.
Of the Westwater trip next month with the Wildy-beast Women.
Though he’s been guiding since the mid-1970s, I think the lead boatman’s too far right. Yet I’m the mere rookie at a decade. What do I know? Will I be lucky enough to career boat another 20 years? Should I follow him that far right?
Focus. Focus. It’s 17,000, The Level. The Green Room that I’ve only been in twice, is open. It’s the most breath-stalling wave. I daydream about its unreal depth, peerless hues, the perfect white noise.
Focus, focus. Lead boat’s making a move. The river’s placid blue-green pane begins to ripple. A silk sheet with gradual and then clear, even folds un-breaking but mobile taking the boat as a moving sidewalk. Slow then speeding. No stopping her now.
I start pushing. Stroke, stroke, boat gains momentum, the 1,500-pound, 16-foot fully loaded yellow beast/horse/boat awakes from her stroll, racing toward the horizon line. I urge her faster. River’s undulations lose their smooth soft edges, becoming live waves.
Lead boat hits the right side of the top lateral, shooting violently over as a typewriter’s last sentence, and riding high. Its right tube reaching up, up, water falling off and bodies tumbling. The boat vanishes in the lower Granite waves, its fate unknown. Jay, my sole rider, and I are left to ours.
Pushing left toward the Room with all that my heart and shoulders have. Warning Jay of the pending epic-nicity, I drop an expletive for good measure, so he understands fully.
Pushing, coaxing my boat. And we reach the edge. Jay holds the straps firm and is leaning forward like he should, ready, trusting.
In we go. The Room is open and astounds. Hoping it doesn’t close on us. We ride down, down to the center of the earth.
Sea monsters circling and sturgeon grinning.
Subterranean starfish and anadromous Salmon ponder our future.
Will we make the rise or lose power, stall like my beater first car and pancake back into the wet, cool, cave?
It’s a second’s concern, then it’s gone and I’m here. Here. Every bit of me. Mid-rapid the only time in my life I’m effortlessly in full conscious attendance.
Deep, perfect meditation saturating my bones.
I am where I am.
On the floor, I feel the great Green Room as it is. A life-sized snow globe a zillion feet deep, antique-glass green water walls 360 degrees around.
We start the rise. I brace my oars. Jay braces himself. Rising vertical, slowing, SLOWing.
Will we make it?
The Green Room, then, mercifully, releases us through her cerulean ceiling, thrown back into the righteous ruckus and the remaining boat-drinking holes and waves that are Granite-of-the-Snake.
I’m reactionary, making each massive wave’s move the moment it’s necessary, wholly present in attempts to keep us on line. The hollering waves mellow to raised voices, and then to conversational chatter. We’re clear. I remind myself to breathe. And wipe the wave’s wet from my eyes.
Push to the lead boat, recall the rarely smelled scent of the Green Room, already fading, of how well Jay leaned, grateful I didn’t throw an oar at the top. I flash again on the ex-re-ex, I spend an extra minute on the current boatman beau, and dwell on whiskey. And I’m suddenly, sadly, physically aware that I’ve again lost being. Here.
Thanking the Snake for her clemency, all boats upright, on we slide downriver. My mind rides behind and ahead of us. Nostalgic for my last two minutes, for my moment’s whole presence.
And I’ve circled back to working, working so hard to be where I am.
Codye Reynolds breathes fully when she boats. She’s a native of Durango, Colorado, and has been a commercial river guide for eleven years. This is her second piece for the Mountain Gazette.