River Recall – From the Family Archives
After lunch, we untie the stern lines and shove the boats off the bank. Dipping our Tevas to rinse the sand as the boats move away, we leap on, and take position at the oars, launched for an afternoon of pools and drops and water-fights.
It is ninety-three degrees and ten percent humidity when we land our boats at Lower Grouse Creek camp—my favorite on the whole river. The river slows, shallows, and takes a long, wide S-turn over polished stones in a foot of water. Like watching fence posts on a country drive, your eyes skip as you try to fix on brilliantly colored cobblestone beneath the gliding boat. It’s so quiet you hear water falling from the oar blades like raindrops on the glassy surface. Other senses fill the silent void – the smell of dust and sage, a punishing sun on your shoulders, cracking calluses smarting on the oar grips. The mountains grow taller and nearer and soon surround like protective big brothers.
The current is just picking up speed as we skid our boats into a wide bath-tub of an eddy and run sterns aground on the sloping beach of hot sand. We unload the boats and assemble tents for the guests. Mitts, baseballs, and a Frisbee are distributed. In a sand bunker next to a meadow of cheat grass, I pick up a warm rock and hammer pegs for a horseshoe throwing competition. Sweaty from heaving kitchen gear and packs, the guides sneak back to the boats. For half an hour our guests will be standing in line for the port-a-potty, making nests, or changing into hiking boots. This leaves us to ourselves. A quick inventory reveals that I managed to keep my stash of beer the coldest. I proudly loft a can in a high-arching toss to each of the guides. Shirts come off, we dip quickly to knock off the day’s dust in fifty-degree water, and we slouch in a circle on the hot rubber tubes of the boats. We gulp beer three swallows at a time as the sound of the river surrounds us. The boat tubes and taut stern lines creak softly as we share insults, events of the day, and a second beer. The current nudges the boats with just enough gentle motion to maintain life in them beneath us. Our boats are not inert inflatable tubes and metal frames but rather living animals—friends, companions—idiosyncratic but dependable.