Friday, December 11, 2009

Craig Childs

Last night Steve and I went to see Craig Childs at PCC. Craig is a fabulous nature writer who grew up in Arizona and lives in Colorado. He said he was delighted after arriving in Tucson by car at dawn Thursday morning to smell the delicious scent of rain. He talked about how the desert is all about water, and gave a Powerpoint presentation of photos he took of desert dunes and canyons. He puts himself in bizarre situations just to see what happens. For example, he enjoys burying himself in the sand in a remote desert, leaving only his head exposed, and staying that way for hours to see what kind of altered consciousness he can achieve. He was part of an international group of rafters and kayakers who made a first descent of a wild river in Tibet. The people who lived beside this ferocious river, which Craig said made the Colorado look like a joke, were horrified and begged them not to go. He showed us some videos of this muddy chaos taken from the bow of a catamaran.

Steve and I had the great privilege of spending a week on the Colorado River with Craig in 1998. We were on a commercial trip, and Craig was one of the guides. He was doing research for one of his many books about water. He was already appearing on NPR, so some of the rafters knew who he was and were very excited about having him for a guide. We were still clueless at that point.

Craig made a big impression on me because of two incidents. We were on an all-paddle trip, meaning no motorized boats and no oars. Everyone paddled every day. Lava Falls is largest fall on the Colorado River. It's also one of the scariest rapids because the huge black basalt boulders in the river have a rough surface that can tear a person up pretty good. Then there's always the possibility of a person swimming the falls and getting trapped under a boat or against a boulder. The power of the water is too much for mere humans to overcome. Hopi and white men ask for a safe passage from Vulcan's Anvil, a magnificent black cinder cone in the river upstream of the rapid.

When we got to Lava Falls, we all went up on an overlook to scout it and figure out the best path. Steve and I chose to be in the first boat to go through. The rest of the rafters were on the overlook, taking pictures as we went through, so I have a series of photos documenting what happened next. Steve and I were in the front of the raft, paddling in unison. Behind us were Craig and Steve's sister Lee. Behind them were Deb and George, a couple in their 60s. The head boatman Shay was in the middle back, telling us how to navigate the gigantic standing V-shaped wave we had to ascend with lots on power, going straight up the middle.

The photographic evidence shows Steve, Craig, Lee and me paddling in unison, even as we completely disappeared under the waves. In the back, Deb and George had their paddles in their laps and their hands over their eyes. We got part way up the V wave, and slid off the side. I fell out. I was under water a lot longer than I wanted to be. I surfaced, then went under again. When I came up, Steve grabbed me and held on through the rest of the rapids, then Craig and Steve pulled me into the boat.

My other favorite memory of that trip occurred in a flat, deep, narrow section of the river. The smooth Vishnu Schist walls shoot straight up for hundreds of feet. Craig asked everyone to be quiet. As we slowly floated in silence, he played his wooden flute. The music bouncing off the walls in that glorious place was ethereal. I told him last night, if heaven isn't like that moment, it should be.

He signed my copy of "Crossing Paths" like this: "For Donna and Steve and Lava Falls rising up around us".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where the Deer and the Coyotes Play

I'm sitting at the counter at Desert's Edge, sending off an offer on a short sale. I had already seen a covey of ten quail looking for food on the hill among the prickly pears. Then I saw two beautiful coyotes, looking uncharacteristically healthy. With their bushy tails and auburn highlights and wild yellow eyes, they were a stunning sight. I've seen javelina and deer here, but these are my first coyotes at my sweet desert home.