The Saga of the Seventh Generation Trilogy, Book Three: ALL MY RELATIONS by C. J. Hotchkiss
From Chapter 5: The River
Peter and David arrived at the put in, west of Grants Pass. They pumped up the boat, packing it with a scant collection of supplies they might need for a two-day rafting trip. It was late afternoon before they finished. They planned to sleep out under the stars and get an early start in the morning.
“Hey, bro,” David said matter of factly. “I’m gonna drive Geronimo down to the take out point, then I got to take off cross the state to help my baby sister, Chantell. She got accepted at Fort Collins College and she’s scared to death. I told her I would help her move in and keep her from chickening out.”
“What?” Peter jerked around to look at his friend. “You can’t leave me here to go down this river by myself.”
“Sorry, bro,” David tried to look reassuringly at his friend. This had nothing to do with Wounded Knee. “It’s family. I gotta help. I never thought she’d get up the nerve to actually go to college, but she’s going. Chantell is real smart and will be fine, but right now she’s scared. She needs her brother. I just talked to her back in Grand Junction. I gotta go, bro.”
Peter heard the sincerity in his friend’s voice, but all his own bravado slipped away as he thought of the river and the infinite solitude of the canyons on his own. “Can’t she wait just a couple days? We could do the river then I’ll drive you over there. Or, forget the river, I’ll take you over right now.”
“No, man. You need to go down the river. It’s a good one. Everyone needs a near death experience…”
Peter watched his friend throw his backpack in the truck. “What do you mean ‘near death experience’? What about you?” Peter yelled. “This is our journey. What about your fucking near death experience?”
David laughed as he gently coaxed Geronimo to turn over. “Being an Indian is a near death experience, bro! “ he yelled as he backed up. “Just stay to the left on Skull Rapids. The Room of Doom is a bitch.”
Room of Doom? Peter watched David drive off into a trail of dust. Damn. He looked around at the majestic canyon. It now seemed dangerous and lonely. Shit. As the darkness crawled up the canyon walls, Peter opened a can of beans and ate it cold. He crawled into his sleeping bag as the darkness chilled the day, trying to decide if he might just hitchhike down to the truck in the morning. Big Hummer. Funnel Falls. Surprise Rapid. Sock-it-to-Me. Skull Hole. Room of Doom. None of these sounded like rapids anyone in his right mind would raft on his own.
He was almost asleep when he heard a car slow to a stop, let someone off with a significant amount of scuffle, and then pull off. The solitude left by David amplified every noise and triggered a paranoia that kept Peter silent, listening to human sounds in the night. “Mother fucker.” A voice broke the silence. Its trifling frustration mocked Peter’s paranoia. It was a female voice, confident, but irritated at something. “Jaz, when I get back, you are going to hear about this….”
Finding his voice, Peter spoke through the darkness. “Can I help with something?”
“Shit, man.” The woman startled. “”Who is out there?”
“It’s just me,” Peter said. “I’m camping here to get an early start in the morning.”
The woman pulled out her flashlight and searched the brush until she came across Peter and his sleeping bag. “And who are you?” she asked.
“Oh yeh,” Peter replied. “I’m Peter. Peter Stanton from outside of Denver. Who are you?” As the woman turned off her flashlight, his eyes readjusted to the night. He could see the outline of a young woman, strong, but willowy in the rising moonlight. She looked around 19 or 20 with long dark hair. When her eyes caught the moonlight, he was sure he saw them flash, swallowing up all the light into their shining blackness. He was pretty sure that he must be making all this up.
“I’m Jessie Begay,” she finally answered. “Sorry to wake you. I didn’t see you out there. My damn roommate took the tie line of my kayak to hang out her smudge sticks or panty hose or something. It’s not the first time, but we talked about it….”
Peter was now sure he was dreaming, though he had no idea where he had come up with such odd details. “I’m sure I’ve got an extra rope in the truck,” Peter said before he remembered that he didn’t have the truck. “Except, of course, I don’t have my truck.” She must be Navajo, Peter thought putting together the name, long dark hair, and deep, dark eyes. “I probably have something in my raft.”
“No worries,” Jessie replied. “I can figure it out in the morning.” With that and a second glance at Peter, she dragged her inflatable kayak over to a grove of trees next to the river. She blew it up enough to create a mattress and climbed into the cushioned boat. She wrapped herself in a blanket, and fell asleep.
Peter was now wide-awake. The increasing cold of the night convinced him that he hadn’t imagined this encounter or the girl. She was sleeping over by the river. Jessie. What was she doing here by herself? Was she meeting someone in the morning? Was she going down the river by herself? He wondered, thinking about her apologetically smiling eyes, until he finally drifted to sleep. It seemed that he had just fallen asleep when he heard a pump stretching the woman’s kayak to the right buoyancy. He scrambled out of his sleeping bag and looked around for any length of rope that he might offer her. He cut six feet off his bowline and walked over to the kayak.
“Morning,” he said casually. “I found a little rope. You are welcome to it.”
The young woman turned to greet him. Peter caught his breath. She was beautiful. The moonlight had made her intriguing, but, in the morning sun, Peter was sure he had never seen anyone so beautiful in his life. He stood there speechless as she smiled at him.
“Sorry about last night,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be so dramatic. My roommate is doing this kind of stuff all the time. You’d think I’d learn to check everything. One time she took my peanut butter, which is my main rafting staple. I spent the whole trip hungry, dreaming about PBJ’s.”
Peter’s silence began to be awkward. He tried to rouse himself to say something casual. “Wow. No peanut butter.” Brilliant. Jessie laughed and accepted the rope that was dangling from his hands.
“Thanks. This will help,” she replied. “There are too many spots on this river where you can’t really pull up on shore if you need to.”
Peter rallied to the task at hand. “You’ve rafted this river before?” he asked.
“Yeh,” Jessie answered. “It’s one of my favorites when I need to focus and jolt myself a little. It’s got some good runs. You have to pay attention.”
What is it with these Indians and paying attention, Peter thought. “Are you running it by yourself?”
“Yep,” Jessie answered as she wove the piece of rope on to the front tie. “It’s my Solo. I do a solo whenever something in life tries to knock me down and I don’t think I can get back up. If I can Solo, I can get back up. This is a good Solo canyon.”
Hmmmm, Peter thought. Maybe that’s what David meant about the near death thing. “I was going down with a friend, but he had to take off unexpectedly. I’ve never done this river. Maybe we could kind of keep an eye on each other.”
“Solo.” Jessie said, as she glided her kayak into the easy ripples of the river. “Just stay to the left on Skull Rapids. The Room of Doom is a bitch.”
Peter watched the river scoop her away. He panicked. He knew nothing about her but her name. She was totally drifting out of his life. But, he reasoned, they were on the same river. He gathered up his belongings, quickly added air to the raft, and set off to follow her, forgetting his earlier resolve to hitchhike down to the truck. The raft was a clumsy vessel compared to her kayak. Peter only caught a glimpse of her once on a straightaway that curved oh so slightly to the right. She was not hurrying, but stayed with the river, never lingering for any amount of time. The oars felt cumbersome without David’s help and he got stuck on a rock trying to navigate through the early Miner’s Cabin rapids. He had not caught up with Jessie by sunset. He continued precariously as the light began to be swallowed up by the canyons.
Peter was about to pull over in deference to his common sense, when he saw a small campfire on the right bank of the river. “Ahoy” he called out. “Solo,” was the reply. Satisfied just to know where she was, Peter rounded the bend to the roar of an upcoming rapid. Shit. The moon had slipped over the edge of the canyon and provided enough light for him to see the white water, searching for clues as to what lay below it. Peter was used to paddling with David, but he was also an experienced rafter and had a good sense of the river. The moonlight bounced off the rippling water, highlighting the dark paths of river that might give him safe passage. Peter strained his eyes, looking for a dark tongue of water that might avoid the rocks. The river was moderately high, running about 10,000 cubic feet per second, only half of what it might run in the spring, but still lively enough to move Peter’s boat daringly. He was taking on water, but stayed upright, wet, but confident, as he navigated the swirling waters. He felt the power of the water and the commanding strokes of his oars. As he charged to the left of a fallen branch, he found the tongue. He negotiated it through the white foam that baited and spat at him. For a few adrenaline charged minutes, he forgot the night, the beautiful girl, and the cold that splashed into his boat. He rode the river, comfortable with his vulnerability, exhilarated to flow with this wily movement of the earth. Not near death, but nearer to life than he had felt in a long while.
Peter steered the soggy craft to the left side of the shore that had enough of a shoulder to harbor him for the night. The moon cut through the night like a fog light, celebrating Peter’s safe passage and sense of accomplishment. He emptied the boat and found that the scruffy garbage bag had kept his sleeping bag surprisingly dry. He stripped off his wet clothing, hanging them on bushes and crawled into the warmth of his sleeping bag. The rapids had made him feel more capable of steering his life than Peter had felt since his father’s grasp had faded in his hand. He gazed up at the stars fighting for their small breaths of light in the bright moonlight. He glanced across the river at the ledges of the canyon. Standing on one rock, over thirty feet above the river, was the shadow of a person looking across the brush and white water. As the figure turned to climb back down the rock, Peter saw long black hair picked up by the wind, churning like the waters. He smiled, imagining her faintest concern. Enough to check on him. Enough to interrupt her Solo for a moment. He decided that he needed to wake early, get through the upcoming rapids quickly, and be waiting at Cisco Landing before she got there.