Starry Night, August 2021

Morning, Spanish Bottom

Starry Night

This is the last stop on the Colorado River, after eight days canoe camping on the Green River in the canyonland wilderness of Utah. The worst day was gotten over on the first day with miserable cold and rain and too many miles. The last day, was a lazy one on a long sandy beach. We arrived in the early afternoon before the coolness of the day was blown away by hot afternoon winds.

Why is this beach so white when everything visible for hundreds of square miles is red rock?

We staked our claim to this beach by spreading out and luxuriating in the soft, wide, open space after a week on hardpack and gravel and almost impossible climbs to find enough dry, flat ground for a tent. We had seen four other people, not counting a Canyonlands National Park Ranger who stopped his jetboat to say hello. On our beach it is just the four of us.

The last day, we are taking our time.

The tent can go almost anywhere we choose.

Our gear is all over the place, drying after washing off the loose sand and mud.

The canoes are rinsed out and draining, two bright red, hard edged curves laying on their sides, the bottoms turned against the light wind. Later, as the wind picks up, we move them into the shelter of a ledge and weigh them down because the wind is strong enough to flip them back into the river. Canoes are like fish, they struggle on land and take the wind as an opportunity to fly back into the river. I’ve seen that more than once; 80 pound canoes flying.

It’s too hot to hike and there’s very little shade so we sit in the water to cool off; wet rags on our heads and shoulders, laughing at the shock of cold water on our skin, every time. Quiet talk, joking, telling stories, knowing this is the last day. Carefully untying the threads that have bound the four of us together for the trip. Placing memories in each other’s minds to take home.

The river was solid with silt. We could not see beyond its surface.

Every night there had been distant thunder storms and occasionally the sky behind an abutment would light up, but no rain fell after that first day and night. The desert monsoon storms are small but violent – loud with thunder and rain drops the size of pennies. But the storms are so localized that we would be dry. Because each side canyon is cut into rock of a different color, the flash floods that poured into the main channel of the Green River shifted it’s color daily, even hourly, from brown to gray, to gray green, to pinkish beige.

On the last day the water was greenish, wide and quiet. From downstream, where we will not go, we could hear the first of the Cataract Canyon rapids roaring like a distant freeway or a huge waterfall.

I always feel that sound as a pull at my chest that is slightly fear and slightly the desire to throw myself into it bodily. This desire to be in the river is not to drown but to lose myself in the rough tumble of water and rock, to let go and be part of the river, to flow in a way that is bigger than my body. I’ve had unpleasant swims in rivers and I know that throwing myself into a rapid would be painful. I would helplessly bang into rocks and get sucked under water and inhale water and cough and cough and cough. No, I don’t want to do that, again.  This desire to be in the river is bigger than my body and beautiful.

There was still some faint light from the sunset when we climbed into the tent and our sleeping bags. I fell asleep almost immediately. In the few moments before I dropped off I heard, I could almost feel, a subsonic thump of a wave slamming against itself in the rapid downstream, a refrigerator door’s muffled slamming.

I woke after a few hours. I had to pee. It was strangely light out but the full moon hadn’t cleared the canyon walls. I put on my glasses and unzipped the door and stumbled around putting on my sandals. Then I looked up.

I am struck by light. The Milky Way is solid with starlight, so much so that I don’t need my flashlight to walk across the beach which glows. The canyon walls and the river are black. I feel myself standing in a small canyon on the rough surface of the Earth with a star-cut bowl curving overhead. A billion stars spreading across blackness like a toss of glitter. I feel scared and safe at the same time, the edge of our Galaxy is so big and I am infinitely small and unimportant. I can be squished like a bug and it won’t make an iota of difference. I am terrifyingly inconsequential. At the same time I am so small that I won’t be noticed. Whatever happens to me is pure accident. The Universe is so full of busyness bigness, it has no time to think about me, to target me.

Statistically I am safe.

That’s the lie I feel in that moment under the starry sky.

To the East the whole expanse of sandstone cliffs was suddenly backlit by lightening. All night there is a light show of flashes beyond our canyon walls and in the morning the flash floods from upstream turned the river bright red.

What will be, was

I picked up a little box of cards at a party recently that had little conversation topics written on them. I thought they would make interesting writing prompts.

#1  Which school subjects do you think will be useful and which will be useless?

At the time, I thought school was boring and a waste of time. There were some classes that made sense to me, like Art and English. I enjoyed French but that was mostly because the two French teachers we had at Novato High in the late 60’s were lively and interesting people.

Our French teachers were polar opposites. Miss Morin was stout, portly, and her personality was warm and kind, motherly to go with her big body, a Venus of Wallendorf. She wore her black hair in a French roll at the back and dark clothes like a French peasant. I trusted her and visited her at her home once, just dropped in during my senior year. Rumor had it that she was a lesbian because she lived with a woman roommate and hadn’t married. It was 1968 and I didn’t really know what a gay person was. There was curiosity attached to the rumor, nothing malicious.

I have forgotten the other French teacher’s name. She was tall and thin and energetic and a lot of fun. She wore calf-length flowered dresses and had long reddish hair that was out of control. It waved and curled past her shoulders. My feelings for her were more volatile and unexpected. I wanted her approval so actually I did some of the homework assignments.. I would mess around exaggerating the rolling “r’s,” parodying her a little. She told me I had a very good accent.

Miss Robb, the art teacher was a small woman, too, but she had a layer of baby fat that made her look young, even to us. She wore her hair very short and taught us all kind of things. She ran the class like a survey course in all the arts and crafts. She taught us to to copper enamel. I still have a piece I made on a penny with an astrological sign on it. She also had us do a light show. She brought in a bunch of exposed 35mm film and we scratched and painted on it. We  mixed colored oil and water and mushed it around in dishes on the overhead projector. When my team gave its presentation I was supposed to give my partner a cue by passing my hand over the oily mess but he didn’t start the movie projector. I cued him again and still nothing. Finally I said, go! Turned out that he was waiting for me to shut off the overhead. In the critique someone pointed out that there were too many hands flashing through my part of the show.

I was interested in making jewelry so one day after school Miss Robb took me to Berkeley to an art store on University Avenue. Neither of us had made any plans for me to get home and there were no buses between Novato and Berkeley. Besides I had no money. I don’t remember how I got home. She might have driven me there.

2001, the movie, came out while I was in High School. One of the male teachers, I don’t remember what he taught. I was wary of him because he had a lot of groupies hanging around him. He held a whole class on the movie 2001. His thesis was that it was a representation of  an acid trip and that the world was going to become a better, more enlightened place if everyone took a trip. I think he got fired and then rehired due to student protests. Maybe I am making that up. There was some fuss about him for encouraging students to rebel and rumors that he took acid.

Mr. Burger, my geometry teacher was pretty cool. He was in the process of building a house in the hills of Marinwood that didn’t have any 90 degree angles. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I wonder how he got the money for that. I always struggled with math, but geometry was easy for me. I have no idea how I got through algebra to get into geometry class. After we had been working with the various formulas he gave us the assignment to make a geometry puzzle. I drew circles and lines and plugged in every formula we had learned up to that point into a diagram. He put mine on the board and solved a lot of the puzzles but gave up before he finished them all. I enjoyed being singled out but disappointed that he didn’t finish. I felt like his inability to figure it out was my failure, not his.

I just realized that if he had answered the questions in order he would have been able to solve the whole puzzle. The answers to some of the questions were dependent on the answers to earlier questions. I just now thought that. After 49 years I figured out why he had to stop. (Just to give you an idea of my math skills I had to write down on paper the 2018 minus 1969 problem and I had problems with all the zeros. I forgot how to carry.)

That was the second time something like that happened.

When I was in 7th grade I wrote a fairy tale for my English class. It was a jokey thing and I made up some elaborate names for the characters. The teacher would read one of the stories out loud to the class on Friday afternoons. She told me, maybe in front of the class, that she would have read my story except that she couldn’t pronounce the names. I felt cheated.

When I was in high school I wanted to be a scientist and write poetry. My counselor told me that I should take typing so that I could be a secretary. I refused. The idea of working in a an office was disgusting. I wouldn’t join the squares and work for the military-industrial complex! Of course computers cured me of that typing bias and I have worked in offices of one sort or another my whole working life. Much more interesting than I expected. Even data entry has its charms, it’s a lot like paid knitting or playing solitaire where it isn’t cheating if you sort the deck if it doesn’t work out.

My political views were full of teen confusions, foggy even, but I really did believe that the War in Vietnam was a horrible, terrible, vicious example of how stupid the government was, that the war was run by a bunch of heartless generals. The tv show M.A.S.H. said it all for me.

In a political science class we played a global simulation game. Without naming the countries we had been given, we were to solve the puzzle of how to avoid nuclear warfare during the Korean War. I don’t think the disguise of giving the countries new names was necessary because hardly anyone knew what the Korean War was. We were randomly assigned to “countries” and given roles to play within that country. We were given the situation and allowed to play it out. I handled the agricultural department of my country. I thought that it was a dumb role. Who cares about food production? (My only justification for my ignorance was that I was in school to learn such things. Later when I heard about the food production problems in China I remembered my little rebellion and wondered what was in my portfolio.) In the meeting of my country’s departments I saw that my fellow countrymen didn’t have a clue how to proceed. They were very confused and I am not sure they understood the assignment. There wasn’t even any horsing around, just muddle. I’ve never been very patient with muddle.

Since I thought I was a minor player and had no stakes in the game, I decided to defect. I packed my folder of agricultural materials and moved to the table where North Korea was trying to figure out how to stop the Chinese from invading. What a shockwave that created. The teacher was called in to adjudicate but he (or she) said there was no rule against defecting and let my defection stand. If there had been a CIA recruiter spying on us he would have rejected me right then. Maybe even busted me.

But I was suspicious of all kinds of fanatics, gurus, and born agains. I resented people who told me what to think and people who didn’t think like I did. School was just another system for soul crushing. If it wasn’t painful it was boring. Mostly boring.

I had a friend who became a born again Christian and he and  I had a long series of arguments about how his beliefs were illogical. I think we only succeeded in hardening our own convictions without opening our minds to other ways of seeing things. Mike. His name was Mike. We didn’t have anything to talk about after we reached the impasse of the faith vs. reason conversation. I had felt animated by our talks but I think he felt bullied. He was probably right. I held the Hewitt convictions coupled with an inability to listen. I had to fix things. If I couldn’t fix them I was willing to toss them aside, to break them further.

One of the teachers at my high school was Harvey Susser. We were supposed to call him Mr. Susser but those who took his drama classes called him Harvey. I was not a Dramie, I was a Hippie, so I didn’t take any classes from him until I was at College of Marin where he had transferred around the time I graduated from Novato High. I knew him there as Harvey. I took his history of film class 3 times.

When he was still at Novato High, Harvey put on school productions that had sold out audiences. Our Town, of course, but also a series of short absurdist plays like Sandbox and Rhinoceros. He also did a full production of Oklahoma and then The Lady’s Not For Burning and The Lottery.

The Lottery burned into my brain. It articulated the paranoia of military life in the 50’s to perfection and helped me identify my fear of groups and authority. “Yes, that’s how it is,” I thought, “I am not going to get any help. I could easily be the sacrifice. I am not going to join any group.” I did eventually find a group, but that is another essay.

Writing this is confusing. There are times in the present when I am stubborn and thoughtless but they are very brief compared to when I was a teen. I no longer hold convictions with the same rigidity, in fact sometimes I marvel at my ability to see multiple points of view. I can say yes and then no to a question and both answers make sense to me. Both are correct. I chew on myself,  “You’re wishy-washy. Don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out.” Etc.

As I get older I find it harder to like my younger self. Not that I really appreciated myself then. I was defensive and scared most of the time and I didn’t find safety for many years. Gentleness and compassion came late, too. Any sense of self appreciation still has to hide. I am still surprised that people like me. Who me? Are you sure?

A friend recently reminded me that I should trust my friend’s judgments, that it is a little insulting to fail to acknowledge that they like me. I try to remember that. I try to appreciate their appreciation of me. They are not nuts for liking me.

Still, there is a part of me that is amazed that my friends show up.  There is a part of me that feels shame when I appreciate myself. When people compliment me I cringe, I feel a fraud, they must be talking about someone else or misunderstanding my selfish evil intentions.

That soul crushing I was so worried about the “establishment” forcing on me was already there. My struggles as an adult have always been about being safe in my skin even though I thought my skin was stupid and useless.

I am 65 now and I wonder why this self-loathing ‘me’ hasn’t looked at the evidence and seen that I am not a creep. I am loved and appreciated. It still surprises me.

#2  How does a person become courageous?

I think courage has a lot to do with experience. Or maybe confidence.

My experience with courage.

My non-boating/camping friends tell me I am crazy for going whitewater canoeing. That some of the adventures I’ve had were borderline crazy. When they say these things I am at a loss to explain that while I am scared at the prospect of flipping in a rocky rapid, I am not mustering up courage. I am fighting down fear. I am not becoming courageous. I am becoming less fearful by pushing fear down into excitement and challenge. Those friends who put themselves in my place, who try to imagine what it would be like to dart down a Class III rapid, should be terrified. If they were going where I was going they would be in danger. Real danger because they would have no idea what to do to protect themselves. I have had practice. I studied with master paddlers and practiced on many levels of river so I know my limitations and strengths in situations on rivers.

This is where I get the idea of courage being circumstantial. If you have practiced a certain task it becomes a skill, you can practice CPR on a dummy, or paddle with someone more experienced than you are, but practice also has taught you something about yourself. You have found confidence in your skills and you have found out something about consequences.

Going back to the courage question; in this context practice and experience can dull your fears and change your expectations so that you can do more daring and potentially dangerous things. You can look more courageous to people who don’t share your experience. It doesn’t feel like courage.

My working definition up to this point is that courage is being willing to take the risk of doing something known to be dangerous.

Spontaneous. There is something spontaneous about courage that I am leaving out in my musings.

I am trying to distinguish between the fireman who has been trained and wears equipment to go into a burning house and the average person who does the same without training and equipment and often without thought. Maybe we need two different words for those experiences. The fireman has far more skills and knowledge about what he is doing and he does it anyway. The average person has an incomplete idea of what she is getting into and she does it anyway. The similarity is in the ‘doing it anyway’ part of the situation. The binding between the two is courage. But you can’t measure courage volumetrically.

Maybe courage is something that happens, rather than something one becomes. Maybe that is the part of this question that stumps me. The fireman has fear but he also has figured out how to work within that fear. He also knows the consequences of going into a burning building without the gear and expertise he brings to the situation. He’s seen the ruins of people who failed to escape. To him the above mentioned average person is completely nuts for entering, not courageous, but stupid.

The driving force for my fireman friend was that he wanted to save someone, some day. I think he wanted to feel heroic. The “average person” is often pronounced dead at the scene, which is what holds most of us back. Is it courage that propels that average person into the flames?

When I paddle a Class III rapid, I am using my skills. I am solving the puzzle the river is throwing at me. I am thinking fast and not at all. I am not brave or courageous, busy is more like it. On rare occasions I have spontaneously jumped into a potentially dangerous situation without thinking beyond, “Oh, god, I hope I don’t land on a rock,” and having a little flashback to the time when I was a kid floating on my air mattress in a shallow stream and hit that rock with my stomach. But all my hesitation had been while I was already in the air heading for the water.

Maybe part of the definition of courage is what people say about the person after the courageous act. Perhaps what they say about themselves should be included.

I’ve never heard someone say,  “I was brave,” or, “I have courage.” I can’t really say those things about myself because I don’t really know what those feelings are. Are they even feelings? People have told me I was brave when I jumped into a river to rescue someone but brave wasn’t part of the immediate experience. Fear, certainly. But mostly on the river I am not actually thinking about what I am doing. I jumped into the river. The water was cold and shocking. I saw rocks and current, things that could threaten me, but mostly I was trying to figure out how to save the situation. Is anyone trapped underwater? Whew, two bobbing heads heading downstream. Can I get over there? Is there someone closer who can be more effective? Where is my throw rope? That boat is really stuck! I really hope someone knows how to do a z-drag.

It isn’t the adrenaline rush or the death wish I seek, it’s the… I don’t know exactly, I just find those situations and how to avoid them, equally and deeply interesting. A friend referred to this as “focused high,” which seems a bit smaller than the experience warrants but it will have to do for now.

So I am circling back to the idea that courage is not something you become as if you suddenly become a redhead or six inches taller when necessity demands it. Courage is a word that gets applied to me by others who didn’t happen to think as quickly as I did, that particular time. Or they didn’t think the same things I did. Or, they gave up on the situation before I did. They gave up on their ability to solve whatever problem lay before them before it occurred to me that I should avoid getting my one set of dry clothes wet on a cold windy day.

Eel River, Alderpoint to McCann Memorial Day Weekend 2011

I made two posts in quick sucession so feel free to go back one post after you read this one to see what happened on the Green River – not. kh
Text by Eric Rasmussen

Eric Resting Before Dinner

Eric Resting Before Dinner

                After we van passengers stop at the Cloverdale Chevron to put fluids in the van and let them out of ourselves, several of us gather by the station coffee pumps.  I fill a cup, empty four “Mini Moos” into it and grab a black lid to assure the brew doesn’t splash out on the bumpy road ahead.  After getting up at 3:45, I look forward to enjoying every drop.  The lid doesn’t quite fit, so I take one from an adjacent unlabeled row.  This, too, resists my efforts, but I’m desperate and apply greater, if less precise, pressure.  Suddenly, a result!  The lid dips down, the lip of the cup caves in, and 2 full ounces of the creamed French Roast blast out in a perfect shotgun pattern.  With an on-center spacing of 2” some three dozen blobs of the dark stuff fly directly onto Karen’s light blue jacket.  Showing surprisingly bright spirits, considering the early start and the ugly mess, she cheerfully says, “It’s waterproof.” And wipes the blotches off.  Then Dave shows me the white lids, the ones for 16 ounce cups, like mine.A few miles up the road and an even more cheerful Karen sings, “….. And tied the knot with his gun, down in the Arkansas.”  to the delight of all of us adults (Don, Ilse, Jan, Dave & Misty Lascurettes) and Dave and Misty’s daughters Quinn and Logan.

Now Karen follows another song with an explanation: “You know that really happened – Mrs. Leary’s cow did kick a lantern over and it started a fire.  And all of Chicago burned!”

A little later, after the girls do “Ring Around the Rosie,” Karen gives the old rhyme new meaning.  “Rosie refers to the rashes on the Plague’s victims.  Posies were what people carried to ward off the disease, and ashes were the remains of the burned corpses.”  As an ex-professional and still entertaining naturalist, Karen shortens the longest van ride.

When rain begins to fall, I remember that Kit a couple of days ago was considering canceling the trip due to high water.  I turn-on my phone and Google Dreamflows – “2000 cfs” and falling at 7cfs per hour.  That’s well under the 5000 that Kit feared.  Ilse watches me and asks, “What kind of a device is that?”  “It’s a PALM.” I explain.

Jan hears this and pipes up, “I finally made the change (from PALM)….and found a utility that transferred my entire calendar to my Droid in less that five minutes.”  It took her hours, before she found this utility, to move her contacts..  A few van trips back Jan and I enjoyed swapping PALM stories.  We experienced that special delight shared by people who love the same anachronism.

Is it any surprise that people who go down river in craft first used by hunter-gatherers are fond of the old ways?

We’re now maybe along the upper reaches of the Russian River, when eight year old Quinn declares, “Hey, you guys.  I have a joke.”

“Q: What did the rock say to the man?

A: Don’t take me for granite.”

Then she says to Karen, “Knock, knock.” And Karen asks “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”  “Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”  “Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”

“Banana.”  “Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”

“Orange.”  “Orange who?”

“Orange you glad I didn’t say ‘Banana?’”

We all were.

After an exquisite & intricate pink elephant joke, Karen confessed, “I have 101 elephant jokes in a book.”

“She can only remember 90 of them, ” confesses husband Don.

As rain begins to fall heavily, Ilse is inspired to explain part of the reason she hasn’t been on POST trips for awhile.  “I really don’t want to be cold and wet anymore.”  Then she looks out the cold, wet window, and implores the great, uncaring elements “It’s the end of MAY!!!!”  And the van splashes on.

Big Rock Campground, Saturday,  8pm

According to the forecast for Garberville, showers were expected today.  Intermittent downpours are what we paddled through.  Another is beginning.  How loud soft droplets are on taut canvas.

This well-designed and generously outfitted Mountain Hardware tent has been a treat in spaciousness, ease of set-up and thoughtful pockets and tie-downs.  But today a weakness was revealed.  Just as I began my long awaited afternoon nap, gusty winds kicked up.  Immediately the upwind wall and bottom of the tent were curling and buffeting around me.  I felt like a detached cocoon.  Fortunately, I’m heavier than the average caterpillar, and when I woke up, my co-ordinates were unchanged.  But those shiny, metal u pins that I’d poked at an angle into the sand at every corner – all were unpoked.

On the way to dinner I noticed that campers who spent the afternoon upright had secured their puny stakes by placing boulders atop each one.  Except Kit and Charlie, who run this trip every year.  They brought along those red mesh onion bags and filled them with smaller, managable rocks.

It is quiet now.  No rain or wind.  Only river sounds.  And laughter.  From the nearby family tent come the peels of irrepressible Quinn and Logan.  Misty’s voice comes, too.  I think I just heard her say, “If you could just be a little quieter.”  This, the girls find hilarious.

Homeward bound

The van’s passing Pour Girls Coffee in Laytonville.  I could do with a cup of Java, but I don’t ask.  Don’s driving..  And I’m writing.  Plus, while he’s kept the van between the lines. I’ve napped.  Thanks, Don.

Well, as usual, this trip report has gone on, and on, with no mention of canoing.  In fact, we paddled some twenty miles this weekend, and fought our way through fierce winds Saturday afternoon.  That we fought no more is due to our intrepid leaders.  Each morning, though Kit and Charlie knew that nobody wanted to do it, they rousted us out of our cozy tents for coffee, breakfast and packing as fast as was humanly possible to get on the river and gone.  Thanks to this bold and commanding leadership, we each day reached our take-outs before the wind awoke.  Thanks, guys.

Now that paddling has been mentioned, let’s move on to what these trips are really about.  Dinner on Saturday was great.  Dave and Misty prepared, in advance (a very smart thing to do when planning to feed two dozen tired paddlers exhausted from dodging downpours), bags of delicious stew and big, fat yummy cookies.  They also served a fine, fresh salad, and Dave raised the bar for camp vegetables.  In a really big pot he lightly steamed a huge number of skinny string beans, then in small batches seasoned them with salt and melted butter.  “That’s the way the girls like them.” Misty explained.  Worked for the rest of us, too.

By the way, in mid-May, Dave, who was a scout thirty years ago in Bill Hitching’s troop, repainted the POST trailer – every side, rack and bar is now smooth and rust-free.  This wasn’t his first encounter with the venerable boat-hauler.  “That green color (about three layers down) was mine.” He tells us in the van.

Dinner on Sunday was another well-planned treat, this time by Alan & Kate whose stewed chicken fell off the bone, saving our tired selves the trouble of chewing.  And they had soup – corn chowder.  Fresh salad, too.  Wit provided the appetizers: cheeses and dips best on his own twice-baked sourdough Zviebakke.  He resumed cooking next morning with another creation – chorizo scramble.  Plus a vegetarian option.

Amazing what meals come out of these primitive craft.

Ilse also gave us choices, too: of bagels, her original cereal and fruits for Sunday breakfast, and Jan with Pat & Eileen offered diverse sandwiches, chips, cookies and drinks at noon each day.  And, making each day possible, let’s give Charlie a hand for continuous morning coffee.

And one more food credit – to Alan & Costco for our last supper dessert.  Two huge pies.  One peach, the other apple.

And for anybody still reading, here’s a sub-story about the wiles necessary for great trips.  As this was Memorial Day Weekend, even though rain was forecast and did not fail to fall, several different groups of boaters slogged their way to the put-in at Alderpoint, creating competition for the prized campsites.  Our group had some advantages.  As already mentioned, we don’t sleep-in.  We also have advance teams.  When the shuttle began, those of us who didn’t come in our own cars, took off downriver, hoping to get to wind-blocking Mountain Rock campground first.  As described earlier, this stretch of the river was wet and windy, but we paddled hard.  Pretty soon, we came in view of the beach.  I saw chairs on it.  Oops.  Some people were waving at us from across the river.  I thought they were fast, victorious strangers.  I was wrong.  It was Bob and Joan, who with Barb and Jim had gotten on the river much earlier, and secured the site.   Thank you, team.

Next day, Sunday, Kit wanted to get us to our next camp, lovely Basin Creek, by lunch, and she did, but as we paddled into sight of the little stream, it was obvious we weren’t first.  Other peoples’ thirteen boats lined the beach.  Fortunately, these people were not early risers; now, a little past noon, they were just preparing to leave the camp.  One cluster, standing near their boats, were completing their preparations by passing a joint around.

Kit took things right in stroke.  She paddled straight for the opposite shore, and, like young Mergansers, the rest of us followed and enjoyed our lunch there.  Kit was not certain about the creek side.

“Charlie and I are going to ferry over and check to be sure there are enough sites for all our tents.”

Since the other group had three more boats, I suggested we could surely fit there..

“Yeah, but they all probably slept in the same tent.” She retorted.

I shut-up, relieved I wasn’t the only one who suffers from smugness.  As the thirteen craft left the opposite shore, I smugly noticed that all their canoeists had the same wrong idea about correct paddling.  Each pair of paddles stayed on the same side of each boat, until a change of direction was wanted; then both switched sides.

Another similar pleasure was given when one of their youthful number hollered over to us, “You should check THIS side out – there’s a great waterfall back up the creek!”  Kit probably first saw that fall three years before he was born, and as the last Old Town wove out of sight, she and Charlie ferried across.  Soon they waved the rest of us over.

Minutes later our respective and respectable tents dotted the beach, the creekside, the slope, the ledges and Jeff took the small spot just beside the waterfall.  It was a beautiful scene, and when Karen looked out from our calm refuge, she saw blowing sand blurring our lunch beach, the beach we’ve camped on every previous year.  Thank you again, Kit.

You can see our Outlook Creek paradise and other trip pictures at the link.  And if you’d like to come next year, sign up earlier.

Not the Green River, Plan B,C

Call me an optimist or call me stupid; I got the message about our trip to the Green River. No way.
On Tuesday, May 31st, Charlie called the BLM ranger who had just gotten off his 4 day river inspection trip.
The first thing the ranger said was, “Oh, yes. Anyone who has run the Grand Canyon in a tandem canoe can do this easy.”
So I think to myself, “Hum, Dave can go, is there anyone else?” I thought for a moment, “Amy has done it, so she would be OK.”
But that optimist vs stupid thing was still doing battle and I still hoped.
Charlie told me more that the ranger said. “He said that the current is so strong that the only place you can go is where it puts you. Do you remember what that was like on the Colorado?”
Charlie was referring to a trip we did one winter running the Colorado from Diamond Creek to Lake Mead. Not the big canyon, just the last 30-40 miles before Lake Mead. The river formed a V and that was where you went. There might be eddies along the way but the current put you in center channel and that was that. You went through the wave train whether or not you wanted to. I remembered watching Vince flip about 100 yds down from the put in, trying to get his C1 to roll upright as he was swept helplessly down a dragon’s spine of sharp rocks. He didn’t hit anything but after that he put the C1 on a raft and shared the rowing with his new partner.
I said to Charlie, “Yeah, that doesn’t sound too good, does it?”
Charlie laughed. You know that laugh you give when you are relieved of a responsibility you weren’t sure you were ready for in the first place? It was that laugh. “Then he started telling me about the Yampa.”
I had to place the Yampa river. It comes into the Green someplace upstream of our put in. Big river. Also high water. Charlie said, “The Yampa doesn’t have any dams to collect debris so all that stuff flows into the Green. Like trees and things.”
“Oh. That doesn’t sound good.” I was picturing unmapped, brand new sweepers blocking our path.
Charlie went on, “The ranger told me that there was a ton of wind and that he had to stand on his oars to make headway against it. He said the current was going 6 MPH most of the time and the wind would stop them dead in the water.”
I answered, “That’s annoying.”
But Charlie wasn’t finished, “Yes, he was saying that because the rafts were stopped in the current he had to be looking upstream to avoid being hit by the logs that were traveling at 6 MPH downstream.”
“He was being chased by logs.” I said.
“Yes. Chased by logs.” He repeated.
“That doesn’t sound like any fun.”
“No. I don’t want to be responsible for leading a trip where people are being chased downstream by logs.”
“Me neither.”
“None of that other stuff sounds like fun either.”
“No, it doesn’t”
Is there anyone who would like to take over my permit and go down the Green without us?

From Jan Dooley:

I think all the rivers in the Western US were flooding during late June, except for the San Juan river. Those of us hoping to go on the Green river Desolation/Grey canyon run were quite disappointed to have to cancel. Looking at the Green at Green River, Utah on June 28th, we didn’t want to be on it. It was in the willows, boily, no eddies, no beaches, etc. We did see some crazy kayakers putting in for the run below the town of Green River. I’m guessing it took them about three days instead of the usual seven.

The San Juan is a bit further south and had a snow pack of only 80%. The dam controlling the flow released their high flow the second week of June.. It was down to 500 cfs out of the dam when we put on. The Animas was still adding about 3000 cfs, but the San Juan could handle it. Joann Olson managed to obtain a permit via a cancellation. On Tuesday, June 21st, nine of us put on at Sand Island near Bluff at 3600 cfs. The group included Joann and Eric in a raft, the Verhaeghs, Bill and May Behrendt and Tim Clohessy in canoes. The flow started at 3600 cfs.

Flows went down for three days to 1800 cfs. The third day was hot. The forecast changed the day we put on. Instead of being pleasantly in the 90’s, it was expected to be in the mid 100s. It was the first burst of hot weather the area had seen. The upstream winds became fierce in the afternoon. I think these were the “spring” winds they talk about. However, the flows were high enough that we made camp most days by lunch time. What really surprised me were the moderate, night-time, downstream winds.

The third morning, we camped at Honnaker with plans to hike the trail up to the rim. Awaking before dawn, we discovered that the canoes were about to float away. The river had come up several feet. The flows started to oscillate with the heat of the day versus the cool of the night. During the previous afternoon, we had dragged the canoes up the beach, tied them together up and orientated them pointing into the wind. The wind gusts were impressive. The rocker on the whitewater canoes were enough to create a sail effect. Rocks were needed in the bows to keep them on the ground. Sand was creating nasty whirlwinds in the camp above us. The parawing blew down and the oar supporting it whacked Joann on the head. She suffered a nasty bruise and some cuts, but fortunately no brain injury. Flows continued to oscillate through the days with the highest water about dawn.

When we reached Government rapid, the only class III on the run, flow was about 2500 cfs. We saw two canoe routes. Bill took his canoe solo down the tongue with minor difficulty. The other canoes took a sneak route down the river left side and made it look easy. It was a joy to run the rapid instead of portaging. The class II rapids were straight forward. You chose to go down the big wave train or finesse your way down the side after crossing the waves up high.  We scouted 8 foot drop as advised by the ranger. There was a canoe sneak route down the left side. The critical move consisted of a narrow passage about half way down between a rock and a hole. Bill and Mary tried to go on different sides of the hole. They had a secure load and only lost a gallon jug of water. Ross rapid was fun with a big eddy to catch on the right. Scouting it helped, but not necessary. The bottom half was not visible from the top, but seen from the eddy.

The scenery and artifacts were awesome. I’ve never seen so much texture in countryside. The layers of rocks were impressive by themselves. The lower half of the river consisted of red sandstone cliffs a thousand feet high capped by white mushroom-like rocks. Upstream, there were more layers of alternating colors. In places, you could see how the layers were bent by the uplifting in the area. Above Mexican Hat, the layers turned 90 degrees and dove in to the ground. The stripes became vertical instead of horizontal and become very fine. I began to physically understand the terms syncline, antecline, uplift and fault. Jake and Ruth especially sought the gray layer of Honnaker limestone which had fossils in it. They spent every afternoon searching for fossils. In the desert, limestone becomes a hard, resistant layer. Sandstone is the soft stuff that shears away. Shale creates fragile layers that cause the overlying sandstone to collapse and form vertical faces. The shale also carries water creating hanging gardens and seeps. I was expecting limestone cliffs like along the Smith River in Montana which are light colored and carved. When exposed to water, like in Montana, limestone becomes soft. In the dry dessert, it hardens and resists erosion. This leaves hanging valleys that become spectacular waterfalls in flash floods. It also leaves a series of steps as you hike up the creek beds.

We investigated several petroglyph/pictograph panels. Tim thought it the work of bored juveniles. I thought it was a rite of passage introducing themselves to the gods. The River house was an Anasazi ruin with several rooms. Some rooms seemed completely cut off. Some had windows about 18″ square. There were ledges and fire-pits built into some rooms. There was a lovely ledge to sit on and enjoy the view. I can imagine sitting there husking corn, sewing clothes and chatting with my friends.

This is from Carol Krueger:

Thank you so much for the write up on the San Juan trip! It was great to hear about what the other half of the aborted Green River-Desolation Canyon trip participants did. Sounds like plan B was enjoyed by all.

After a Kit canceled the Green River trip, and Joann was able to secure a cancellation for the San Juan River, it was like a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, there were several of us who were not able to make adjustments to our vacation time for an earlier departure. That meant working on plan C. As Jan stated, rivers were up all through the west, which opened up some opportunities for us. The North Fork John Day and the Owyhee rivers in Oregon. Both rivers typically are unrunable this time of the year, but fortunately were maintaining decent flows.

The second group finally consisted of Keith Gail, Peter and Marianne of Berlin, and the Krueger’s. Originally, Kit and Charlie were going to join us and provide rafts support, but decided to bow out and enjoy a more leisurely non boating vacation. This created an interesting challenge. Self-supported, backpack style! Yes we can do this! Sometime ask about the “stove” issues regarding a bad batch of new fuel. Stories to exchange!

We all met up in Redding on Sunday, June 26th. From there we spent the night in Burns, Oregon and headed to the put in at Rome the next morning. On the advice from the BLM ranger, we decided to take four days and three nights to paddle the 51 miles, and taking out at Birch Creek above the reservoir. Big mistake! Four days was not enough time to do any type of exploring at all.

Peter and Marianne were paddling in an Austrian build inflatable canoe. Not to be confused with an inflatable kayak. Keith was in his solo, and the Krueger’s in their Dimension. All boats were definitely loaded, and I felt that we were probably carrying an extra 60 pounds in the Dimension. With that extra weight, our response and turning time was considerably compromised on this class of river.

The write up in the 1991 edition of “Oregon River Tours ” states that there are only three class 3 rapids, Whistling Bird, Montgomery, and Morcum or Rock Dam. This is correct, but in my opinion this edition definitely underrates the classification of the remaining nine named rapids (class 3’s) as presented in the new version of the BLM Owyhee River map

At our flow, 1700 CFS, Whistling Bird I would classify as a solid class 4 –. Basically an enter right making a sharp left turn to avoid the undercut wall, relatively straightforward, but the consequences of not making it were not acceptable. Dave and I decided to line the boat. Keith and Peter and Marianne both bumped down the left shore just fine. Dave and I swim Montgomery, which Keith recorded for prosperity.

Our only frustration was that the BLM map and Keith’s downloaded GPS map did not necessarily correspond with each other. On our last day, we were trying to find a short hike above the takeout, when the inflatable canoe burst a seam. Black rubber vs. hot sun. Fortunately, with only 1½ mile to go, the other two canoes were able to carry the extra gear.

Overall, the river canyons are spectacular, the sightings of golden eagles stunned us, Weeping Wall as a source for fresh water was amazing, and Mother Nature managed to put on one spectacular thunder and lightning storm on our second night. The five of us decided that we definitely needed to come back, with at least an additional one day, to do this river justice.

Home, via visiting Bruce in Crescent, Oregon and enjoying his hospitality. Then showing Peter and Marianne Crater Lake.

Keith’s video is on youtube:

Saturday on the Russian River with Chuck and Jan (and others)

April 30, 2011

Spring run on the Russian River

The first time I paddled a canoe was on the Russian River from Asti to Alexander Valley Road. We had no clue what we were doing and in our ignorance we caught every eddy between the put in and take out despite all our efforts to just go straight down the river. Oddly enough this trip, done in August at less than 100 cfs, was the beginning of our 23 year love affair with rivers. Not necessarily the Russian, but rivers all over the West.
In the summer, the Russian is all the things we try to avoid on rivers. It is very hot and the river is filled, bank to bank, with ratty old aluminum canoes, people in all levels of dress and undress, ripe, red, beer bellies punched into inflated inner tubes and no escape from the teeming masses because the shores are steep and lined with barbed wire fences to protect the vineyards. The last time we paddled the Russian we avoided the summer crush and did a run in December. Then, it was bitterly cold and while Charlie and I were able to take care of ourselves, we were unable to keep Alice, our five year old, from getting wet at the put in. Big mistake! This lead to a long miserable day for all three of us.
So when Jan suggested we join her for the weekend on April 30th, we weren’t very interested, but the weather was promising and eventually we caved in and decided that for one day it would be OK. It is an easy drive from our home in Berkeley and it is always fun to visit with our friends from Arcata.
I have to say right off that the automobile gods were on a rampage that weekend and while there were no accidents there was more than the usual amount of confusion.
When you paddle down a river there are many moods and contrasts. The Russian was in a mood I had never seen. This was partly due to the fact we were on a section I had never paddled. We put in just below the dam at Healdsburg and took out at Steelhead Beach Regional Park. Its a Class I and 11 miles. Oddly the shuttle was miles longer than the river run because there is a shortage of bridges (and we went right instead of left at an intersection).
Once we were on the river there was one section, neatly framed by giant cottonwoods that were standing very still, you could almost hear an occasional leaf pop free of the branches and drift to the water. An oriole was either following us or there was a mile long colony of them so that as we floated along there was always a strong, melodic voice right next to us, singing loud and lovely and yet invisible.
In these places we try to paddle quietly and gently and we catch glimpses of movement out of the corners of our eyes.
At the same time we are surrounded by this idyllic scene, we are also passing through a place where the huge destructive power of the river makes you think constantly of what 30,000 cfs really means. During the rainy season the sandy bank had been pounded upon – cut and washed away, leaving uprooted trees and bushes tangled in piles on the shore. Bits and pieces and whole trees collect in eddies at high water and when the water recedes huge clots of sticks and branches are suspended high up in bent trees looking like giant nests for Dumbo the Flying Elephant. There are even some laughing black ravens flapping from tree to tree.
Bank swallows were building their tiny caves in the sandy cliffs. They darted around knobby black roots under partially up-rooted trees or flew overhead peeping at us aggressively.
Fences and barbed wire and rip-rap intrude on the scene in places; vineyards owners are in constant battle with the river to keep their land from being dragged away by the river and they shove huge piles of rock off the eroding banks of the river, hoping to stabilize the shore. Fence posts dangling from the barbed wire tell of their failures.
But the vineyards give the river a nice cultivated wildness; there are no houses leaning over the riverbanks until we get down towards Mirabell. It is like the river is a lion in the circus that is allowed to rampage through the countryside for six months of the year and sometimes it is incredibly destructive. But during the summer it does its job of filling the reservoirs and wells of the nearby towns as well as carrying thousands of boaters downstream to cool off.
When we drifted along in the spring the wildness hadn’t worn off yet, the lion has left its claw marks.