Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going Green (River, that is)

Down the Green River. Larval fish traps, seines, dry bags, food, drink, gear stacked in colorful piles in the two boats. We launched from Green River State Park on Monday afternoon for a four day fish trip. Our sample jars covet the illusive (endangered) Razorback Sucker larva, a transparent slip of a fish to-be. We put them in the jars of alcohol to return to civilization where someone with a microscope will announce our sampling success, or failure.
To hunt our miniscule prey we set light traps in the backwaters as the sun goes down. The next morning we pull the traps before the sun returns to draw the quarry from our artificial light. That’s about it for our work day. In between dawn and dusk we motor downriver to our next sites and stop to seine in fishy looking areas. This leaves ample time to play Mexican train dominoes (one of the few games I actually like), wander around in the desert, and lounge aimlessly in camp.
It’s a beautiful stretch of desert: down the Green River through Labyrinth and Still Water Canyons, turning the boats back up stream at the confluence with the Colorado River to return to civilization via Meander Canyon. It’s a different sort of boating now that we have left the inflatable oar rigs at the warehouse in favor of the faster metal, motored boats. Boat driving (specifically the steering part) is a new skill for me, and one that certainly doesn’t come naturally. My apologies to that willow tree.
Finally I felt that I was getting the hang of it all. And here comes the wind to chop the river’s surface into a thousand pummeling waves. And here I am, by myself, trailing behind in the slower (25 hp motor, that’s why) boat. OK, no problem, I got this. Just hit the waves at an angle. But watch out for the sticks and branches floating downstream, you can’t hit those, it’s tough on the prop. Vroooom, thud, vrooooom, thud, vrrrooom, thud, etc as I go plunging into the waves and the flat bottom of the metal boat smacks down into each jarring trough. I got this guys, don’t worry, but how about keeping me in eyesight (the second boat is a 50 hp and leaves me in the dust)? Suddenly, in a particularly windy wavy section my motor falls silent. Alright, out of gas? Nope, just filled that anyways. Ok, give the fuel line a few pumps, back to neutral, hit start, put in gear. I get a grumble and then silence again. Try again, and then again, and one more time because I might have done it wrong the first three times. Nothing. Alright guys, you can come back and find me now… guys? Please come back?
They came back to rescue me, the fuel line had cracked but when replaced we were back on our soggy way.
I think I am just not meant to deal with anything with a motor. I can handle a car, but only because I have been driving since age 16. Make it a (huge) truck and it’s still ok. Put a boat trailer on the end of that truck and it’s alright, as long as I only have to go forward. Backing up that trailer is a whole other embarrassing event. Sometimes it goes so smoothly. I pat myself on the back and say I am getting the hang of this. Then toss in a busy ramp and a few onlookers and suddenly that trailer seems magnetically repelled from anywhere I want it to go. Three tries later it’s where it’s supposed to be and I am wishing I could hide under a rock until my incompetence is forgotten.
Mechanical discombobulation aside, it’s a beautiful stretch of river. Work is less a chore and more of a privilege. I could be imprisoned in a cubicle, confined to a desk, to shuffle papers from one stack to another. I am not. In the day we float through canyons, following the river down through a million years of geologic history. The white, red, orange, purple, and green layers of rock each tell a story of what was there before. Dinosaur tracks marching across uplifted blocks of stone speak of a time before people. Cliff dwellings, perched on the cliff walls like hanging swallows’ nests, are reminders that we are not the first to explore this landscape. And, as I sit on the tethered boat at night, watching the bats dive and weave in the growing darkness, silhouettes lost against the trees and then reappearing above in the yellow glow of the rising moon, I know this is special.


Neal said...

It's good to see that you continue to visit special places, plus motorboats are fun when you get the hang of them :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful narrative. I can understand now why you didn't want to leave so soon.

Neal said...