Standing next to the Sunbonnet Rock, on the eastern end of the Twin Rocks trading post's wide red porch, I watched as signs of the new season emerged. New leaves on twisted cottonwood trees, a rich green carpet of grass and weeds poking through the sandy soil and the luxurious warmth of spring sunlight warmed my body and rejuvenated my soul. Bluff is truly a special place; it has a natural aura of peace and serenity permeating it. As human beings, we do our best to add a chaotic spice to the mix, but the earth patiently absorbs and dissipates our negativity, as a good, loving mother should.
My youngest daughter McKale joined me at the rail, and together we looked out over the managed mayhem of the Headstart Days parade. In anticipation of the main event, the large group of people gathered in the parking lot were busy adding glitz and glamour to themselves and their floats; another sure sign of rebirth. As McKale and I watched and wondered, a pick-up truck piled high with rafting gear pulled into the cafe. The crew cab doors sprang open and out stepped two young couples, glowing with anticipation of the adventure they were about to embark upon.
San Juan River in Bluff, Utah.
The scene sparked a memory which instantly transported me back to a time when I was in my early twenties, and what seemed a similar outing. As I recall, our friends Lee and Bufaye Reynolds were being visited by two young, eligible ladies. I cannot remember their names, but I do recall that one was a peaches and cream, strawberry blond, and the other a slight brunette of fair complexion. Steve and I, realizing an opportunity for adventure and interaction with fair maidens, volunteered to escort these two delicate daisies on a river excursion; an ideal setting to show off our outdoor skills and more desirous traits of macho manhood.
At this point in the history of the San Juan River, permits were not required; at least not for those of us with local privileges. Whatever the case, it took only an evening to borrow a small raft, two life vests for the ladies, (real men cannot show off their pecks in a May West), and a cooler properly packed with a picnic lunch of fried chicken, potato salad and hard grape juice. A couple mismatched paddles and Ray Ban sunglasses, for added flair and mystery, almost completed the preparations. Steve and I shuttled a truck, which would double for extraction and romantic chariot, to Mexican Hat the same evening.
Early the next morning Steve and I picked up the girls, listened patiently to a warning concerning the protection of life, limb and chastity of their, now our, charges. We swore an oath to serve and protect the ladies at all costs, and happily headed for the river. We put in at 9:00 a.m., and the river flowed gently. The day proved bright and sunny, perfection of circumstance was in the making. Two studly guys and two lovely, seemingly interested babes; a recipe for successful courtship to be sure. Some things, however, are just not meant to be!
The first sign of trouble occurred when the girls asked for a dab of sun block to protect their delicate skin. Steve and I looked at each other dumbly. We had assured the girls that we would provide all necessary essentials for total comfort and safety; someone had failed. I beat my brother to the punch and blamed him for the debacle. He, in turn, assured me that it was my faux pas that had caused the mix-up. The girls, I am sure, recognized only outright ignorance. That was the beginning of the end for Steve and me.
As their flesh fried, their tempers flared; those perfect examples of beauty and grace began to get ugly. As we entered the narrow section of river, it became a rougher ride. The brunette developed motion sickness, while the strawberry blond started to chafe from the sand-laden water splashing into our craft; someone had forgotten to bring a pail to empty the boat of excess moisture. We could not keep up with the influx of water, and before long the raft was overflowing; we simply gave up trying.
At one point, because of our inexperience, our insufficient paddles could not move the weight of the flooded boat and we fell into a hole in the river. The boat became stuck between a large boulder and the downdraft of water the rock caused on its opposite side. Everyone and everything in the raft was flushed into the river. Luckily all human inhabitants were unceremoniously washed to the near shore while everything else sank or bobbed merrily down stream.
The lunch cooler popped open, sacrificing all contents to the river Gods. Everything else, including shoes, extra clothing and one paddle simply floated away. After a while, the river tired of its game with the raft and kicked it loose. We scrambled to retrieve our beast of burden and remounted to continue our ill-fated adventure. With only one paddle and two tired, hungry and angry young women. Steve and I did our best to hurry the trip along. One of us kneeled in the front of the raft to steer, while the other tried to make light of the situation and appease the girls. I preferred to steer.
The forces of nature, however, were not yet done with us. A stiff breeze began to blow up river, impeding our progress greatly. Steve and I took every opportunity to expedite our forward progress by getting out and pulling. By the time we reached Mexican Hat, we were all bright red, waterlogged, wind burned and highly agitated. Everyone involved knew for a fact that the hoped-for relationships were going nowhere but home. When we dropped the girls off they did not even acknowledge our valiant, albeit ineffectual, efforts at showing them a good time; they simply walked away, never to be seen or heard from again. It took Steve and me several weeks to recover from our sunburns and humiliation, but time and humor has a way of healing such wounds.
Watching those young people enter the cafe made me realize how destiny effects our lives. Not long after our river fiasco, I met a tall, thin, terribly attractive young woman from the north that captured my heart and imagination. When I first saw her, she was wearing a satin vest and tightly fitting Levi 501 jeans; which I later came to realize reflected her outer strength and endurance and her inner tender, compassionate, loving side. She had the most amazing, wintergreen eyes I had ever seen; the same eyes through which McKale now views life. It took seven years of romance, drama and tears to convince McKale's mother to take a chance on me; it has proved time well spent.
Steve has also found his soul mate, and has three wonderful children. I know he is content with the decisions he made. We have both been blessed by time and circumstance; they have treated us well. The Navajo people tell me that the San Juan River acts as a cleansing agent; she has the power to release bad spirits and memories from those that seek her help. By simply walking up river, against the current, and asking her to wash away the negativity, you will be cleansed.
Maybe the river has a way of guiding one's purpose and direction in life; allowing them to discover their true dreams and passions. If so, I am glad she was watching over me that fateful day. This may also explain why I am so adamant about swimming against the current of conformity. I guess I am still trying to scour away past indiscretions, outright mistakes and a total lack of understanding so I can, one day, take my place among the pure of heart and mind.
With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.
Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post