We pushed the boats away from the beach and into the flow. For a time, river and interstate ran side by side—two worlds, one a monument to humankind’s rush toward the future, the other a testament to the virtues of patience and persistence. After a half mile the river turned south into a wide canyon, and we left behind the noise and bustle of that other world.
Here, time had whittled away the sharp edges of the landscape. Wind and water, its chief agents, had burnished the rock to a smooth, polished surface that glowed deep red and orange in the late afternoon sunlight. In silence we drifted past a cliff face, long and high as an ocean liner, its surface scarred and pitted. Birds had made themselves at home in some of the deeper recesses, streaks of white guano betraying their location, while elsewhere clusters of mud swallow nests clung like barnacles to the undersides of larger overhangs.
Up front of the raft, my daughter and her friend sat, feet dangling in the river, taking in the surroundings and occasionally commenting on some item of passing interest, while from the second boat a hundred yards downstream, snatches of conversation drifted lazily across the water.
I shipped the oars and opened a beer, letting the boat pirouette slowly at the whim of the breeze and current, drifting a quarter mile per rotation. Perhaps it was coincidence, but the natural inclination of the raft was to float with its bow quartered upstream, as if looking back over its shoulder, back from where we had come.
Twenty five years had passed since I’d first, and last, floated this part of the Colorado. Then thirty years old, all my worldly possessions fitted into a back pack. I had a six month visa stamped in my passport and a plane ticket on to London.
It appeared a strange, almost alien landscape to me then — parched, ancient and vast, requiring of its inhabitants a thick skin and a slow metabolism. The river itself was broader and more voluminous than I had previously encountered, and silty red. At night an endless sky would light up in flashes of dry lightning. Most striking of all however, once one sat quietly and listened beyond the murmur of the water and the song of the wren, the chirp of the crickets and the croak of the toads, was a great overarching silence that lay across the landscape like a soft blanket, a silence which, if one paid attention, made mockery of life’s strutting, sound and fury.
I looked again at my daughter, marveling at the miracle of her being, a creation in every measure as confounding and beautiful as that through which we floated. Her presence brought home to me the passage of my own time, the rounding of my own edges, the emergence of my own pits and scars. Mistakes had been made along the way, but looking at her, here and now, how could there be regret?
“Hey My Guy, is it OK if we jump in and swim along next to the boat?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied. “I was planning on pushing you in at some stage anyway.”
Little by little, first feet then knees then thighs they lowered themselves into the water, finally releasing the raft and floating free, borne along separately, the subtleties of the current pushing each their own way.