Friday, September 25, 2009

being the canyon

It's 96 degrees as John and I toil up the eroded slope, pebbles rolling under our boots. John pushes a wheel and I carry a clipboard. We stop to record this trail's story: waterbars, climbing turns, weatherbeaten wood signs, the writing faded.

We don't record its secrets. There is the blackberry patch, hanging low under the weight of sweet ripe berries. The apple tree, perhaps planted by some long-ago settler. A rusting iron bedstead, slumbering in the tall grass. A seep where we rushed to fill our empty water containers. These things won't go into the official government paperwork, only in our thoughts.

The heat presses down like a hand. Far below, hidden in the brown wrinkles and folds of the canyon, the Snake River winds itself downstream. This is such a starkly beautiful landscape, so tough and battle-scarred. Fires push through, killing the trees that eke out a living in the cooler draws. The sun bleaches everything--the grass, the bones.

We have nine miles in all, climbing up to a bench, down through some dry creeks, up and over a saddle, then down to the river. John says he has been here when it has been too hot to breathe. The air now is completely still. The canyon waits out the sun.

Halfway through we run into a hunter's spike camp, three tents but no occupants in sight. Nearby Trees of Heaven lift their fronds to the sky. They are beautiful but they don't belong here. Probably a rancher planted them for shade, but they look like they belong in a jungle, not in this parched country.

With two miles to go we get back into the poison ivy. Roy the boat driver advised wearing rain pants, but I plow through, hoping for the best. Here a creek trickles and we filter water for the second time today. We've already been through nearly six liters.

When the river appears it is like magic. We have been traveling through a dusty brown landscape for hours, and it is easy to forget that water exists, has ever existed anywhere. Now we are rich in water. I jump in and float, face turned up to the sun.

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