The Green Room

I remember three minutes ago. Our small group huddled together up cliff, up river. Pointing toward the maw, discussing loudly our planned lines, unraveling Granite’s tumultuous web, on the scout rock.

Now. Too far left? Stroke right. Wary of the building, crashing rooster-tail wave. Stroke back left, to where I was before. They say when taking tests, trust your first instinct.

Thinking of my boater, ex-re-ex-boyfriend, approaching this wave, his eyes would blaze.

Thinking my now-better-boyfriend would smile fireworks, laughing as his kayak dropped in.

Thinking of the celebratory whiskey waiting at camp.

Of the Westwater trip next month with the Wildy-beast Women.

Though he’s been guiding since the mid-1970s, I think the lead boatman’s too far right. Yet I’m the mere rookie at a decade. What do I know?  Will I be lucky enough to career boat another 20 years? Should I follow him that far right?

Focus. Focus. It’s 17,000, The Level. The Green Room that I’ve only been in twice, is open. It’s the most breath-stalling wave. I daydream about its unreal depth, peerless hues, the perfect white noise.

Focus, focus. Lead boat’s making a move. The river’s placid blue-green pane begins to ripple. A silk sheet with gradual and then clear, even folds un-breaking but mobile taking the boat as a moving sidewalk. Slow then speeding. No stopping her now.

I start pushing. Stroke, stroke, boat gains momentum, the 1,500-pound, 16-foot fully loaded yellow beast/horse/boat awakes from her stroll, racing toward the horizon line. I urge her faster. River’s undulations lose their smooth soft edges, becoming live waves.

Lead boat hits the right side of the top lateral, shooting violently over as a typewriter’s last sentence, and riding high. Its right tube reaching up, up, water falling off and bodies tumbling. The boat vanishes in the lower Granite waves, its fate unknown. Jay, my sole rider, and I are left to ours.

Pushing left toward the Room with all that my heart and shoulders have. Warning Jay of the pending epic-nicity, I drop an expletive for good measure, so he understands fully.

Pushing, coaxing my boat. And we reach the edge. Jay holds the straps firm and is leaning forward like he should, ready, trusting.

In we go. The Room is open and astounds. Hoping it doesn’t close on us. We ride down, down to the center of the earth.

Sea monsters circling and sturgeon grinning.

Subterranean starfish and anadromous Salmon ponder our future.

Will we make the rise or lose power, stall like my beater first car and pancake back into the wet, cool, cave?

It’s a second’s concern, then it’s gone and I’m here. Here. Every bit of me. Mid-rapid the only time in my life I’m effortlessly in full conscious attendance.

Deep, perfect meditation saturating my bones.

I am where I am.

On the floor, I feel the great Green Room as it is. A life-sized snow globe a zillion feet deep, antique-glass green water walls 360 degrees around.

We start the rise. I brace my oars. Jay braces himself. Rising vertical, slowing, SLOWing.

Will we make it?

The Green Room, then, mercifully, releases us through her cerulean ceiling, thrown back into the righteous ruckus and the remaining boat-drinking holes and waves that are Granite-of-the-Snake.

I’m reactionary, making each massive wave’s move the moment it’s necessary, wholly present in attempts to keep us on line. The hollering waves mellow to raised voices, and then to conversational chatter. We’re clear. I remind myself to breathe. And wipe the wave’s wet from my eyes.

Push to the lead boat, recall the rarely smelled scent of the Green Room, already fading, of how well Jay leaned, grateful I didn’t throw an oar at the top. I flash again on the ex-re-ex, I spend an extra minute on the current boatman beau, and dwell on whiskey. And I’m suddenly, sadly, physically aware that I’ve again lost being. Here.

Thanking the Snake for her clemency, all boats upright, on we slide downriver. My mind rides behind and ahead of us. Nostalgic for my last two minutes, for my moment’s whole presence.

And I’ve circled back to working, working so hard to be where I am.

Codye Reynolds breathes fully when she boats. She’s a native of Durango, Colorado, and has been a commercial river guide for eleven years. This is her second piece for the Mountain Gazette. 

Like the Turtle Lake Boulders

Mug of loveI hand the CocoMocha to the petite window washer woman who can’t get enough of them and I know he’s come in. The Steaming Bean’s screen door slams behind him and he strolls in nonchalantly, making his way to the small table at the far wall, where he likes to sit facing the street, in case he sees someone he knows, where he can plug in his computer and write who-knows-what for about an hour on Thursday afternoons.

After turning on his computer, he comes to my counter, mug-with-the-missing-lid in hand.

He opens his mug that was red when he first bought it, and glances inside, gauging its dirtiness and how much he cares about new coffee mixed with old yerba matte. Handing it to me he hopes I’ll offer to clean it so he won’t have to ask. I do, of course, as I’ve seen this small but surely important macho game before. I take his mug and he quietly says, “Latte, please.”

“Sure! Let me rinse this for you.” I take the mug and smile a little too big and observe, not for the first time, his dark-like-the-canyon-walls-of-Cascade-Creek eyes. Returning my attention to matters of caffeinated importance, I notice the obligatory outdoorsy/semi-hippie sticker coming off his coffee mug. I take a little extra care as I courtesy rinse, holding the errant sticker corner on with my thumb, so as to not encourage its disintegration.

It says something about trees being the answer. Answer to what? Anything? Everything? Global Warming? To our economic problems? Shade issues in the Smelter Dog Park? The log home shortage in La Plata County?

I smile then, sincerely appreciative of anyone who bothers to bring in his/her own coffee mug to the shop. I’m an actual believer that every small recycle/reuse/reduce effort makes a difference. Call me a hippie if you want, it wouldn’t be the first time for me, a woman who was raised in Durango, graduated with a natural resources degree, has been a river guide for a decade everywhere from British Columbia to Arizona and lives out of her truck for six months a year.

But I digress. My thoughts return to him, the man who smells deliciously earthy like the Turtle Lake Boulders outside town standing on the other side of the counter. He’s got that mountain-man charm that I love. He’s wearing Carhartt pants with a flip-knife in the right pocket, and Chacos to compliment, though it’s early November in the San Juan Mountains. He’s rocking a dark simple beard (the kind that falls somewhere between intentional it-makes-me-look-rugged effort and pure unabashed apathy), small black-rimmed glasses, and he’s tall and slender. I’m, of course, a sucker for curly hair just long enough it has to be put behind his ears every time he laughs.

It seems to me he’s my favorite kind of man, the sort who would be able to survive a few nights lost in the Weminuche (not that he’d GET lost). Sure, I’ll be delighted (no, quite seriously) to make a latte in that many-stickered dirty mug. It will give me some reading material while I steam the milk, and that’s always nice. What else will I learn about him today? What is he not going to say that he would like me to know?

He likes Native Glasses. Did he get the sticker from the new glasses he bought last year at the Gardenswartz Extravaganza sale? I bet he bought more socks than he needed too, huh? I always end up with a new headlamp, for some curious reason — like a girl needs three headlamps.

OK. I like Native too. But only when they’re on Steep and Cheap and it happens to be payday tomorrow, and I can’t physically restrain myself. My debit card leaping from my wallet before I know what happened. I type the card’s numbers rapidly while saying out loud, “Sure this is justified. I really need new sunglasses and it’s such a great deal. Perfect for that snowshoeing trip around Molas next weekend … ”

What else has he got? Southwest Adventure Guides. Does he know one of their guides and he/she bestowed 12 stickers on him and told him to put them everywhere? Or did he grab a handful from the checkout counter free basket at the outdoorsy shop around the corner because he just liked the look of them, and he always sort of wished that he was a mountaineering guide?

And a Bread sticker. Well, sure. We ARE in Durango. Everyone has a Bread sticker. It’s the essential “I’m-no-tourist” branding. Could anyone live here more than a year and NOT have a Ska, Bread or Bubba’s Boards sticker on at least their car, if not also computer, Kleen Kanteen and reusable, insulated (great for cocktails on a long weekend’s Westwater trip) coffee mug?

The Bread sticker says, “Just so you know, I venture beyond the confines of 11th and 6th street main downtown drag, from time to time, and I like their parmesan asiago loaf. I consider myself a local, thank you very much. Will I be seeing you at Monday’s Pint Night at Lady Falc’s?” (Everyone knows the Thursday’s pint night is for the college kid amateurs.)

I see he’s wearing a well-used Marmot jacket. I bet he wore it hiking Engineer Mountain on his last day off, starting too late in the afternoon and coming down the hill in the dark. He was stumbling over rocks on the descent in the three-quarter-moon’s light. I imagine he’s wearing a Telluride Bluegrass Festival T-shirt under his jacket. And I try not to imagine him under that shirt. I bet he’s got climber shoulders. I feel myself blush slightly as I pull the espresso shots.

When I’m done, he takes his mug, gives me a nod in thanks and drops me a dollar in the less-than-clever-but-it-works “Tipping’s not for Cows/Support Counter Intelligence” tip jar (thank you, every bit helps, as I’ve got a cell bill due in three days).

He then gives me some hesitant and lingering kind of look. I quickly project that he’s flirting with me, but I let it go, as I’ve got a soy mocha, spicy chai and double Americano demanding to be made. (Oh, right, I’m still a career barista/boatmun here.) Maybe I’ll get on Craigslist later and drop him a “missed connections.” I’ll see if he’s a loyalist to the List like I am.

We can talk about how much cheaper rent is in Grand Junction, read each other’s haikus in the Haiku Hotel and discuss how there’s always that same $2,200, circa-1990, 18-foot bucket boat Riken for sale that no one ever seems to want.

For now though, I hope he enjoys that latte, minds the errant sticker, and maybe I’ll run into him on my Colorado Trail post-work mountain bike ride this afternoon. I’ll meet him at the bridge. He’ll bring the Pinstripes and we’ll read the Mountain Gazette out loud to each other.

Codye Reynolds lives (for the moment) in Durango, where she plays, skis and slings coffee until water season returns, sending her to Idaho rivers and career boating. This is her first story for the Gazette.