My experiences with water have not been unusual. I wash dishes. I water the tomato plants on my balcony, when I remember. I enjoy lounging by implausibly blue swimming pools while reading, slathered in SPF 50. Sometimes I even take baths. So when I found myself floating down the Green River in a yellow canoe, jumping out to swim, watching herons, silver fish, and a beaver, I was in over my head—in the best possible way.
Three friends and I were three and a half days on the river, figuring out how to paddle (if a canoe paddle had settings, like a radio dial or a toaster, they would include: Meditative (Right, Left), Leisurely (Right, Left), Slight Corrective (Right, Left), and Pensive (Right, Left). For a while, ours were frequently Frantic, Over-the-Top, Frenzied, or Sporadic—eventually we learned to tune in correctly).
Red cliffs, blue sky, white clouds; richer and more complex than the jumbo boxes of Crayolas I relished as a child. None of us brought cameras, but I recall moments as snapshots infused with warm breeze and cool currents, bird calls and moonlight, rivulets of sandy sweat, sharp stings of bug bites. The first night, we set up tents and collapsed inside, before dinner and bed. On our last night, we stretched out on a beach and looked at the stars. Dark shapes appeared around us on the mudpacked sand: frogs, illuminated by our headlamps, delicate-looking and spotted.
That night, as we drifted off to sleep, Kira sat up suddenly in the tent pitched next to mine. “I forgot my keys in Anne’s car.” This announcement, met with stunned silence, meant that when we reached Mineral Bottom, her Jeep would be waiting for us—but we’d have no way to drive it back to Green River State Park. What could we do but keep on paddling? Hope that someone would take mercy on us and give us a ride. Hope that someone would be there at all.
In the morning, a half-delighted shriek: Lauren had found a frog in our cutlery.
A half-hour after we arrived at the deserted Mineral Bottom, minutes after I’d waded back into the river figuring I might as well go for a dip—who knows how long we’d be waiting?—a rickety shuttle pulled up, depositing a bachelor party onto the shore. I’m sure we gave them a promising start to their pre-wedding venture: four girls in various states of undress and distress running toward them, visibly excited and relieved.
We hitched a ride with the shuttle’s driver, Doug, a large, ruddy-skinned man who listens to Vivaldi every morning (“Gets my thoughts in line,”) and longs for the good ol’ days (“Used to be I wouldn’t hafta call the shuttle company and charge you—we could stop by Ray’s and shoot some pool and I’d buy you a beer. Now there’s all them regulations.”)
Several hours later than planned, we were back in Salt Lake City—unscathed, except for slight sunburns. Hearing about our trip, you might call it a disaster; after all, we’d spent much more time and money than intended. But I’d rather turn my dial to Meditative and picture cliffs and sky.