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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

-----There are water bodies and water personalities. Like each of us, the bodies and characters are all different. And, like us, we are different every minute of the day and under different circumstances. Am I describing a lake or a person? Stormy … placid … tempestuous … calm. We use the same adjectives and, for a particular lake or person, change them just as readily as the situation requires. Names of water bodies - Navajo Lake, St. Croix River, Skagit Bay, Sylvan Cove, Lopez Sound - like names of people - Joe, Mary, Tom, Brandi - often disguise their personality. First impressions are often not valid.

CANYONS OF THE COLORADO

-----For many years, I guided raft, canoe, sport-yak, and houseboat trips through the canyons of the Colorado River and her tributaries - Cataract, Labyrinth, Black, San Juan, Marble, Grand, Stillwater, Gray, Desolation …

Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon

      We met for classes about the natural history of the Canyons, one night a week, for perhaps four or five classes, before a trip. This was an opportunity for the participants to learn about the canyon … and their leaders. It was also our time to assess the participants. Many of our raft trips were as long as three weeks - and each was a microcosm of a lifetime. During those few weeks, we would intensely experience fear and utter peace … love and hatred. Many of the emotions we suppress in everyday life would leap into clear focus during the first rapid, injury or thundering storm. And each of us reacts differently to powerful events. Some confront, others cower. Some are calm and focused, others confused and random. It is difficult to predict, in advance, how an individual will react to a shocking experience.

      Carl Jung taught that each person has a persona - a public personality. We assume this mask or façade to satisfy a particular situation or environment, and it cloaks the real person, the anima, underneath. During those weeks prior to a raft trip, I attempted to look beneath the persona of each participant - in order to evaluate how he or she would react under duress. I tried to identify those who would be reliable and steady under pressure - those I could rely on and to whom I could delegate responsibility, if necessary. After a few years experience, I discovered that I could not reliably predict how any individual would react. However, by the third or fourth day in the canyons, few could still hide beneath the veneer, and their true anima would appear.

El's True Anima

      On one of my trips on Lake Mead, a person experienced in wilderness backpacking, disappeared during a storm on the lake. Ours was a houseboat trip to study the biology and geology of the lake, and late at night, an unpredicted storm lashed our boat, bow-anchored to a beach. The wind was forcing the houseboat off the beach. White breakers defined jagged rocks, downwind and offshore. We needed everyone to hold anchor lines. A woman-to-be-obeyed took charge of the folks working the lines ashore. I climbed aboard to power the boat against the beach and try to hold it in the gale winds. For half an hour, we struggled, storm-tossed and soaked by the freezing wind and rain. Then, as quickly as it came, the storm left and calm descended. Boat secured, I made a quick headcount - one missing! We checked the boat and near shore, and then organized parties to search the beach and water with powerful spotlights - nothing. We continued the search throughout the night, to no avail, and just at dawn, before we called the Park Service to report a missing person and possible drowning, one of the parties spotted her. She was in a hollow, under overhanging rocks, on a ledge high above the beach. When the party reached her, they found her curled into a fetal position, sucking her thumb.

     Bodies of water are the same. Until one experiences them under many conditions, you don't really know the anima of that body. Hidden beneath that veneer of calm may be another element. Some bays are reliable, and remain safe even in the harshest winds. Others, with a fresh sou'wester, become a thrashing, violent maelstrom. A rapid, whether in a river or a salt water narrows in British Columbia, might be easy to run but, with just slightly more volume, develop huge holes and become dangerous. Other rapids, fresh or salt, with greater volume, "wash out" and are an easy glide down foaming water. Lakes now occupy many of the canyons of the Colorado and her tributaries - Navajo, Flaming Gorge, Powell, Mead, Mohave, Havasu, Martinez, and Imperial. Each has their persona - and their anima. Each possesses beauty, grace, and violence.  Each has enchanted - and each has killed.

Havasu

     In April, 2004, we were anchored at Oak Canyon on Lake Powell. The weather forecast was not good. For several days, NOAA had been predicting the approach of a late winter storm - snow in the high country, winds up to 50-mph on Lake Powell. As forecast, it arrived as a strong winter storm.

The Gathering Storm

     We were tucked into a protected cove, anchor well-set, for a day of reading and writing. We had the VHF on to see if there were any problems on the wind-whipped lake. In the afternoon, we heard the transmission we had hoped not to hear. "National Park Service - this is Desert Shadow. There is an emergency opposite Cathedral Canyon. A small boat has sunk and there are two people in the water. We are attempting a rescue." Two people in 60-degree water with high winds and big waves! The Park Service replied, "Copied that - two people in the water. Our patrol boat is five-minutes away and is heading to the scene."

     Several days later we heard the entire story from Eileen Martinez, the National Park Service District Interpreter. She was on the tour boat, Desert Shadow, that day and arrived on the scene shortly after the event. She was leading a training session for NPS employees to Rainbow Bridge, just upriver from Oak and Cathedral Canyons. The Shadow was late leaving Rainbow Bridge due to some needed engine repairs. Opposite Cathedral Canyon, a few minutes before their arrival, a small open bowed fiberglass pleasure boat was making way through heavy waves. A middle-age couple was aboard, wearing life jackets. Suddenly, two waves converged and piled high - the 18-foot open boat plowed into the wave and half-filled with water. In seconds, another wave swept the boat and it swamped. In less time than it takes to tell, the occupants were in the water, clutching throw cushions. When the Shadow arrived on the scene, the skipper radioed the emergency, and skillfully moved his large vessel to attempt a rescue. The high gusty winds and waves challenged his skill, but slowly he edged the boat toward the struggling people. Ironically, that morning he had practiced a man overboard drill with his crew! The life-ring, line attached, was thrown, and quickly the lady was pulled aboard. The Shadow was now too close to the rocky shore, and the Park Service patrol boat had arrived on the scene. The ranger radioed that he would attempt a rescue for the second person and the Shadow stood off. Soon, the ranger had the man from the water and took him to the Shadow where the couple received medical attention. Body temperatures dangerously lowered, they shook for an hour, but fully recovered.

   This was their first trip on Lake Powell and the cruise in their small boat was a celebration of the woman's 50th birthday. Minutes before they swamped, the man told his wife they were to put on lifejackets. He was powering slowly into the waves but they were simply too big for his small boat. When they went under, each grabbed a throw cushion. She is a non-swimmer. Had the Shadow not been a half-hour late leaving Rainbow, there would have been no witnesses and probably no rescue.

The Aftermath

(04/04)

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