In Flagstaff we inhabit a community tied to the Colorado River with seasonal cycles marked by transition. An average river trip can be two to three weeks long. It is hard to explain the mixed emotions of the last day of the trip—derig day.
On derig day we awake for the last time to the sound of the blaster heating our coffee water in the thin light of morning. We work continuously like a colony of ants to dismantle a river world that fit neatly and precisely into five boats. We organize everything into piles then we load and strap it all on top of giant stakebed truck. On derig day we proceed, without skipping a beat, from a rubber raft to a 15-passenger van.
In our cleanest shirt we enter the world, slowly rumbling up Diamond Creek Road, the river behind us now. Pressed together in the van, we savor the sense of ease that only people who have spent the last three weeks living and working together can share.
On derig day we enter the world above the canyon rim watching out the window, passing through an occasional Gooding’s willow, thickets of tamarisk, mesquite, and the stringy frames of cholla cactus, noticing how dense forests of crucifixion thorn give way to rolling pale-colored hills speckled with juniper trees.
We leave the narrow walls of ancient rock for the plains of Seligman and encounter our first phone, toilet and money exchange in weeks. We are greeted by the price of gas, a Subway sandwich and the latest disaster on the pages of the newspaper.
On derig day we leave behind the white-faced ibis stepping gracefully over river cobbles with long stilts for legs. We leave the flash of a yellow warbler as he flies between mesquite canopies. We leave the eared grebe and the clever and mischievous ways of raven.
|Eared grebe cruising the eddy|
On derig day we leave behind all bright treasures that emerge from the ground.
We leave the elegant arch of a Newberry’s yucca stalk, poised on high cliffs, heavy with fruit. We leave the plump, pink flowers of Palmer’s penstemon with their pollen-covered goatees, and the moon-colored spirals of emerging sacred datura blossoms.
|Palmer's penstemon pollen-laden goatees|
On derig day we leave behind our hand lenses and binoculars, our field notebooks and watercolors and stories read out loud. We take with us our lists of plants and birds and sites. We take our cameras with cards full of repeat photography. We take our data sheets, stored carefully in metal army surplus boxes. We leave behind the dark canopy of endless night sky framed by silhouettes of canyon walls and the stars that are tiny pinholes in the universe.
We leave behind the collective strings of instruments making music—minor and bass notes that seem to say everything we can’t about the night and the peace and extraordinary beauty we have found. We leave the quiet, the rhythm of water trickling off of oar tips, the creak of oarlocks, the fear above Crystal Rapid and the relief and elation below Lava Fall.
We leave behind a random group of people who began the journey as acquaintances and after traveling 225 river miles together, we now consider family. We trade all this intimacy for streets and cars and phones and stores where the possibilities extend to cyberspace and we can buy food prepared and served by strangers for an exchange in currency.
We return to our lovers, family, friends, and to our communities—to the microcosm of the world that we have created. We return renewed and fueled by a sense of urgency to make our lives simple, more immediate. We arrive back in our lives with relief and gratitude, remembering to be more tolerant and gracious with many species, including our own.
We take with us all that we have learned, all the wonder we have witnessed with each day. We take with us the hope that reverence may find a way into our daily life. We leave behind the deep time of the canyon but carry it with us within our hearts.
All this on derig day.
|Redwall Cavern crinoid-really old!|