Thursday, May 22, 2014

Power Lounging in the Garden of Eden, the complete short story with songs

"Riverside Blues" copyright by Larry Burl Dunn
story copyright by LBDunn

So I'm ready for a six-month vacation. I’m on a very special rafting trip. I won't tell you the river, but it's one of the many great rafting trips in the four Corners of the U.S. It's either in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, or Utah; my lips are sealed. People zip down the river every spring and summer, most in a raft powered by a 10 horse power motor. Many use the various outfitters and paddle themselves with a guide or go on an oar boat paddled by a guide. I’ve never done that.
My girlfriend braided our first rope from WWII parachute cord. I made an oar frame that looked a lot like Meryl Streep's in "River Wild." We have shot class 4s ... shot familiar class 3s just scouting from the river. It's been real.
We've also gone at water levels that most people find to be a drag, but when you go slow you see things, new things, things that 99.9% of people don't give a second glance. Aye, there's the rub – that second glance.
There are some spectacular washes where everyone stops to play. But I saw this really skinny wash about 10 years ago. Have you ever gone in the slot canyons like they have in Utah? Have you gone through a place so tight that you had to squeeze every ounce of breath out and then force your way through in one big push? Yeah. That's tight.
Well, I found one on this river. If the water is low you have to pull away from it to stay in the current. If the water is high you might just graze the bushes as you whisk by. If you're like me you might think, "I wonder what's back there?" Well, I know what's back there. Some birds and bees, and, soon, me. And as far as I can tell, that's it. I haven’t seen mountain sheep in this area. No bears. Probably there’s a cougar or some other cat around, but I haven't seen scat.
I pulled in one year and flopped my way through the mud until I had some rocks underfoot. Then I tore myself to hell fighting through the brush. Finally, I could shuffle along a rock wall above the bed of the wash where all the mess is. I angled up and got to the good stuff. There is an Anasazi storeroom where they could keep grain and stuff. The heat and light are moderated by the sweetest Cottonwood tree God put on this earth - bar none. I wouldn't kid you. Have you ever been under one of those Ents? They feel like an entire ecosystem; huge limbs support branches of leaves, dappled sunlight filters through them. Sweet green grass underneath. Hell, you'd think you were on a Morman Temple lawn. There is a spring there. It drips a gallon in four hours.
So I went in. I have two friends with rope skills. Billy and Josh got things rigged on the first trip and hauled in camping gear, seeds, flour, lard, baking soda, and bacon, of course. I don't feel like going into all the technical stuff with the ropes, pulleys, and anchors. I'm into the romance of the escape. Basically, we set up the off-loading gear on the first trip. We made sure no one was close behind us on the river. We landed and set up all the anchor points and then took off. On this trip we’re jumping out,  we’ll put up the rope and pulleys and unload the food. And me. My friends will make one more trip that spring to bring me grains and canned goods, and more coffee. Yeah, and a lot of good weed to tide me over until I make a crop.

Billy, Josh, and I burned one after a quick offload. Those two guys are the only two people who know I am here and they won’t tell. In the few moments of off-loading that they told me the incredible story of the river fugitive. He had robbed a bank and shot a policeman in Cortez, Colorado and had last been seen in river country. A massive search had been organized, planes, helicopters, river guide volunteers, hiking patrols – the works. They scoured the very area where I was hiding! Sure, I’d heard aircraft noise, but I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t think for one moment that it had anything to do with me. My friends opened my eyes. “Man, if they had found your place, they would have figured you were the guy. They would have shot you and ask questions later.”
My friends thought I’d made a narrow escape. I knew I was home free.

 “So,” Billy said, “Look for us on November 1st or, if the river simply can’t be done then, look for us every Saturday after that. We’ll come in the first time the river is high enough.”

I have always been accused of smoking too much weed.  I smoke until I forget what I’m doing. I look down and see the joint and go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ Then I put it away and do something. Or not. I remember lying under the Cottonwood leaves and imagining how this place looks from above. It’s desert up there. I mean dry, miserable desert. The river ecosystem is below the cliffs and the cliffs are, like, 100 yards straight up. On the off chance that someone hiked to the very edge of my little spot and looked down they would see green. The Anasazi storeroom is inset into the cliff. In fact there’s a ledge about 20 yards wide and 50 yards long where I spend a lot of time. I sleep there. I cook and eat there mostly. My stuff is tucked away there. So this spot cannot be seen from directly above. From the exact spot my desert hiker looks over the edge, my mind goes up and up. There’s just nothing but green to see. Until the leaves fall, at least. Now, being at this bend in the river means that the opposite bank is the weak spot in my defense. How weak? Well, you can’t land there, the cliff goes straight down – no beach.  If you hiked to the very edge of the cliff and looked across you’d see green – my blessed Cottonwood tree. I was safe. I’d need to do a lot of planning for fall and winter, but I wasn’t a fugitive, I didn’t have to stay there forever. Maybe I’d go when the leaves fell. Have everything stored and hidden and float out with Billy and Josh. I took one more hit and put a new jug under the drip from the spring.
I started the marijuana first. It takes so long, six months, to grow in nature. Next came kale, beets, and turnips. Then the squash and melons. I had several tomato plants from a greenhouse. Billy and Josh had rigged up a way for me to haul up river water for the garden. I did this at night. The garden took off like gangbusters. I look over the leaves daily, killing any worm or bug that seemed intent on getting a free lunch. Bats and birds ate the little bugs.
I’m leaning against my tree. A soft morning breeze pushes away any bugs. A Canyon Meadowlark is singing. Hot coffee in one hand, a fat joint in the other. Maybe I’ll stop the smoking tomorrow and start a book. Oh yeah, I think I’ll start a yoga routine every morning, straight or stoned.
I’ve got six months ahead of me, power lounging in the Garden of Eden.

Iris sits alone on a large oar boat with two strangers. She is on the gear stowed at the back of the raft. The two men were up front, one at the oars, the other at the beer cooler, both navigating the liquid worlds where they felt most real. Iris has absorbed the instructions the men gave her: 1. My job is to set up the kitchen and toilet every night and pack it up every morning. 2. If I wear a life jacket all the time I will be the object of ridicule of the other rafters. 3.  Shut up and look pretty. Only job one was communicated verbally.
She thought Jimmy wanted a romantic outdoor adventure with her. Now, on day three, she knew the only romance was to be a bit of foreplay at bedtime followed by Jimmy’s huffing and puffing and sleep. God, how she wished she were asleep right now.
Jimmy’s friend was the worst kind of river guide: all-knowing, macho, contemptuous of anyone who hadn’t run Lava Falls rapid in the Grand Canyon, and a functioning alcoholic. He showed Iris on night one how to set up the kitchen: the buckets of water, the roll-up table, Coleman stove, etc. He would pick the ideal locale for toilet time – grooving, he called it. She would carry the gear to that spot upon command. On night two she couldn’t find the little circle of bushes where he had told her to put the toilet so she set it up herself. Turns out it was only about 20 feet from the correct spot, but Jimmy chewed her out and his buddy gave her the silent treatment. Next morning she couldn’t manage to fit all the kitchen gear back into the container. They ignored her and “her” problem. They sat on the beach drinking beer until she managed to pack the gear and then they bitched about sitting around so long in the sun waiting for her.
God, Iris mulled everything over, this is hell. There’s no way out. I have to live through this somehow.
Two hours later and it’s not even noon. The sun is beating down; her scalp is on fire. The boys tell her to float alongside the raft and that’s nice. But they won’t help her get back in. “You’ve gotta learn,” Jimmy tells her. “What if we are upside down in the river and can’t help you?”
“I thought you said this river is an easy one, especially for you two.”
“Sure, it is, but good rafters are always prepared for a flip.”
Yeah, well get ready, Iris thought, because I’ve flipped on you.
There was no sex that night. Next morning Iris could not believe how much worse the experience could get. She no longer existed. She was just a piece of gear to load, unload, and tolerate and she hated Jimmy. She hated rafting. And she hated her life.
It was around one p.m. when she slipped into the water and let go. No life jacket. No plan. Not even a plan to die, really. She just wanted out. Neither man noticed she was gone.
Iris watched the raft float away. She felt nothing but relief in the cold water. Her mind had switched off. She just lay back and let herself be carried along like the sand in the water. After maybe thirty minutes she had one thought – this is inevitability. No control. No hope. No desire. Nothing but inevitability.
To Iris in those moments inevitability meant doom, yet not so much a doom to be feared, nor a doom to be embraced, rather it was relaxation. It was literally the same kind of submission that all animate and inanimate nature exhibits toward water. Water will overcome all. It will flow. 
Can you remember someone saying, “Well, that was inevitable,” in reference to something nice happening? Don’t we think of ‘inevitable’ as arising from the well of malevolence instead of a cloud? I mean a rain cloud, a cloud that blocks the hot sun. I suppose the inevitable clouds are the super cells that breed tornados?
Oh, hell, let’s move the story along.  The simple truth was that death was not inevitability for Iris that day because a man was sitting on a remote ledge above the river sipping a nice Sumatran coffee and smoking a fat Californian joint. He saw Iris and, to his vast credit, did not think twice before jumping up and yelling, “Hey, get over here.” Seth jumped up and down and waved his arms and Iris saw him before she heard him. And she didn’t think twice before backstroking her way over. She didn’t slip into the river to die after all, rather she slipped in because she felt dead and now she waited in the loose mud at the river’s edge.
Seth was at what seemed to be an impossible place, but not impossible to get to. She just couldn’t tell where they could possibly go from there. “Work your way down to me,” Seth called. “Just float from bush to bush, don’t go back out; don’t let go.”
“Ok,” Iris said, shivering for the first time. Seth helped her up on the rock. “Can you stand? Are you cold?”
“Yes, I guess I am. Yes, I can walk.” He led her through to the ledge and helped her up towards the sun. He gave her his coffee. He relit the joint, she declined, so he worked on it, looking at her intently.
“I saw a raft with two guys on it go by ten minutes ago. They didn’t seem like they were looking for anyone.”
“What were they doing?”
“The same thing I was except I had coffee and they had beer.”
“Yeah, that was them.”
“What the hell?”
“They must not have noticed yet that I was gone.”
“Why were you in the water without a life jacket? Didn’t they know you fell in?”
“I didn’t fall in and they don’t wear life jackets except in rapids.”
“Yeah, but you should wear one anyway.”
“I’ve never been on a river. I did what I was told. I thought they knew what they were doing.”
“Yeah. A lot of people think they know until all of a sudden they’re in a situation. That’s when you read about experienced rafters drowning.”
“I don’t intend to raft again.”
“Now I don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t either,” Iris responded. “I don’t think I want to do anything ever again.”
“That’s not good. I guess we need to come up with a plan to get you out of here.”
“I’m sorry. Where’s your boat?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Ok. This is weird.”
“Yeah. Let me explain.”
So Seth told her what he was up to. He showed her his ancient stash place with the food. His garden was well on its way, the pot plants twice as high as anything else. Iris was entranced. “So you’re going to live here?”
“Until winter. I don’t have a plan for that. I can’t burn big fires everyday and expect not to be found out, so winter could get pretty miserable.”
“It’s a long time ‘till winter.”
“Yeah, five months or more. The only thing that occurs to me is we’ll have to put you near the water when boats go by. You’ll have to call out. You’ll have to make up a story. If you can hitch a ride today you’re story will make some sense, but the longer you’re here…”
“Hum. I couldn’t explain being alive and well unless I hitch a ride today.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing and it’s not everyday I see a boat. It seems like most people camp close to this spot and go by in the morning. Probably some go by before I even get up. You can’t hear them from back here.” Seth realized that his power lounging in the Garden of Eden was over. He had to help Iris and he couldn’t expect not to be found out. Hell, someone could just put a marker in their GPS – the spot where we found the girl. She might talk. She might let it slip. He was not feeling good about this when Iris spoke up.”
“Let me stay.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I can help. And I have money.”
“Money doesn’t work here.”
“But your friends are coming, what, in November?”
“And I could buy stuff. Winter camping gear, food. We could buy stuff that would get us through the winter.”
“Have you thought about the search party?”
“Right. Your two ‘guides’ are going to report you missing. They’re going to be able to narrow the search zone down to this stretch of river.”
“I’m so sorry. I’ve fucked everything up for you.”
“I couldn’t just let you float by. I saw you had no life jacket. I thought you were dead at first.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Just then a small party was passing by in two rafts. Seth and Iris had been talking in the sun back on the ledge. Seth just made a split second decision. He yelled. He waved his arms and jumped up and down. “Over here!”

Two rafts floating down a smooth, somewhat fast, stretch of river, new rafts with four first-timers on board. On day one they had somehow managed to wrap a boulder right in the middle of the river with 20 yards of clearance on either side. On night one a gale had blown down their kitchen, leaving trash all over the beach. At the moment Seth was waving his arms at them one was studying a map, another making sandwiches, and the two oarsmen were looking down river. Seth was flabbergasted. Iris was embarrassed. “I am so sorry.”
“You know what?” Seth said. “Why don’t you stay after all?”
“The search parties.”
“Yeah, you’re going to be reported missing. I can’t think of any way to deal with that, but you know what?”
“ Search parties were looking for a cop killer and they didn’t find me here.”
“That guy who killed a policeman in Cortez?” Iris knew all about that. “You were already here then?”
“God, it’s like this place has some kind of spell over it.”
“It’s the Garden of Eden.”
“What about food?”
“We’ll both be alive in November. My friends will pick us up and, well, you’ve got to have some kind of story to cover yourself for what happened here. I mean a story about the missing time.”
“I guess.”
“I don’t have an answer for that. Not now anyway. Well, I need to show you everything. We’ll have to be discreet and careful, but I think we’re safe, you know it?”
“Yeah, I believe you. And I’ll pull my weight.”
Five months later Billy and Josh pulled up. Seth was waiting so they were relieved. “You fucking did it, man,” Billy said.
“Yep. I’d like you to meet my wife. Iris?”
And Iris stepped out, four months pregnant and radiant. It was inevitable. 

"Let's Go Now" is the last song on my album Contrary: An Outlaw Tale, available for free listening on spotify and downloads from iTunes, et al.
The end (for now)

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