daily preciousness

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

gauley 2004: part one



I took just a few droplets home with me. The River Gauley, in exquisite miniature, flows back and forth a little vial as I hold it up to the light. I can see faintly through the plastic.

A happy accident, the little tube of chapstick was not watertight. It collected water... and provided me with an unexpected souvenir of the river.

Is it a magic souvenir? Will the river take on the posture of a vengeful Hawaiian Goddess? Will the River grow angry at the kidnapping of its children, as the Vulcan Goddess does when her rocks are stolen?

I hope not. Truth be told, the river does have a peculiar magic to it.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself -- for it is from the soil, both from its depth and from its surface, that a river has its beginning."
-Laura Gilpin


From its depths to its surface, the River Gauley called out to me, just like it had a year ago. Who am I to ignore its wild call?

Each time I put that chapstick to my lips, I'm reminded of that call and those wild waters.



I'm reminded of a phone call I made to Bountiful, while I'm trekking up 18th Street. "I hope the river doesn't swallow you up like it did last year," Mom offers.

"Me too," I tell her. It was a wild ride last year, being swallowed up in the churning water. I was nearly a goner when our raft flipped over!

It flipped quite spectacularly. It was a rapid that the guide never expected to get us. But it expelled us quite suddenly and hurled me toward splashdown.

In a flash, there was just blue raft and silver-gray light. Diamond globules of air billowed up like cartoon thought bubbles.

And I feared that Crane was right; I was going to be spent and lost in its spell:

The River, spreading, flows—and spends your dream.
What are you, lost within this tideless spell?
You are your father’s father, and the stream—
A liquid theme...."
-Hart Crane (1899–1932), U.S. poet.


But I made it out of the water just fine. This trip didn't involve a single flip.

I arrived extremely early. The only faces I knew were Marvin's and Phil's. We caught up and talked of his time in Korea, where "you know you're an enemy of the state when the people following you around don't even bother to be stealthy about it," he told me. So it seems that the quality of espionage has hit an all time low when the "bad guys" actually do where black hats and coats.

"I hope that you filled out their 'How am I spying' comment cards accordingly," I told him. Marvin just smiled.

Choosing a baby blue Anywhere Goes team T-shirt, I found myself pleasantly buzzing. Before long, it was time to head out. I'd mixed and mingled a little, but I'd only met about a dozen people out of the group of roughly 55.

Phil's industrial sized smile and Sinatra-like blue eyes seemed to sparkle as he grabbed the mike and welcomed everyone onboard the bus of the mingling waters. (That was my inner nickname for the vehicle, since it was a very social journey last year and I expected more of the same this time. I was right, except it was more social this year since I was in front.)

My position onboard wasn't as Rosa Parks as last year. "Oh, no, I will not be shoved in the back," I remember thinking as I boarded. Strangely, I got on almost dead last because I'd been helping Marvin, Tony and Phil with big boxes of shirts, CDs and giant alcohol-filled coolers.

I sat right behind the coolers, in a seat I like to call the ceremonial bartender. While I was there to socialize and make everyone feel comfortable, I was hardly skilled enough to mix drinks, which is why it was a ceremonial position, only. I wound up mixing a few drinks.

But those that asked once rarely asked a second time. And word spread fast that Jblend wasn't the most talented mixologist onboard.

Marvin introduced me to his best friend, Rob, who absolutely shocked me with his charming Arkansas drawl. I haven't met anybody from that area in ages, so I was pleasantly reminded of how wonderful it sounds. Not only did Rob and I share regional homogeneity, but he's also a journalist. (He was humble, of course. He's actually the DC bureau chief for a wire service.)



We traded disparaging jokes about country hicks in a weirdly white game snaps and come-backs that went along the lines of "Your mama's so country...."

I also met Tom, a friendly, outdoorsy type from New York. While "accidentally" grabbing his backside, I noticed something metallic. I commented that he was either carrying a concealed firearm or a flask. Thankfully, it was the former. We discussed the merits of several varieties of Scotch whiskey while I commented on how handy his rock-hard abdominals would be if we went camping. (With some soap and water, you could use them as a washboard.)

The snarky and always talkative David was there, too. I had met three or four times at various parties. I imagine that a cigarette ad model desperately in need of a smoke would be a lot like him: handsome and always slightly cranky. (Or, perhaps I'm just not accustomed to his caustic humor.)



Chris from Rehoboth and his hyperactive boyfriend, Heinie, were there. They formed the devastatingly funny rear section of the bus. Heinie, especially, kept me laughing with his nonstop air mattress – oops, I mean "stewardess" humor.

At the half-way point, a McDonalds meal stop, we formed a queer flash mob. While the food was beneath me, the Hello Kitty toys in the Happy Meal were definitely not. Chris and I persuaded the smirking waitress to fork over a few windup Kitties. So cute.

In a few hours, we found ourselves at the Summersville motel.



My head hit the pillow ten seconds before I met Jody and his co-workers and pals, Chris and Paul, the crew from Falls Church. We didn't talk too much. The chatter trickled off soon after the lights went out. We went to sleep, spooning a little and dreaming of the river Gauley.

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