Dust and Mud - Photography, Essays and Stories by Dana Thomas
Slack Water

The wind blows where it chooses, you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  John 3:8


Hank negotiated the last drop and leaned into the paddle stroke searching ahead for refuge from the white water at his back.  Across the channel and behind a granite boulder he saw an eddy.  Digging into the water with a shallow horizontal stroke, he forced the boat to pivot and started across the strength of the current.  Five strokes on the upstream side brought Hank across the river and forced the bow of the kayak into the eddy.  As the boat caught the upstream flow of the eddy, he took two rapid backstrokes and brought the kayak to a stop in calm water.

Facing the rapids just negotiated, Hank took a moment to draw a deep breath and to allow his adrenaline to subside.  In over his head, the last minute was the most exciting and terrifying of his life.  The decision to drop in at the top of the rapids was impulsive, without the customary take-out to reconnoiter a line through the rocks and white water of the toughest stretch of water he had ever completed.

Hank found himself on the only calm stretch of water in between two vertical granite cliffs.  Water wall to wall, with no beach to exit the kayak, the walls were without foot or hand holds.  Above him the rapids defied retreat.  Hank found the courage to look over his shoulder at what lay ahead.  After flowing past his refuge, the river compressed and gained speed, collided with an undercut cliff at the far side of canyon, rebounded, and boiled against truck size boulders.  At the limit of Hanks vision, the river disappeared and a cloud of mist floated above the water.  A loud roar filled the canyon, flooded his mind, and communicated an urgency and foreboding that created fear bordering on panic, but also demanded action.

Knowing that no retreat was possible and having no clear understanding of what lay downstream, his adrenaline began to build.  Studying the water, Hank plotted a course that crossed the river, avoided the canyon wall, and disappeared down a long green chute between two mammoth boulders.  Without a conscious decision, he committed, took one backstroke and two forward, and edged the bow into the main current.  Captured by the force of the river, the boat swung hard and plunged Hank toward the cliff, the boulders, and the unknown. 

this image is used to maintain space
this image is used to maintain space