Friday, January 31, 2014


The river widened and began to darken. Sunlight strobed through the trees on the western bank, flashing Navajo sun patterns.

At a bend in the river, Jim pointed ahead. “Sawtooth,” he said, and I saw what he meant: rows of cedar, sawtooth-shaped, casting shadows up the reddening hillside. The sun was setting.

I peered into the thicket and saw a pair of eyes glinting in the wooded deeps … the eyes of a Comanche in full headdress and war paint, slowly turning his head and watching as we drifted past—a trick of the twilight? or the mushrooms, or both? or an actual time warp, or all of the above?

Night fell. The moon rose … a Comanche Moon, full and fat and orange—and beautiful, but if you gazed into its mysteries too long, it took on a malevolent aspect … I saw one of its gray fissures turn into a menacing leer … now the moon was a disembodied jack-o-lantern laughing at our doom—

The canoe wobbled. My heart leapt. We tumbled headfirst in a burst of water, lost in the vast cold river of darkness, the harbor of many a bloated body and lost soul anchored forever in the unforgiving depths and forgotten …

“How’s the leg?” asked Jim.


“How are you feeling? You hollered. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Jim rowed on, the canoe steady and gliding forward in the orange Comanche Moon. I thought of all the death beneath us in the catfish-swarming abyss and all the tales of drowning and horrid loss my father told me, and remembered the death I’d seen with my own eyes on a tributary of this river, Mustang Creek 1968 … three lives lost in the raging night … the little girl’s bloated body lifted from a motorboat in the terrible morning light.

And now I was worried for my own life. I watched Jim row, and also watched the path ahead. It was night, not the best time to be canoeing on the river, but we had the advantage of moonlight … and yet, the light could also play tricks on the eyes, I noticed. An obstacle—a tree branch floating in the flood-swollen river—could be easily spotted, yes, but sometimes the interplay of light and shadow (and mushrooms) made obstacles appear that were not there, causing Jim sometimes to swerve needlessly, which in turn caused the canoe to dangerously tilt. Not just once, but many times …

And what if we capsized in the middle of darkness? It would not be as before in the sunlight, in shallow water, when we had a chance to survive the suck of the whirlpool and death trap of the tree. No, death … Death would take us tonight … forget our things; the backpacks, paddles, canoe and such—there would be no light to see by and salvage anything, let alone ourselves. We would die.

But I am wearing my life jacket now, I thought. I could survive … but what about Jim? … he’s still using his for a seat cushion … what if he goes into the water and never comes up, and it’s just me out here in the water and dark, alone?

“Say, Jim,” I said, “can you see all right in this dark?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “My eyes have adjusted. I can see just fine. Don’t you worry about a thing …”

I tried not to worry. But the moon disappeared behind the clouds and the night grew darker than ever, and quieter. Bullfrogs croaked in the dark, and they seemed to croak these words, “Stop. Stop. Stop.”

“Maybe we should stop,” I said to Jim, “and camp for the night. Let the mushrooms wear off. Finish in the morning.”

He shook his head. “Nah, this is nothing. We’ll be back in Cleburne by midnight, trust me.”

(To be continued …)