For the love of a river

  • There's This River ... Grand Canyon Boatman Stories

    edited by Christa Sadler, 216 pages, softcover: $17.95. The Earth Press, 2006

"Welcome to a way of life": With these words, Christa Sadler invites readers to sit down by her literary campfire on the banks of the Colorado River. There’s This River is a gathering of rambunctious tattletales: often-hilarious accounts of river guides’ (mis)adventures herding tourists through the Grand Canyon.

The anthology includes a glossary of river lingo. It sounds nerdy, and it is, but it’s also vivid and funny: "Endo: an end-for-end flip, most common with kayaks, most spectacular with rafts." Other useful nuggets include Scott Thybony’s two cents about catering: "It takes seven minutes to cool beer to river temperature." But There’s This River is far from a traditional guidebook or a river-runner’s how-to manual. It’s a testament to the crazy river-love that fills the hearts of these boat folk.

How contagious is the river-love bug? Vince Welch feigns hand-wringing about passing it on to the next generation in his tongue-in-cheek campfire sermon on river family values, observing that "children are ravenous, fun-seeking missiles ... once they swim a roaring rapid like a drunken otter, your fate as a parent is sealed."

River culture is wild and adrenaline-soaked. "Stupid Human Tricks" abound, and a common theme is the difficulty many guides have navigating the mundane world. In one poignant story, Rebecca Lawton remembers the guide who saved her life in 1983 and took his own in 1995 — a casualty of the "restless time" off-river that separates guiding seasons.

When the 1994 edition of There’s This River went out of print, photocopies circulated and stories kept accumulating. Sadler has updated the original, allowing authors to embellish the old stories, and she’s added a dozen new ones. She has also pasted in more photographs and lovingly drawn sketches, making a kind of extended family scrapbook. "These are people worth knowing," Sadler concludes. "This is a place worth knowing."

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