Dark Water

by Stuart Ruckman
Kids' Fall 2005

Libby hands 5-year-old Ellis to me in the canoe. With a quick hop from shore, she pushes us into the channel. I’m glad to leave the hour of debate, the what-ifs behind, and just slice across the dark water. We can slip through the steep-walled Utah canyon ahead of the storm if we move fast.

With each twist of gorge, the country unfolds. Trees cling to the rocky shore – sometimes hanging over drop-offs in Seuss-like defiance of gravity. An osprey drops from a snag, soundless, and Ellis gasps. We relax, settling into a rhythm of paddling and pointing out sights to each other. Soon, Ellis is laughing belly laughs, testing the balancing point of the canoe despite our feigned parental shock.

Around noon, the wind catches us at a bend. Overhead, pine branches hum and dry leaves from shore blow into the canoe. The clouds sink into the canyon, obscuring the high, steep ridges. Lib and I lock eyes at the echo of thunder on the quartzite walls.

The wind bullies us, tossing whitecaps against the cliffs and spray into our canoe. We try to take the waves on the bow, but they lack logic. Lightning arcs across the sky, and the rocks on either side of us hiss with splashing water.

We switchback between canyon walls, looking for escape. Chased by the roar of nearly simultaneous lightning and thunder, we paddle into a small break in the cliff. Waves grind the canoe against the rocks, but we manage to scramble up needle-covered ledges to firm ground and hunker into the gale.

Ellis grips my hand and I move to protect him from the storm, but quickly notice his other hand is outstretched, testing the force of the downpour. It must be one of life’s wonders that during adversity a 5-year old still lives in the moment – he shows me lichen revealing its colors in the rain, and a pine needle holding a single drop of water. Noisily, he fills his lungs with the fresh smells and urges us to do the same. When the rain turns to hail, Ellis hollers to the sky with approval, “It’s snowing!”

The storm eventually moves onto the plain, and we stretch our cramped legs and peel back our hoods. Muddy shoes and all, Ellis jumps into the canoe, ready to set off again.

For Libby and me, our adventure quota is full, but not for Ellis, who says, “Let’s do it again, guys.” We laugh and roll our eyes. The paddles take hold and we skim back the way we came.

About the Author

In all kinds of weather, freelance photographer and writer, Stuart Ruckman, his wife Libby and son Ellis, can be found searching for adventure in the canyons and crags surrounding their Utah home.