THE RIVER GUIDE MYTH By Lawrence Morgan

Ah, river guides! Celebrated heroes of tumultuous whitewater! Lean, eagle-eyed, good at knots! Capably shepherding gaggles of witless passengers along foaming muscles of water! Romantic, exotic…yes, even noble!

Are these people for real?

Can every river guide prepare a toothsome dutch-oven delight, serve it flawlessly upon the beach and then do the dishes with smiling face, song burbling from suntanned throat?

Are they uniformly witty, sensitive, courteous and attractive? Is each so well-versed in nature’s lore he or she can explain why the minor flusterbudget squeaks twice on its’ downward swoop? Which stars are which trembling above the canyon’s jagged rim?

Yes, they are! They can! They do! It’s all absolutely true! Doesn’t it drive you nuts?

I will let you in on a small secret: river guides aren’t born in the normal fashion. In a hidden valley deep within the far mountains is a hatchery where guide spores are harvested. They are stirred into huge vats and grown organically from the basic salts and proteins. (“Throw that one back, Herb, teeth ain’t evenly white, eyes a tad cloudy.”) Grab the little buggers before they get their growth and work them like Russian ballerinas sequestered by the State.

Annually, in Spring, amid the music of trombones and harmonicas, is held the Hatching of the Guides! Shyly these fledgling godlets emerge, already able to do complicated things with rope and tarpaulins. Need a cheery campfire on a rainy afternoon? A snap! Eagle Scouts have nothing on these folks. Concerned about falling overboard and filling your lungs with trout? Just listen to their reassuring put-in speech, memorized while still in the vats.

They graduate fully adept at those esoteric rafting skills we mortals will never quite fathom, and are instantly hired by companies with fabulous names. (“Need two strong/silents, Herb, and a handful of cheerful/gregarious. Rush order for Incredible Outdoors, so don’t worry about hair color on this batch.”)

And what a life! Free and easy upon the flood, the guide coolly dips an adroit oar and twirls the raft past a fang of rock, muscles rippling beneath a deep, outdoors tan. A comforting smile to the passengers, brown legs astraddle the stern thwart. Take a closer look…there’s something peeking out down there, pal!

Fringe benefits? What about those amorous clients, ye gods! Circled around the evening campfire, stuffed with steak and baked potato (cheese, butter, sour-cream and chive toppings), a jug of wine flowing down eager gullets, the guides evoke primitive rhythms, caveman magic, with tales and songs as dusk fuses to night. They are imprinted with a vast repertoire of songs, and sing them well; at least one guide per trip plays an instrument with consummate skill…they work in concert, the devils!

Oh then the discreet glance, the casual rub of a knuckle reaching for the jug, the murmured compliment, and the midnight tryst ensues. Ardor on the sand! (“Watch out for that scorpion, honey!”) The canyon walls provide a cloak of darkness against the starlit sky, a delicate backdrop for languorous river guide passion!

AARRGH! I WANNA BE A RIVER GUIDE!

But I cannot. I wasn’t hatched, and neither were you. But, my friends, we can get even!

As you glide serenely below exquisite rock formations on your next river trip, turn innocently to your guide and ask the three following questions with great frequency:

“Exactly how deep is the water?”

“How high are all the canyon walls?”

“How many undiscovered caves are there out here, anyway?”

Watch with glee as your intrepid guides are transformed into gibbering idiots as they grapple with your curiosity…but be certain that the worst of the rapids are safely upstream!

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