Soaked. Leather boots, wool stockings, trousers, undershirts, blouse, wool coat. His red beard (he wondered how untamed it looked, his looking glass bartered months ago). All of it soaked, and a good six inches of water in the bottom of the boat. But, despite a tumbling ride through foaming current, several drops of as much as 15 feet, and terrific blows against rocks (cursed, cursed rocks – everywhere in this country!) the boat was floating and they were alive. It was just he and Michael now, but they were alive.
Captain Benjamin-Henry had departed St. Louis more than two years hence with a party of 48 men, bound for God-knows-what, with only a dream to find and settle land “suitable for agriculture and homesteading” in the southwest territories. He had promised his sponsors as much. The Captain knew it was there – a benevolent God would not cast upon the earth an endless desert. The Captain was sure enough of what he would find to wager his meager savings – but considerable inheritance – on the expedition. His detractors and his own months as an Israelite wandering the desert filled him with doubt. Was there anything out here but stone and sand? He’d begun to concede to himself it was folly, settling the south and west of the continent. He’d begun to wonder, as parched days turned to scorched months, if indeed he would ever see water again.
And then a cascade from a cliff face, and a creek deep enough for dugout canoe, then a week’s pause for men to gather timber and convert wagons to john boats. And now he was soaked. The irony settled in on him and he would have chuckled to himself, but he was too cold.
“Please papa,” Michael pleaded from behind him, “can’t we stop to rest?”
Poor Michael, sturdy as he was but only 12, had not made complaint during the arduous hours on the river. He had in fact not made complaint during the entire expedition. Nor did he complain through months of tutoring to teach the boy English. He made no complaint when he was adopted from his nation – the Navajo – and sent to live with the Captain, and to become his guide and interpreter. He made no complaint perhaps because he was fed and clothed like the child of aristocracy, and the Captain was kind. Michael loved him like a father.
“Yes Michael, perhaps this is far enough for today,” the Captain replied. His tone was gentle. He loved Michael like a son.
The rock walls began to flatten and a small beach came into view. Michael noticed her first and pointed. Following them with her eyes and gliding gracefully along the rocks in deerskin moccasins, a young Navajo woman was descending toward their selected landing. With the Captain on the pole and Michael on the tiller, they edged toward the spit of red sand. As the boat beached, the woman met them. She spoke, and Michael translated.
“You are seeking something,” she said.
“Only peace,” the Captain replied.
“Perhaps,” she said. She wore loose woven clothes and called to the Captain’s mind high priests he had seen on his travels to India. “You are welcome to seek whatever you desire here,” she continued. Her face was kind. “My people have come to this land for generations. They find things here.”
“It is a land where much would be lost for others to find,” the Captain said.
“Some get lost when they come here,” she nodded. “Many more come here when they get lost.” She gestured to the canyon, the river, the valley opening below them. “This is the land of Many Lost Ways.”