RING OF WHITE WATER
Dreamed 1983/1/30 by Chris Wayan
It's been a while, since I rode the river round. Oh, I still have the trophy. I did run two full circuits in a single life! But "expert"? I hardly SAW a thing! The trip's for learning, not racing. I was a fool.
After that, I was so drained I lost my self, deep in the wilderness of Farside. Yes, I'm the Hermit. I lived there for years. People are so easily impressed! Sure, pilgrims who reach its border are usually burnt out and head straight up the black lava-path into the Pain Range, and the end of the ring-trip. Nobody explores. And machines won't work in Farside, of course, which makes travel inconvenient... But still, it's an Eden! Easy to live in--and to heal in. It's why I stayed so long, a hermit gardener offering carrots and fruits to the rare explorers who made it. I became famous, but the truth is, the other guides who just ran the ring in the normal way know it ten times as well!
But at last I'm out, and I'm going to guide a raft round the ring again.
The ring? Picture a huge caldera--black lava cliffs and talus. On the near lip is the Hotel Soul, where we're sitting, gazing out over the golden treeless Astriplano to the cliff's edge, where the six navigable waterfalls smoke and rumble. The rapids go down for miles. On the crater floor, a lake, the Social Swim, collects all the falls, then narrows and winds along as a river, the Time, along the caldera floor, through the forest, around a low central peak to the rich green country on the far side, where I used to live alone. On those distant black cliffs, the white unnavigable mesh of the Uphill Falls. You need binox to see the zigzag stitches of the long, exhausting trail up the far cliff. That portage is the part we all hate, rising into the Pain range, whose name, some argue, is a euphemism for the real one: the Deaths.
There is no argument that the canal starts there, the canal that brings you back through long, gentle meadows to the hotels here at journey's end, and beginning.
There, I think you know enough to follow me and my new batch of rafters.
I dive into organizing the trip. Greet my group and get down to it right away, kicking their mountain of gear. "This is way too much! You have to travel light! Half this or less. Repack it all." I'm hardnosed about this. The rapids are rough. The mohawk and the fox get to it, though the stork is reluctant.
A human girl flatters me instead of helping. (Well, to be fair, she did pack light.) "I'm really excited that you're our guide! I feel so much safer." She wiggles a little and I feel an answering wiggle inside my pants. She does look cute in her cutoffs, but I better watch myself. The last thing she needs is for me to make her teacher's pet. She'll have to drop the fem act to make it around. What she wants isn't what she needs... never mind what I want.
They all toss their shrunken packs into the raft and I secure them. The girl steps in coltishly--oh, those bare legs!--and extends her arm for me to support her. "Keep that touch neutral" I warn myself. "Don't help too much."
The others hop in with no trouble. Lightbulb Head unties the rope, and we're off. Down the glassy stream and into the oxbow meadows, where I drill them in paddling till we can turn in half a second on my command.
At last the stream quickens and straightens, rocks erupt from the grass... and we inject. Through the slot, over the lip, and free-falling hundreds of meters through the spray, to hit the white water and scramble down, still at a steep angle, twisting between rocks, dropping five meters here, a meter there. It seems to be hours.
The water feels warmer than before. On my first trip it was icemelt, the second, merely cold. But the change this time's more blatant.
The tale is true: every time you make the wild ride, the water's warmer, till it's hot as a bath!
Down the chute, the raft leaping and bellyflopping, half the river in the boat, until at last the trees begin, and the water slows to an ordinary rapid, with occasional pools where we can catch a breath of something besides foam.
And at last, the lake. The Social Swim. Waterlilies around the shores, and just outside them, flotillas of rafts and fishing boats. There's even a yacht; it must have been built here, before my time--it can never leave, of course. We're offered the usual barter for our surplus fuel: trout, greens, handcrafts, and water-lily seeds (you pop them like corn in the campfire--quite tasty.)
It looks like a marina, an ordinary resort, till you look up past the shores, past the pines, at the black cliffs on the horizon. Cliffs we'll have to climb. On that hard path up you must leave your raft, and most of the gear; you carry nothing but memories, and drop that if you have to.
I think she was just realizing that being cute wouldn't lower those cliffs. Because as we rowed gently toward the Swim's outlet, she said suddenly "I'm a realist. Now I see how big the... Farside Mountains are. I'm not a hero. I'm just an average girl... in over her head."
This is bad. She's afraid even to name the mountains right. Pain. She fears it that much.
"I'm too weak to climb... that path. The water's warm and peaceful. I'm staying here, in the Social Swim."
And before I can marshal my objections, she stands up, wobbling the raft, and dives over the edge. Waterbugs flee, lily pads ripple.
Her head comes up sleek as a seal. She looks at me, mouth under water, warily. She looks like a naiad, a water-spirit. At home here. But for how long? There's only the one way out. Why delay it?
I say "ANYONE can climb them. You do it gradually-- you LEARN to." Methinks I do protest too much. Who hid in Farside for years? Can I really criticize her failure of nerve?
"No. I've decided. I'll get rides and food. Men will pick me up."
And she swims away, those long legs rippling greeny-brown under the lilies. She's probably right. Men will.
Yes, I let her swim off. Because I was thinking "Now I'll never fuck her, and THEY will." I was frozen by the scale of my own selfishness.
Well, okay, I did feel some FAINT concern for the rest of my crew. I knew couldn't just dive in after her. Her spiritual crisis was not my only responsibility. My raftload of creatures still had to be guided up the trail of pain and death...
So I left her.
INTERLUDE WITH ZINGA
Much later, on the terrace of the Hotel Soul, I was drinking ginger tea with my friend Zinga, who was caustic about my whining. "You're so fussy!" she transmits--dragons speak mind to mind. "Fuckups happen. If she drowns, she learns. You're not God--not yet!"
"But she didn't drown. At least not physically. I saw her later in a party boat. A speedboat full of satyrs and nymphs. She had that bright blank smile.. she was stuck, Zinga! Drowning in fun because she couldn't face her fear."
Zinga yawns, and when a dragon yawns, it's either meant as a threat or as edgy humor--saying silently, your problems could be worse. She whisssstles in amusement and adds "So on your NEXT trip, GRAB her! If you still want her. I'll take your word she excites your mating urge, but she sounds a bit... well, meek for you."
"Easy for YOU to transmit. YOU were a big egg. I was a human runt. Leading's hard for me, even when I'm sure what I'm doing. And... speaking of meek...you're talking to a hermit who found carrots sufficient company for how long, Zinga?"
"So run away guilty, like her. You'll change when you get bored. I am."
"Okay, okay, no need to bite, I'll change the subject."
But Zinga stretches her wings in silence for a minute. I get lost in the colors. Then she transmits "You going down there to look for her or not?"
"I thought you were bored with that! But yes. I'm leading a new trip. I saw four maps in a dream--a new route leading to a chain of live volcanoes..."
I hear whispers up in the tree above our rickety terrace table. "Our guide," gulps a sort of a levitating carp, as red and scaly as Zinga's display patches. "Ah" answers an arboreal fox, in a neutral tone. Which I can't blame her for. I do sound uncertain, don't I?
"I just hope" I say loudly, with an edge, "they know how to pack LIGHTLY this time!" A skittering in the tree, a red flash... and the listeners are gone.
BACK IN THE RING
And meanwhile, down in the valley of life, it's a warm soft night. The moon is rising. On the roof of a houseboat, a girl is watching, naked as if she's trying for a moon-tan. She lies on her stomach, on a thick pile of rumpled sheepskin pillows. Or so it seems. But she's rocking, gently, and the sheepskin is gasping, and then crying out in pleasure, and then she lowers her head and closes her eyes.
If you've never loved a satyr, you can't imagine. I'm sorry to say that had I known at the time, I'd have been jealous.
But I didn't know. At that moment I was looking for the four maps given me in a dream, the guides to our new route. And finding corners of them peering out from under two bedrolls, a boombox, a hibachi, and a TV. None of which were going on MY raft, if I had to argue all night.
Miles away someone was talking and someone wasn't answering. At last, she spoke. "What? Oh, sorry Calixtes... No, it's not you. I was just... thinking."
If you've never tried to to any serious thinking with a satyr around... you can't imagine.
Not done idly. Thinking in a satyr's arms! Had I known, my heart would've lightened a pound or two.
For like me, walking out of Farside when I healed at last... she might just be preparing to walk the path home, alone.
Good thing I was making my new crew pack light.
That extra space might be needed for a guest... who's tired of fun, and found her courage. At last.
Hi. This is Wayan's conscious conscience speaking. While it'd be much artier to leave all interpretation up to the reader, my journalistic respect for facts forces me to add that several weeks later, another dream confirmed the idea that the falls ARE falling in love, and that it gets warmer and easier each time; and the plateau is visionary solitude, a place I'll always return to... loved or not.
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