River in the High Desert

You’d never know there was a river in the ravine, below hills of clay and sand and sagebrush, below the green flats of alfalfa fields, below the cattle feasting on pasture like black ants on sugar. If you’d walk down the dusty gravel road, perhaps the wind would carry a fine spray of irrigation water to your face as you passed by fields where sprinklers slapped counterweights in and out of the stream of water and perhaps you would have to dodge the sprinkler as it tsssk-tssssked by in a spiral, eventually you would reach the end of the field, where the crops dropped from knee-tall to calf-tall, then to a thick swash of cheatgrass. Several feet beyond the field are scrawny shrubs as old as any tree, gnarled and twisted, some reaching the height of a man, others still taller, but most sagebrush grow to be chest-height or less. It was these plants we would cut fresh growth from, bind the stems with string, and toss the bundles onto car dashes. Weeks later, the dusty mint colored leaves would dry and fall into the air vents, the bundles discarded. A shorter plant grows with the sagebrush, a less-woody thing with stems like a straw broom with leaves: rabbitbrush, a not-so-aromatic plant which the deer and goats and rabbits preferred to nibble upon. Should the wind be blowing stiff and strong, as it is usually doing, the golden eagles will usually come down from the lava cliffs a couple miles from the river, and come to the tip of this ravine to glide over the wind, seemingly locked in place or just swaying like a tethered kite before drifting off into the skies or in search of field mice.

The road turns around the corner of the field and drops down the ravine, and you can first glimpse the river, white water rolling over boulders at the bottom of a clay canyon made from a history of landslides. Around the switchback, there’s a calm portion of the river with jumping fish, willows lining both sides, rocks of all shapes and sizes, and a sandy beach where kiyakers come to play. On occasion, ducks will fly up from the place where water reverses flow and swirls in a slow circle behind the rapids. Other times, you will see the kiyakers in their little boats like Styrofoam bananas going down the rapids with their paddles, often turning themselves under the waves then upright again, spinning on a dime and darting through the water the same way a good quarter horse cuts calves. On rare occasions, you could look up to the rapids and see pelicans perched on rocks, fishing to fill the sac beneath their beak. Always, always no matter the occasion, you can see sea gulls which eat river fish and whatever crumbs the interstate travelers toss them up at the gas station a few miles away, and always, no matter if there is snow or burning heat, you can see the deer trails down to the river, and you can see the canal that had been built in the nineteen-fifties. It is a straight line, a giant sluice made of concrete and covered with wood now fallen in and rotten, an attempt to bring water to an arid land so to give it the same life as is on this side of the river, but there had been one fatal flaw in the plan, just one simple oversight that no engineering nor determination could fix: That concrete and water cannot be supported on a ground made from wet clay. So it was that several sections of the once-great canal were now located quite some distance downhill from the rest of it, and other sections were gone completely.

***OK, that’ll do it for today’s writing prompt. It’s a bit too late for me to discuss what I hoped to learn/did learn by writing this, you understand that my voice is quite sore from elementary PE. 😉 ***




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