“Desolation”: Creative Non-Fiction

Below is a flash-length piece I wrote a couple of years ago. The prompt was to use colors as imagery, and the maximum word count was, oddly, 700.  The genre wasn’t defined, but I couldn’t help but to immediately be inspired by a rafting trip I had done through Desolation Canyon in Utah. The language trends toward the purple side of things, but it fit the prompt so I rolled with it. It’s rare I get to indulge in the florid–what writer doesn’t secretly love overly descriptive prose now and then? Haha!

Since I feel I have grown as a writer since then, I desperately wanted to revise and edit this piece before posting it here for public consumption. “They” say to only put out your best work, 100% of the time; normally I’d agree with that sentiment. But sometimes it’s valuable to post and read stories that could benefit from some improvement, and to open dialog about what works and what doesn’t. Sure, it’s cheesy and purple as hell and I’m fully aware of that, but it takes me back to that place where I can relive the experience; in that sense, it’s successful.

Feel free to comment!

(Pictures are my own)


 

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DESOLATION

I absorb the expanse before me, awed by what nature is sharing with me in the early hours just after a glorious fiery dawn. The soft dipping of oars in the water provides hypnotic background music; the disturbance ripples outward from our raft, waves of creamy white reflected against the smooth coffee-au-lait water upon which we ride. The canyon walls are striated in various shades of brown and amber and gray, while the sun slowly rises and gives an ombre effect to the sky: rose-touched indigo where it meets the horizon, gradually shading upward to a cerulean blue stippled with cottony white wisps of clouds.

I sigh deeply, all of the outerworld whooshing into the river as I bask in the solitude of this place. Bend after bend reveals impossibly spectacular scenery; the omnipresent rocks stand in stark contrast to the lush green vegetation lining the sandy banks of the river. The scale is imposing. The light is still early enough that one side of the canyon rim is a charcoal silhouette against the sky.

As I glide down my course, the sun picks up its pace: I pause in my rhythm of dip, pull, dip, pull to don my wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. All of the colors around me deepen and brighten due to the miracle of polarized lenses. I take them off and put them on a few times, embracing the disparity and delighting in the simplicity of my child-like amusement.

I am alone, yet not. My two companions lounge loosely in front, taking it all in while I captain our craft; they sip from a water jug one moment; a beer the next. Such is life on the river. The cardinal red of the boat against the water juxtaposes with their green and orange rash guards, providing spots of distraction amidst the tones of the earth.

James points ahead and a scraggly brown coyote with a fierce gaze stares back at us, only momentarily pausing in slaking its thirst before going about his canine business once more. Swallows dart above, swooping down and up like so many piercing shadows, their cries echoing in the chasm. Hawks dive, and the dragonflies are mating in droves. There is life within desolation.

I begin to hear the susurrating of gentle rapids approaching, and as they come into view I notice the frothy whitecaps broken by protruding rocks that threaten to capsize my raft if I should lose focus. As always, a stiff breeze blows into my face just as I enter the increasingly swift current and I put my back in to my rowing to gain an advantage over the headwind. Two hard forward strokes: one; two. Oars flash at my side… I’m perfectly lined up with the “V” in the river. The rapid takes me in its grasp and I row one hard back stroke, then pivot neatly around a rock to roll down the wave-train backwards. As my point of view changes, I see the other rafts coming behind me–they are dots of yellow and blue on the muddy waters, bobbing up and down; shouts of glee by their occupants are softened by the sounds of rushing water.

I swivel the boat back forward as the brief rapids disappear behind me; once again solitude and remoteness settle in. Light and shadows play on the walls, and I see all manner of creatures and objects hidden in the stone: stern gray gargoyles, deep brown hearts within hearts, cartoon faces. We pass a petroglyph and I ponder what came before. Balanced rocks stand precariously atop jagged ridges, dark and illusory, while dirt-tinged mountain goats scamper sure-footedly along a nearly vertical wall like four-hooved chameleons.

I row on, serene and happy. This is only the first day of five. The myriad hues of the canyon wash over me and the sun bakes my skin to a honeyed bronze to match its landscape. I never want to leave this place. There is nothing more rejuvenating than the colors of desolation.

 

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