The following piece was written by Candice Baxter, a participant on Freeflow Institute’s 2019 course “Stories in Sandstone.” As part of the wilderness writing workshop, participants rafted on the Green River through the sandstone canyons of Gates of Lodore, part of Dinosaur National Monument. The trip was hosted by renowned, award-winning writer and teacher Pam Houston.
Candice Baxter who was born in Paris, not the French one but Tennessee, tells the truth like it is. She earned a BS in Business and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Memphis where she taught English composition and served on staff for The Pinch. For six years, Baxter taught food writing at a culinary school. Her work has been published inThe Missouri Review, South Carolina Review, Memphis Parent, and others. She currently edits Germantown Magazine while crafting her full-length debut Fly Away Bird: Memoir of Launching a Fearless Daughter. Find more of her work at candicebaxter.com.
By Candice Baxter
The river has its own vernacular, words unknown to a suburban mom out for adventure. Everything is nice. Nice can mean good catch, or stellar job, or way to blow it. My trip down the Green River was so much more than nice.
It was communion in wildness, leaving the terra firma of my life and all I knew to be true about success. It was meeting and making connections with people who love the land and escaping civilization. As individuals we came together and found a river in common, a river measured in cubic feet per second. The rapids run at various water levels recalled an experience that can never be exactly the same again. Nice.
It was merit over makeup and survival over sweetness, arms raised high on the Limestone ledge to welcome the canyon inside me.
It was learning about mountains and layers of geology formed over millions of years. It was constantly looking up in awe of the sandstone, rising and changing from red to beige with veins of purple on the fault line, twisted like a curled staircase to an imagined castle just beyond the jagged point. Nice.
It was rockfall in pitch black across the river from my tent, boulders tumbling to make sparks like lightning and a guttural sound deeper than thunder. Flecks scattered on my rainfly. I lay awake until the morning when the eldest of the group said it happens one in a million chance. Nice.
It was a bouquet of white butterflies found fluttering about the vista, appearing one by one all day long on the trip from the Gates of Lodore to Split Mountain. It was crisp desert nights and damn good words and the brightest stars I’ve ever seen surrounding a half moon. It was camping alone encircled in sage and serenaded by white water. It was Rippling Brook casting spray with a soft gust over the dripping rock ledge, the only shower for days, cold as melted snow. Nice.
It was Pinyons and Ponderosa Pines with bark that smelled like vanilla. It was laughter and chuckling, sarcasm and poked fun. It was finding gear, claiming a tent spot, setting up camp, unpacking only to pack up in the morning and leave no trace. It was clothes in large deep dry bags that made everything smell like rubber bands. Nice.
It was delicious meals aplenty, three a day plus snacks and hors d’oeuvres that I didn’t have to prepare. It was hearty breakfasts, fresh salads, sliced fruit, and the best processed goods like Pringles and Peanut Butter M&M’s. Pour don’t plunge policy, meaning never stick my hand in the bag because it spreads germs. Nice.
It was staring out at the tranquil river beyond the tall grass while taking a shit on the groover. It was washing my hands with river water. It was stillness and majesty and a superhero pose every morning before coffee call. It was loose braids and untamed curls and prickly pigtails pulled back with no mirror. It was standing up after a splash to let the wind dry my shorts to avoid crotch rot, or what we call swamp twat where I’m from. It was four days commando. Nice.
It was river time without a watch, surrendering schedules and opening up space for patience and appreciation. It was conversation and perspective, questioning everything I thought was prosperity with an estate lot and granite countertops and a fenced backyard. It was merit over makeup and survival over sweetness, arms raised high on the Limestone ledge to welcome the canyon inside me. How will I ever explain when someone back home asks, “How was your trip?”
Lots of gratitude to Candice for sharing her experience. Thanks also to our professional outfitting partner, Dinosaur River Expeditions of Vernal, Utah, who showed us the magic of Gates of Lodore; to Big Sky Brewing who fuels our writing with cold Montana beers; and to Pam Houston, who is an absolute master of her craft and generally spectacular human being.