Breakfast on the porch swing. Front-page headline in the paper reported the Garden of the Gods as the number one park in the country. Page two carried a less happy story about the body of a sixty-two year old kayaker found in the Arkansas River near Wellsville yesterday. According to the dispatch, the man was wearing protective gear and navigating an inflatable craft he’d launched in Salida. He was the fifth person to drown in the river in two weeks.
Here in the west, people have a powerful fascination with water (ostensibly, because there isn’t enough of it to go around), so a dynamic tension exists among sporting folks, ranchers, and ecologists, each group laying claim (legal and otherwise) to the state’s most precious natural resource.
“Whisky is for drinking...” Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “...water is for fighting.” But it’s difficult to appreciate just how deep the conflicts run until one group crosses oars, or pistols, or subpoenas with the other. I finished a novel last spring that touches on the (true) story of a young girl—an experienced rafting guide—who drowned in the Arkansas one spring, whose body lay trapped in an underwater sieve for months while various groups and agencies bickered over the legal “stewardship” of water in which she’d been entombed.
Naturally, the book hasn’t sold. But it isn’t the cruelty of the story, I think, that’s kept it from being picked up. (The publishing industry perfected cruelty if they didn’t invent it.) Instead, I’ve come to believe it’s because no one living east of the Missouri believes such a thing could happen. Water, when you have it, is the easiest thing in the world to take for granted.