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The Story of Orion - Part 10

It was ghastly hot, and the breeze was as dry as pottery-clay. Cicadas and common grasshoppers furiously rubbed their legs together in the tall, wheat-colored grasses. Cottonwood leaves pinwheeled on their stems. The sound of the rustling cottonwood leaves is now instantly familiar, but, at the time, was strange and novel.

We couldn't have been a stone's throw from the launch site at Green River, Utah, lazily adrift in three silver-painted, military-style rafts on the muddy and flat tributary of the Colorado River, the Green River. Our group was setting forth on a thirty-day journey through the red rock canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers. Nine students, three student-leaders and one crotchety, sociology professor.

Most of us were outdoor greenhorns. Most of us didn't know anyone on the trip. For most of us, this was our very first river trip.

Green River State Park was still in sight when Sarah Stockwell, one of three student instructors, a leggy, blonde Norse goddess from the northern middle of America, disrobed and stood entirely naked on the upturned bow of the largest raft, poised to dive. I don't remember any details about her statuesque body. But I have a vivid recollection of the students being shocked, followed closely by the realization that this was not going to be our 'father's river trip?.

If you know what I mean...(and as Robert would add, "...and I think you do...")

She paused just long enough for all of us to drink it in, the old hands and the greenhorns, a moment most teen age males in America don't really imagine themselves ever being privy to, before she dove into the murky water that everyone since John Wesley Powell had described as 'too thin to plow, too thick to drink'.

I recall this moment in my twenty-nine year rafting career because, I suspect, it formed the genesis of the prevailing notion that on private Orion river trips, clothing would forever be optional --- within reason and provided the circumstances do not dictate otherwise. The purpose of the anecdote is to illuminate a certain mindset among river runners with a willingness to push the cultural envelope. The other purpose is to pinpoint the philosophical stirring of the rallying cry to come --- 'Let's get Naked!'

LGN, for short. Coined by our very own Orion founder, Linda Hedlund (Zimmerman). However, that was several years into the future.

But, if I am to be truthful about this particular, brain-synapse-seering memory about Sarah Stockwell, I must also recount how the river turned out to be only a few feet deep. And how Ms. Stockwell was fortunate we weren?t forced to evacuate her in her birthday suit to the Green River Clinic. No first aid was required. She suffered no more than a scraped nose and a bruised ego.

Meanwhile, the males were just happy she didn't disfigure herself in any other way and would not need to be evacuated off the 30-day wilderness trip.

~~~

Many full moons later. . .

Deep in the canyon of the Klamath River in northern California, a 'Willie Trip' was underway. (Not that kind of 'Willie'.) At least two dozen of us were winding our way down the drought-stricken river that was so warm it was green from excessive algae and moving so slow you could swim faster than you could drift. It was overcast, but muggy warm. We were midway through the second day of a four-day trip.

Willie, who regularly organizes trips with as many of his old college friends and their wives and girlfriends as he could muster, was not shy about hewing to the 'Let's get naked!' cry, but, for some reason, this group was slow to warm up to the clothing optional option. There might have been too many new faces. It may have been the dirth of sunshine.

Bill Meltzer, Willie's friend who taught me 'Zoom, Schwartz' (and who I later honored by adding 'Meltzer' to the game's word repertoire), was on the trip having flown out from Philadelphia. Bill was a 'regular' on Willie's trips. I would describe Bill as a straight shooter with a quick wit. He wasn't afraid to put in his two cents worth and, when it came to playing 'Zoom, Schwartz', he was a merciless moderator known as the 'King' (I changed the moniker to 'Queen' in later renditions of the game).

Linda Hedlund (Zimmerman) was on the trip as well. She was also a 'Willie Trip' veteran. Toward the end of the second day, Linda was concerned that prudishness was going to trump the freedom of toplessness and, if you so desired, bottomlessness. She started devising games as we hung out beneath the tarp that had the same objectives as strip poker. Progress was slow, and participation was half-hearted, but everyone was getting a kick out of Linda's terrier-like tenacity and 'fun' was most definitely being had by all.

Suddenly, there was whooping and hollering and lots of sand being kicked up outside the shelter and when we emerged we all got an eye-full of Willie and Bill streaking around camp with nothing on but bandanas and ballcaps. The ice was broken and the inhibition floodgates flew open.

My next cogent memory of that trip is of all the rafts tied together --- stuck in an immense eddy, circling endlessly --- with every member of the trip stark naked, or nearly stark naked, lounging on the rafts or cavorting in the river like a family of otters buzzed on a six-pack of Schmidts.

To Be Continued. . .

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