Camping with emerald earrings

Did you leave your jewels at home? What are you saving them for? Why not wear them outside? Our joyful camping companion did not worry. Her emerald earrings reminded us of a deeper green than anything in the desert. They glowed when she shifted her long dark hair.

Joni without her emerald earrings

First we two women swam in our clothes from the beach by the campsite. Off came rings, necklaces, and bracelets. Off came the emerald earrings, cradled in a hat. Our clothes clung in the chilly water. We had not yet read the park service brochure on the dangers of swimming in the river and would not read it until we were long gone from the park, back in humid Houston. The water made us catch our breath as it took away the day’s sweat, grime, and caked-on sunscreen, while possibly introducing us to microbes we might not like to meet. The others joined us in the water, but swims were brief. How surprising to be so cold in such a hot place.

Joni and Brian enjoy the side canyons

We stood dripping on the bank, forgetting the earrings in attempts to get dry and warm. Later we wondered, did we move the hat? Where were the earrings? Would we ever find them in the sand? Yes, as it turned out. The gleaming jewels revealed themselves right where they were expected, and returned to their human home for an elegant dinner of grilled mushrooms, mashed potatoes, salad, squash, and red wine.

Relaxing at the campsite

The second day of paddling hit fewer riffles where we had to drag the canoes to deeper water. We were far into Boquillas canyon now, as remote as anything, even on the Mexican side. Yet still we hunted for the current, sometimes on the left bank, sometimes on the right, always cliff side, not riffle side, always the outer side of the curve. Invasive reeds, Phragmites australis australis, apparently, clung to the banks, hanging strongly over them, sometimes right where the strongest currents ran. We learned to lean flat back, a hand over our face as the reeds raked our current-sped boats.

This time we swam in a deep Rio Grande pool, down the river aways from where we were camped, out of sight of the boys. We undressed this time, only to discover one earring was gone, perhaps swept off in the reeds we ducked under repeatedly that day. So the earrings had not come off after the previous day’s loss and miraculous find? No, they had not. We pushed the remaining earring through the shirt, then jumped into the aquamarine water, now expecting the chill and its passing.

Later she told me the other earring was indeed discovered in the floor of the canoe. Twice lost, twice found, these emerald earrings deserved their repose in a secure pouch for the remainder of the trip. They had already worked their magic. And we were ready for an evening of song, homemade wonderful songs that lulled me to sleep, along with my son’s bourbon.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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