Cowboy Coffee and Campfire

By Madeline Friend

Grand Canyon Youth guides drinking coffee from a large pot
Photo by Maddie Friend.

My clothes smell of cowboy coffee and campfire

on another river morning

when everything is the same

and more different than it has ever been. 




I step onto my boat

the one caked in sand and grins

held together

by technicolor webbing and patched-up whims. 


Light crests over craggy canyon walls and joins the spooling liquid that escorts crystalline crests, hyaline waves, and you into the swell.




I remember the stretch of early-river spring, of scraping ice off early-morning metal tables, of the sunshine smiles of 60-degree days.


I remember how July drops into August; remember how I can count the rocks in the river – well, most of them. 


I remember September the most, wrapped in a season of memories and a heart of laughter, thinking it will all come around back spring. 




My clothes smell of linen and distance, extra-wrung like the anxiety in my hands

on these newly structured spring days,

but one jacket, the one jacket never washed,

the 10-year old blue synthetic puffy on its third or fourth zipper,

the one with kaleidoscope patches and stains not remembered any more,


that jacket still smells of cowboy coffee and campfire.

Grand Canyon Youth participants around a campfire
Photo by Amy Martin.

Madeline is a proud GCY alum and guide. Her first GCY trip introduced her to river science, inspiring her to earn a BS in Environmental Sciences-Biology from Northern Arizona University and a MS in Watershed Sciences – Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes

She has boated extensively in the US, Canada, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia, but loves to circle the eddies of Western US rivers best. She guides for OARS Dories in Idaho and Grand Canyon Youth in Arizona and Utah.

You can read more of Madeline’s writing here.

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