Rain finally arrived on our last day on Oregon's Rogue River. Its telltale sound began to pepper the fly of my tent around dawn, inspiring me to burrow deeper within my sleeping bag. But when I heard the strains of a violin, I peeked outside and saw a tarp over the cooking area suspended by ropes and oars. Grudgingly, I pulled on my rain suit and ventured out.
I'd never have guessed that a rain-soaked gathering could seem so sunny. Guides and guests were talking, laughing and drinking coffee as Shira Kammen, Danny Carnahan and Jim Oakden played Handel's "Water Music," followed by the Beatles' "Rain." Jimmy Katz, the loquacious proprietor of James Henry River Journeys, which offers trips for wine and classical music enthusiasts, regaled the group with stories while he toasted English muffins on a skillet. Spread on a table under the tarp were leftovers from the day before: grilled lamb, curried tuna, pasta salad and tomatoes rinsed in runoff from the tarp. The only things missing from the previous night's menu were the wines that we had had with dinner, though coffee did seem more appropriate under the circumstances.
Eventually we packed our gear and shoved off into the river. The gray light served to compress scenes onshore into miniature tableaux: a bonsai-style oak on top of a boulder, a Dr. Seuss pine describing a "U" between its roots and crown. Fed by the rain, one waterfall after another emerged from the forest, cascading over moss-covered rocks into the deep green river. A family of brown-headed merganser ducks swam past as swallows darted above the surface of the water.
Just before we reached the takeout at Foster Bar, we passed the privately owned Illahe Lodge, in whose dining room the proposal was drafted for what became the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Shuttle drivers were waiting to take us back over the mountain to our cars; as the crew disassembled the rafts, I took a seat in the van by Joel Peterson, the winemaker at Ravenswood Winery. "Better in rain than underwater," I offered, referring to an unnerving experience I'd undergone a couple of days earlier.
I've known Joel since I worked at his Sonoma winery during the 1984 harvest. Back then he labored full time in a hospital laboratory while making 5,000 cases of wine a year in his spare time. Today he produces more than 100 times that amount, including one of every six bottles of Zinfandel sold in the United States. Nevertheless, here he was, floating the Rogue River during the day and pouring wine in the evening as he has every summer since 1992.
For me this trip bore the character of a reunion--not only with Joel but with Jimmy Katz, whom I've known even longer. I met him in 1978, when we were both publicizing the endangerment of the Tuolumne River by a proposed dam in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Like the Rogue, the Tuolumne has since been preserved as a National Wild and Scenic River. It introduced me to rafting in general and James Henry River Journeys in particular.
James Henry is among the most eclectic and aesthetic of all the companies that run rivers in North America. It began operating 30 years ago, and in today's world of outdoor mega-outfitters it remains a stubborn one-man enterprise reflecting the idiosyncratic orientations of its owner. (Katz, now 54, chose to christen it with his middle name because, "On the river I couldn't offer steamed pastrami and Nova Scotia lox like all the Katz Delis back in Detroit.") In addition to special themes such as wine tasting and classical music, most James Henry trips are accompanied by naturalists who explain the local flora and fauna. And Katz, who is also a first-rate landscape photographer, is generous with advice. Over the years, I've enjoyed his company on California's Klamath, Idaho's Salmon and Alaska's Tatshenshini-Alsek and Noatak rivers. But I'd never gone on any of Jimmy's wine-tasting trips with Joel.
This one was a five-day, 40-mile jaunt through the fir-covered wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains. It began in typical summer weather. At our meeting place, the Galice Resort west of Grants Pass, the sky was blue and the temperature in the 90s--common conditions for southwestern Oregon in June. Our group of 30 boaters (including eight crew members, three musicians and one winemaker) was composed of people from as far away as Boston and Texas, wearing T-shirts and baseball caps that advertised places such as Utah and Alaska and wineries such as Lava Cap, Frog's Leap and Rex Hill. Our mission required eight rafts, nine plastic coolers, 10 metal equipment boxes, six inflatable kayaks, six musical instruments, eight cases of wine and 50 stemmed glasses--not to mention a tent, a sleeping bag and two rubberized equipment duffels for every participant.