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At the moment, though, the current has mysteriously disappeared, and the water's surface has taken on the heavy, sullen stillness of a polished green gemstone.
Litton strokes his beard thoughtfully, then casts a glance behind the to the boat I'm in, a yellow supply raft manned by a nervous-looking 57-year-old named John Blaustein. B., as everyone calls Blaustein, is sporting hipster shades and a cocoa-colored cowboy hat."You know, J. now lives the agreeable life of a Berkeley-based commercial photographer, but once every summer he allows himself to be dragged down the river again. Absolutely terrifying.""Absolutely terrifying" is Litton's favorite expression, a phrase he invokes several times an hour to describe everything from shifting weather patterns to the possibility that the six liters of Sheep Dip Scotch stowed in his hatch might run dry before the conclusion of this 280-mile odyssey through the rapids of the Grand Canyon.
"He's still out there fighting his battles and rowing his frickin' boat.
I just want to know when his last river trip's going to be."Last spring, Litton's former guiding company invited him to return for one more run.
Today, Litton merits double-barreled distinction as one of the founding commercial river runners of the Colorado and one of America's greatest living conservationists: a man who, after 70 years of both reveling in and battling to preserve a treasure trove of natural wonders, has become something of a national treasure himself.
For all his accomplishments, though, there have always been contradictions, mostly in the form of Litton's puzzling personality quirks.
Rounding out the crew are the baggage boatmen: Curtis Newell, Ryan Howe, and their grumpy court jester, Blaustein, who has known Litton since 1970 and collaborated with him on , his physical appearance bespeaking both weightiness and mileage.
The skin on his face, framed by a thick white beard and mustache, is creased with wrinkles and flecked with broken veins. The backs of his powerful hands are covered with liver spots.
Sue "Coyote" Dale—whom everybody calls ' Ote—is here with her son, Duffy (who started rowing a dory at the age of three while perched on his father's lap) and Duffy's uncle, Tim.
It's a blustery April afternoon on the Colorado River, deep inside Grand Canyon National Park, and from his seat in the stern of a handsome little boat called the Sequoia, Martin Litton has just taken note of an intriguing development.
Normally, the river down here is restless and kinetic, sluicing along with a muscular roll of its shoulders.
He bemoans the loss of solitude in wilderness but made his living by encouraging millions of people to go out and discover it.
He's a paragon of environmental rectitude, and yet, throughout the sixties, in what Litton says was an action suited to "different times," he concluded his 21-day canyon trips by dumping nearly a month's worth of empty beer cans and liquor bottles into the Colorado, telling his guides that "studies have shown the river to be deficient in silica and aluminum.""A very, very complicated person with deep flaws who has done extraordinary things," says Brad Dimock, a river guide who's known Litton since 1973—and who, like everyone close to Litton, harbors sentiments colored equally by affection and exasperation.
He has fought for all sorts of restrictions to protect fragile landscapes, yet he loathes any government agency that musters the temerity to tell him where he can go and how to behave when he gets there.