A rushing river invites a novel way to stay cool

My beekeeper boss, Paul, loves the summer dog days because that's when he starts extracting honey.

When he estimates the net weight of his honey-filled "supers" in the honey house, multiplies it by the market price, and makes a calculated guess about future production, it gives him an idea how much money he might make this year. Paul doesn't talk about this, but we all know. With honey prices hovering in the stratosphere, in his mind he's already tarpon fishing in the Keys.

The honey house stays above 100 degrees F., and probably a lot hotter, although nobody actually checks the temperature. You want a hot honey house so the honey will spin freely out of the comb. Paul cranks up the radio and works alone all day extracting. He sends the crew out to work the bee "yards" from Silt to Parachute to Steamboat Springs.

It's not exactly cool outside, either, with temperatures ranging in the 90s most days in this record-hot Colorado summer. None of the trucks has an air conditioner that works.

Loading honey supers onto the truck, I feel oppressively hot. Afterward I park by the Yampa River.

Derrick says, "What are we doin'?"

I say, "We're goin' into the river with all our clothes on."

He says, "We are?"

You never saw a kid jump out of a truck so fast.

Arms outstretched, I walk across the stony bottom in my long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Waist-deep in the current, I plunge head-first into the riffle, and the cool river gently sweeps me away. When I come up for air I'm 12 again, and the world looks new.

A "No lifeguard on duty" sign adds to the Huck Finn charm, though we are cautious. You could wedge your foot in the rocky bottom or get tangled in some barbed wire.

Fishermen drift by in a canoe, and I say, "Sorry for spooking your hole."

One of the anglers says, "That's OK. It's a big river."

Now we go into the river every day. Even Mark succumbs to its siren song, though cowboys mostly hate water. He sits hunched-over on the bank, struggling to remove an upturned cowboy boot, just like the cowpokes in corny cartoons. Then he steps gingerly into the river, grinning, as the sun illuminates his ghost-white cowboy shoulders.

Swimming with your clothes on, an energy-efficient personal cooling system, has totally changed my outlook on hot weather. A noon plunge keeps me chilled for about two bee yards. When I'm almost dry, I put on my spare presoaked shirt, and it's autumn again, no matter how hot the day.

I can't understand why everybody doesn't walk around dripping wet all summer.

The other day when I climbed out of the river I almost tripped over an old bison skull half-buried in the sand. I have the picture to prove it.

Right away I knew what it was. Broader and more massive than a cow skull, its short curved horns gave it away.

Mark knows his western history. He said, "The Sioux used to come down here from Wyoming to chase buffalo." The skull had a hole near one eye socket, and we speculated about that.

Finds like this never happen when you put your head down and grind it out. We drove right past this spot all summer. We almost could have seen that skull from the highway.

Thank goodness for hot weather, an air conditioner that doesn't work, and a river I just can't resist.

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