Forgot this one! Whoops!
South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 5/15/13
We found the “perfect” spot. Great views, and no people. Of course, we have a perilous hike over the guardrail and along a cliff (it’s not climbing the rocks that scares me, it’s the stretches of pebbles and sand, where it would be so easy to slide into infinity) and I find a resurgence of my once-conquered fear of heights. I brought a towel, and when we set up the shoot I crawled on hands and knees to the lip of the edge and lay on the towel, looking into the vastness.
It’s just too much to take in. I had to shut my eyes eventually, and lay my face on the side of the rock, and listen to the whistle of the wind and the sounds of birdsong, a unique tseeee tseee that’s so high it’s like the voice of the stones.
I eventually withdrew to the shadow of a boulder as we watched the sun go through its evening dance on the vermilion, ochre and purple walls of the Canyon. I find I’m just as anxious for Mike as for myself, as he tromps around looking for just the right spot, as he gets up and down to check his equipment and I imagine, with my overvivid writer mind, what one misstep could do. The Canyon is not a place for sissies—at least not the way we’re doing it, with no manmade illusion of safety between us and nature.
There’s a scrim of haze in the air, according to park people its pollution from Las Vegas and a Navajo coal-burning electric plant nearby. It adds dimension, a sense of substance and weight to the air. Rays of captured light play like torches through the shadows of approaching dusk. Because of the overwhelm, I focus on little things—the shape of a nearby pebble, a clump of tiny yellow daisies, a tiny twisted cypress made bonsai by extreme conditions, clinging to the edge of the abyss.
A glimpse of heaven called Zion 5/18/2013
I’ve always been a spiritually-sensitive person. I saw an angel at eleven, chanted the Hare Krishna and ate off banana leaves at twelve, practiced meditation and yoga at fifteen at the Yogananda temple and became a Christian on a campout with Young Life at seventeen (that one stuck.) But I wasn’t prepared this morning, when I set out from the Zion Lodge at 6 am with an overhot cafeteria coffee in my hand for anything more than what looked like a touristy stroll along the Virgin River in front of the hotel to the hyperbolically- named Emerald Pools.
I was alone. Utterly, cougar-huntable, bear-bait, rattlesnake-prone alone in an unknown wilderness for the first time on the trip. Mike had left at his typical 3:30 a.m. to shoot stars and sunrise, and I’d just tried to call my bird-knowledgeable writer friend Holly and been unable to connect due to phone reception problems, so I was very aware of the early-morning isolation even on this well traveled path—and such it was, wide and cement, the air filled with unfamiliar birdsong (hence my call to Holly.) Blooming flowers lined the path: Indian paintbrush, cactus blossom, columbine and these gorgeous little pitcher-throated white blooms that reminded me of wild hollyhocks all caused distraction. Then, I got to the cascade of waterfall the trail actually went beneath, and was utterly enchanted.
By then I realized the hike was going to be both longer and more strenuous than I’d initially imagined, but it was so gorgeous, sunrise beginning to pierce the colorful peaks of sandstone around me with lances of gold—that whatever was at the top, I wanted to get there. To test my resolve, the trail went relatively straight up with boulder and stone stairs, and right after the second “emerald pool” (more of a still green puddle, but lovely nonetheless) my spirit guide met me.
He was a little silvery-bronze squirrel, and he greeted me with a chirp on a boulder in the trail. I was charmed, and took a picture of him. He hopped down, and ran up the trail before me, then hopped on a rock to look back and see if I followed. (Yes, it was still very steep, and I was puffing a bit by then.)
I hurried after him, and something began to happen with the light. The trail was heading toward a vast golden wall of stone on the left, with a red mountain on the right, and the sunrise hit the peak of the golden wall and filled the air with an unearthly, almost powdered glow. I stopped, trying to absorb what I was seeing, trying to take a picture of it, but it was impossible to capture and I realized (belatedly) something amazing was going to happen.
The squirrel chirped, and led me further, hopping and stopping, flicking his tail to get my attention. He led me all the way to upper Emerald Pool, a translucent reflecting mirror beneath the looming blaze of golden sandstone lit with new day.
I felt the utter holiness of the place as the squirrel led me to a boulder by the pool, and my worshipful impulse was a completely new one. I don’t speak Hawaiian, but I’ve been around it all my life, and from some deeper knowledge I didn’t know I carried came a Hawaiian chant, complete with inflections and vibrato—something I would never presume to do in my whiteness in Hawaii, but here, the response the Spirit had called up.
I called that chant, my voice echoing in the space of the cathedral-like pool and massive walls, sounding to my own ears like someone else’s voice, like something out of time and beyond my own understanding, race, religion or culture. I walked, chanting, to a cottonwood tree by the pool, picked one leaf, climbed onto a rock and dropped it in. Over the water I sang the chant again, the exact same words, and the glow of dawn air filled the place with pinkish-gold and seemed to crackle with some contained lightning, so my hair stood up with static for a long moment of utter awe.
Afterward, I couldn’t help but sit and cry in the shadow of the massive red rock, and take a few pictures with trembling hands—pictures I knew wouldn’t show anything of what I’d just experienced or give any clue to what it meant. I really have no idea of either.
Just as suddenly, it was time to leave, and I knew I was dismissed. The squirrel reappeared, and hopped along ahead of me for just a few hundred yards away from the pool, and then allowed me to come within a few feet of him, where he chirped and we eyed each other. I was still crying, and he seemed to be amused by this, and with what looked like a wink, disappeared into the brush with a flip of his tail.
On the way back, I thought of Moses, and when he’d gone up to the mountain to meet with God and his face had to be covered from the reflected glory of that encounter. I felt like that, like a few bits of glory are still clinging around my shoulders, invisible to all but me.