Austria, there is still so much to share, but I feel compelled to write about the Grand Canyon on this night, my first night away from it for the past 7 nights.
Those two words roll off my tongue so easily as if they could convey the grandeur of what we’ve experienced to the listener, but I know that they can’t and don’t.
Seven days in the canyon dwarf my other memories. The Canyon… red, and green. Fire hot and ice cold. Green water, and then the Grand River Red rushing up behind to pass us. Stars, and flashing lightning in the dusk and night. Little bats flying overhead and little red ants running underfoot. Wild rapids. Walls of water. Giant holes in the river. Ringtail cats, wild horses, beavers, bighorn sheep, mule deer, a hummingbird, velvet ants, redtail hawks, vultures, a snake, lizards…. sand and wind and rain and blazing sun. Waterfalls and cliffs and cactus. Sandstone, old stone, lava, and steep gorges. There really aren’t words that could place you in the canyon. It is simply something you have to experience, and then spend the rest of your life dreaming about. I have the sand under my nails and the river water in my hair. I have the lightning flashing in my periphery and the steep walls careening up either side. I think of my sister driving the boat, riding the waves, running the canyon. The inevitable difficulties and frustrations. The inevitable repetitiveness of the stories and landmarks, everything she talks about as a guide with the passengers, every single trip all summer long. I think of the hugeness of what we just experienced, and then think and they just head back in next week to do it all again, wondering how crazy and exhausting that must be. But now, back on land, inside these walls, sitting on this bed, air conditioning and the sound of the dryer spinning, restaurant settling in my belly and packing of the bags for the plane tomorrow… I get it. I really get it. The river, the sand, the walls, the colour, the roar of the rapid, the whip of the wind, the scurry of the red ants and the little reflective eyes of ringtail cats watching you, all of it, it gets under your skin. It feels immense and exhausting, and then the moment you’re back ‘on land’, it’s all you want. I fear the canyon will haunt my memories and follow me everywhere I go the rest of my life, constantly whispering in my mind, urging me back to the rushing water.
We flew out of the canyon by helicopter and my mind took me to Fiordland. The many times I’ve had the extreme privilege of flying in and out of that majestic and immense world under different levels of green, snow cover, rainfall, seasons… it will always be my first love, Fiordland. Nothing can or will ever get to me like flying through those mountains does, and if I can be honest, that short flight out of the canyon to Bar Ten Ranch has nothing on Fiordland. But what is it about the river and that old rock? There is such an immensity of time held in the canyon that you truly feel yourself walking through time, experiencing the formation of the world, hearing the wrenching roaring reworking of the rock and landscape as it bends and intrudes and warps into a landscape for the river to carve out. And that river… Something about it beckons me back in a way that Fiordland never quite itches like. Perhaps it is just the constant movement, the rush and white water of the rapids. There’s a persistent feeling of action and like I’m missing something with the water rushing on without me. I hear it echo in the cavity of my mind and beckon me onwards, onwards, onwards, to the next bend, to the next waterfall, to the next tributary, to the next step of life. It’s what Johnny Cash sings about in his Folsom Prison blues with the train that keeps a-moving, on down that San Anton… the river keeps a rolling, and that’s what tortures me.
I wonder how the barrel cactuses feel standing sentinel above the river, watching time race by, unable to ride it. I wonder what they whisper to each other as the boats pass below. I wonder if they laugh at the screams and yells from the rapids, or if they simple smile and nod, wishing us on our way. Perhaps, given the time, I might have been able to know.