The Grand Canyon

I ducked below the rail and climbed out carefully, onto a narrow rock column suspended over the unfathomable expanse by a force unwilling to let it fall while all around it slipped away. The neighboring rocks had eroded ages ago, weakened by storms and rainfall until they’d caved, and plunged into the river that used to be here—the old faithful river, tasked with wearing this canyon deep into the earth, until even the river was worn away.

And this was left when the river was gone—a gorge in the earth so deep that the mind faltered to comprehend what was before it. I was exposed out on the column, with drop-offs on either side, as I peered over the toes of my boots into the canyon. The wind rushed past, knocking me off-balance. I crouched down and clung to the rock, as my heart raced. The gust began to relent, but I stayed low until all was still.

I loosed my hold cautiously, and sat on the edge, taking off my pack and tucking the straps securely beneath me. Far below my left foot was a thick grove of evergreens; their branches were smooth and fine from this distance, like green feathers on a giant wing. Before them, on the far side of the canyon, were solemn rock sphinxes, stretching out in purple rows that faded into the horizon before their end could be found. 

I heard nothing from my perch and felt nothing but the wind and the sun and the warm flat rock beneath me. The sounds of humans had been absorbed by another sound that took a while for me to place. It was the sound only found in ancient places where wonder had touched the world: the summits of great mountains, the floor of the Redwood forest, the desert wilderness in Peru—all worlds within worlds, unspoiled, and permeated by this presence.

It filled me with a sense of profound peace to meditate on the record of the canyon walls. It felt like tangible proof that the world events that troubled me today were not the first of their kind and that they too would pass as everything did, and be numbered within the stripes on the walls. 

I was a child when I was last here, without cares, knowing nothing of the world, or death, with no concept of the past or any notion that the future would be anything other than what I imagined. I was surrounded by family and siblings then, with parents herding us away from the drop-off, unhooking eager legs and elbows from the rail as my brothers and I tried to get as close as we could to the edge. I remembered an insatiable urge to climb out and be a part of the impossibility before me, away from the safety of the rail, and into the wildness of the canyon. I’d wondered what it all meant then, and if this was the biggest thing I’d ever see in my life. My parents had raised us to believe the earth was young—10,000 years old, they thought, but it didn’t explain what was before me, and this time they didn’t try either.

It was a place where everything you believed, and nothing you believed, made sense.

Bon Iver was playing in my headphones. It was his new album—22, a Million—one that I didn't understand but loved more than anything I'd heard before it. I listened silently and looked out, filling my lungs with breath while tears collected in my throat, as feelings of life and awareness flooded me. I didn't move until the last song finished, and was replaced by the melody of the wind. 

Sitting there, I felt as if my life mattered deeply, and also that it didn’t in a way, and also that it didn’t matter if it didn’t matter because there was this. And after I was gone, time would continue, and good and evil leaders would come and go, and people would fall in and out of love, and children would grow as tall as their parents, and parents would grow as old as their parents, and death and life would intertwine and bring us questions we couldn’t answer about whether any of it meant anything at all—

But the canyon would remain, the faithful witness of our existence, recording the next striped strata as another thousand years passed and this age slipped into next. The canyon was only Time, and in contemplating its surface, I was looking into the face of Time—every stripe and gouge and painted surface, every tree that fought stubbornly to survive and still held its own against the wind that twisted and sculpted its bark and branches. 

It was all here. 

It is Time, after all, who grants us distance from our actions, until they fade, and we can forget enough about who we've been to begin again—and again—with the hope and honest belief that the society we are rebuilding will be better because it was them—not us—who were capable of those terrible things in our history books...

Another society, another stripe—

until even the canyon is gone.