I believe that curiosity, wonder, and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers; that restlessness and discontent are vital things; and that intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways less intense emotions can never do. ~Kay Redfield Jamison
I had to visit the canyon again, not for any reason I could name, but because something in me felt I needed to. I didn’t need to do anything there, I just needed to be there. Something in me wanted to know what flowers were in bloom, how deep the water was, whether the spring passerines have arrived, and how weather and light and rock might conspire. I needed to be a part of it, to witness it, to not just see it with my eyes but to feel it with my nose and my skin and my ears; to forgo reason and rationale and to just yield to the siren call of solitary wildness.
So I went. And the dog came with me.
I was not in the best of moods; I have been sick for some time, uninspired and unproductive. I did not go intending to photograph or to write or to do anything in particular; I did not expect to be healed or redeemed or even cheered; I just needed to stop resisting the draw that rocks and water and cottonwood trees hold over me. And I was grateful to be able to do just that. In other times it was not as easy. I recall sitting in offices and meeting rooms, my mind attempting to focus on some inane task, struggling and failing to ignore the rattle of such urgent questions as whether the indigo bushes were already in bloom, and such pressing existential needs as gazing into the night sky from a quiet desert camp where no evidence of other human presence is perceptible.
As I drove, my thoughts still struggled for purchase at the edge of an abyss of sickness and morass. And then a light rain came, and with it petrichor and memories and glistening drops on desert flowers. Reunited at camp with an old cottonwood that kept vigil over me on countless nights, I stroked its deeply grooved bark. I arranged my temporary home so I did not have to do it later and then walked into a nearby canyon for the day. The effort of making progress where there was no trail kept my mind occupied for a while until I stopped for a break at a large alcove. Realizing I noticed little on the way in other than the branches and chockstones that obstructed my path, I wondered what voices called me here. I shed a tear, kissed the dog, and kept walking.
I scrambled up a steep sandstone slope to arrive at the top of a cliff on the other side, ordered the dog to stay and put my toes to the edge. Far below, a desert river cut a massive canyon en route to the Colorado: a narrow band of green snaking among immense layers of colorful earth and sheer rock. It is a country that demands attention. It either scares you or fascinates you, and sometimes both at the same time. With familiarity established slowly in the course of years, I made friends with this place. Its sheer immensity is now comforting to me, not in the sense of being protective but in asserting without ambiguity that time forgives and erases all inadequacies.
I found foothold below the rim, wrapped my fingers around a solid hold and leaned over the edge. An errant thought, a loosening of just one muscle, and I can embark on the swan dive of all swan dives, hundreds of feet, past hundreds of millions of years of spectacular geology, to rest forever with this beautiful river and what it will yet become as the eons unfold. Not today; not for a long time. But with the fragility and transience of my existence made so vividly clear, a great burden was lifted. I get to live, to feel, to perceive, to contemplate and to understand, to be happy and scared, to love and to experience. I am no longer a sick and mournful animal beset by discomfort and ennui; I am, for the moment, immortal, and without a care for what the next moment might bring. Right now, my spirit hovers above a grand spectacle, all my senses satiated and aroused and inspired, and I am intensely alive without need for further context or aspiration, my being filled to capacity with exhilarating sensations. The sirens were right. I needed this.
It is a worthwhile thing for a person to ponder, I think. Knowing that such things are to be had, would you put your livelihood on the line to experience something as this? What about your life? Can you ever truly call yourself free until you can answer such questions in the affirmative? If only to yourself. If only in your darkest and loneliest moments.
I pulled myself back. I was not healed or changed, but I was again me.
Back at camp I lit a small fire and watched as the warm light faded from the red walls and a gentle night took its place. Time to cook dinner and attend to the last of the bourbon. Not far from me, artists of the past left their marks in the rock—people like me whose names and thoughts, loves and fears, are long beyond recall. And in my mind, more art and wisdom is stored from those whose lives and work I found inspiring along my journey. My learned friend Nietzsche was sick, too, and lonelier than I will ever be, having made friends with solitude in my formative years. Young Everett, wise beyond his years, is not all lost to me as he may be to some. Sit closer to the fire, Mr. Seneca, you may be cold in these robes. Toss that powdered wig into the blaze, Herr Mozart, we have much to talk about and I am not big on etiquette and ceremony, and frankly you look a bit ridiculous.
Another swig and then another, alternating my gaze between the starry heavens and the dancing flames, talking to the dog and to the tree, and to the spirits; listening to the crackle of burning wood and to classical music, and to a few old and new favorites. There may have also been some air guitar and air sax at some points, perhaps even a little dancing. And then I ran out of liquor and went to bed.
What was your Friday like?