Yesterday afternoon we stood on the rim of a canyon and tried to decide. Should we use our time to visit more national monuments? Or hike down? A challenging trail, the marker said, for those who are fit. So there we stood, senior citizens on a retirement-celebration trip, trying to decide if we were fit.
Sometimes that afternoon I thought we had lost our decision-making ability. We squeezed through narrow passages between boulders, climbed a rock using foot and finger holds, held to a scrubby tree as we scooted across a narrow cliff that dropped sharply to the desert valley far below, ducked through a rock tunnel, and then three hours later, climbed back up, up, up narrow, steep steps carved into rock.
Through that afternoon, we were mostly passed. Young people in jaunty ponytails and athletic shorts and running shoes looked at us with a mixture of doubt and respect.
“Good for you,” some said.
And when they found us reading books on a flat rock, they said, “Good luck!”
We could recognize in those passing us, our younger selves, seeing the path as a place to be nimble and agile and quick.
But we kept to our unhurried pace, and the spirit of the canyon lay hold of us—brave trees clinging to rock walls with their roots, mule’s ear daring to bloom bright yellow in the drought, colossal boulders that had broken loose from the cliff above and thundered to a new resting place, yucca plants that had given gifts to the desert people: roots for soap, leaf fibers for rope, and sap for medicine. We saw close ups of three-story cliff dwellings and ancient petroglyphs carved into rock. And we stood, trying to imagine, wishing we could see, even for thirty-seconds, a moving picture of life in that place at that time.
At the hike’s end, we found the first bench on the canyon rim. And after deep breaths and long draughts of water, we just sat there and grinned.
It would have been good to read about the canyon, to watch a documentary, to stand on its rim and see the park service diagrams that explained it. But there’s something about going down deep, nearer to the beauty and the grit of things.