From the edge of the Grand Canyon I can look into the carved out history of geological time – layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale. I scan the cream colored Kaibab where I stand, down the precipitous Redwall, past Supai tans and purplish Temple Buttes. If I scoot a little closer to the edge, I can catch a view of the bottom, 6000 feet below, and where the Colorado River appears like a silver thread upon the dark blue bottom. The Vishnu Schist, the most ancient layer of the canyon, began to take form over two billion years ago in the thick and muddy waters of a shallow sea.
My lover and I had just driven fifteen miles of forest service road to arrive at this point. We wanted to escape the crowds of tourists that descended upon the national park and we were filled with a sense of quietude, sprinkled with sparks of anticipation, when we finally eased off the smooth and predictable pavement and into unfamiliar territory. We drove through a succulent forest of Aspen and pine, blinded on both sides, and for what felt like a disproportionate amount of time compared to our map calculations. But, eventually, and without warning, the veil parted and the canyon appeared – the end of the world, so it seemed – filled with the soft and iridescent light of late afternoon sun. We got out of the truck, opened a couple of Dos Equis, and toasted to our good fortune.
But now, my heart grows heavy with the seriousness of time. The sun is setting and the canyon is growing dark; the shadow slowly easing its way up the steep alluvial walls toward me. Although I can barely make out the river, its evidence is all-encompassing. Millions of years of watery movement, combined with uplift, wind, and rain, has sculpted one of the most forbidding and awe-inspiring places on earth. Here on the edge of the unknown, I cannot help but feel the weight of this. I kick a small stone over the side just to say that I have participated in this act of attrition. To mark my existence on eternity.
I think of my father whose body is also being eroded away by time, expedited by the cancer that grows in his belly. I imagine the shape-shifting of his muscles as body-mass falls from shoulders and arms to gather at the bottom in his feet. I think of the wrinkles on my face, which grow deeper with each hot summer. I think of my love, this dear man who sits next to me now, and how, someday, my loss of him will cut deep groves of grief into my very being.
And I think of a river that once flowed rebelliously and madly, that sang along with the cycles of seasons, but is now caged by a monolithic obstruction a few miles from where I stand.
As I look into the canyon I see nothing but loss and beauty. The two so intricately connected that it seems one cannot exist without the other. Without loss the intensity of beauty begins to wane; it surrenders its vibrancy and urgency. Without loss our lives become crusty and dull, clogged by the debris of too many brazen ideas and narrow beliefs. Without the impending edge of loss, the rush of love would fade into a trickle, no longer able to move the stones that block our hearts. We all need a wild river to push the rubbish away, leaving nothing in its path except our souls exposed like ancient deities sweeping up the desert.