The off-white of bone hangs from gray limbs, undulating like torn spider silk on bitter winds. Riled by the wind, clumps of spongy snow burden the evergreens. I hike the South Rim Trail from Maricopa Point to Mohave Point. I encounter no one. The usual quiet is sewn in and doubled by the insulating snow. Only three croaks from an unseen raven and the roar of the shuttle buses on Hermits Road pierce through.
To the south, a sun break coalesces. A blue sky-eye leads the light shaft down to red buttes, iced in white. Thunder knocks from towering storm makers, but the snow blanket shushes even thunder, rendering it fuzzy and half-hearted. The clouds parade down the canyon slipstream like ships in a river regatta. Merciless wind drives sharpened snowflakes up cliff faces. The whole place is a steamy caldera. Mid-canyon mounts rise from the mist like belfries. The Rim Trail is buried in white bliss, so all I have to guide me are the footprints of hikers who’ve laid trail earlier in the day.
At times, I’m right against the drop off. I peer down a half-mile or more. A stubby juniper dangles like rebar from the cliff face. Smoky snow clouds part around rock shapes and rejoin again, roofing out my view of the drainage at the bottom, making it seem so much farther down.
On my return from Mohave Point, the wind had raked the snow over any trace of even my own footprints.
At Maricopa Point, I stare down at a mesa rising above the Colorado, a giant tortoise with a red suede back, dotted with century plants and cat-claw. At the mesa’s base, the river slices into the schist like steel through clay.
The remains of a dead gambel oak against the rust sunset offer up prayers with empty limbs like skeleton hands, the heels of palms together, fingers outstretched. A priestess raven perches there, rapt over the abyss, her black cloak gilded silver by a roasted sky. Jupiter rises in the southwest. December wind blasts my cheek. The aloneness deepens, the orange sky flickers before dying. Moon shadows unfold from the Inner Gorge. To the southeast toward Flagstaff, volcanoes cling to hibernation, in deep blue, merging with and then drowning in the nether-light. But to the west, Mount Trumbull still draws a line, sharp and rebellious, against the last of dusk.
No one remains, but I. If I shout, and no one else hears, do I make a sound? The answer, unborn, is swept downwind along with the turbid sky.
This place stands alone, consummated by itself, having in ages past mastered the task of its own company. How swallowed in aloneness each thing must feel before it brushes against the companionship of its innermost self.
©2014 by Michael C. Just