Exiting the Whirlpool


After a day’s hike of eight hours, I walked with tender feet down to Bright Angel Creek to see what all the rushing was about.  I climbed onto a flat boulder three-quarters the length of me, got down on all fours, and soaked my head in the creek.  Twice.  I slipped off my boots and dangled those throbbing feet in cool jets of two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.  Who needs a Jacuzzi?

I watched the sun singe the smoky bronze rock of Bright Angel Fault as a healthy breeze upset the crowns of the cottonwoods.  I tilted my head back.  The sky became a powder blue sea and the tops of the cliffs were dipped unevenly in the sky’s wandering deep, forming a jagged coast.  I pondered the mood of the upside-down trees.  Their branches became mangrove roots drinking the sky-sea.  Flecks of cool water blessed my cheek.  Small flies dared the wet edge of the boulder, painted dark by the creek’s slopping waves.  All around me, the stream rushed on to the Colorado.  Where did all that water come from?  It hadn’t rained in days or snowed in months.  I dipped my feet again and again, keeping my eye on a suspicious but pure ivory cloud as it occupied increasing fractions of the limited arc of the heavens here in the Box, the narrow crevice of Bright Angel Canyon that tumbled out into the innards of the main gorge.

This is where I belonged.  I didn’t want to live in a world where a major league shortstop made 10,000 times the salary of a beginning social worker, or even more times the price of an undiscovered genius such as myself.  I didn’t know how to properly live in the world of Super Wal-Mart, let alone regular Wal-Mart.  It was in this place I could hear my heart beat at night, where I carried my house on my back like a desert tortoise and relished black bean chili simmered over a fire I built.  It was here that my thoughts dripped into a dew of cool clarity.

In the world of people, I often mined myself for my inadequacies because I lived in a world of comparisons there.  I had to be prepared, in case I came up short.

I kept thinking, as I lay here in paradise, I can’t be enjoying this. There has got to be something I’m supposed to be doing, a clock I have to obey.  I need to be somewhere tomorrow, don’t I? 

I realized then that I let the world choose for me.  I let the world pick my rhythms and anoint the masters to whom I’d answer—comfort and approval, addiction and success.  It didn’t matter the god the world chose for me.  They were all fear.  And each fear was the same fear despite the seeming multitude of causes.  Each worry and every insecurity was founded on the idea I wasn’t right with the world, a taste not adequate to its palate, that there was something the matter with me.  Back there in the city, I often felt I had some hole that must be filled up and filled in to cover up the idea that the hole existed in the first place.

How much money can I sock away in my IRA?  How can I bleach my teeth their whitest?  Civilization is so weird.  It tells me – it tries to convince me – that if I check my online brokerage account and there’s more in it today than there was yesterday, then that has something to do with who I am and how I should feel about myself.

Out here after a couple days, whether my teeth are yellow or not doesn’t matter.  The littleness in my being falls off as the whiskers grow.  I don’t need a razor out here.  I don’t need anything I don’t have right with me at this moment.  I don’t need a thing that I don’t carry around inside myself.  The immensity of this place dwarfs me.  Though its scale sometimes frightens me when I look at it from the outside, from the Rim, when I’m inside it, I feel part of its size.

You’d think I’d feel small in comparison to the Inner Gorge.  Yet I see my face carved in the scoured walls.  I see my eyes reflected in the swirling dark eddies.  If there is something that’s infinite, it can’t be out there.  It has to be in here, in me.  It doesn’t matter whether I can define It or even understand It.  All I can do is accept and experience what It is.  When I think I’m outside of the endless, I end up feeling like I have a beginning and an end.  I feel small.  But if I go inside, there’s no such thing as small.

The world of people measures me in inches and feet, and there’s always someone taller.  This gorge measures me in miles, and in something beyond them.   It was the IRA, white-toothed world that was small in comparison to me, not me compared to its measuring sticks.

An ease filled me right then.  My eyes closed.  My hands and arms fell open and one side of my face turned toward the bottomless sky.  The breeze soothed my sun-toasted cheek.  I could live with this feeling forever.  But still, I had a stomach that went empty from time to time. I couldn’t blame that on civilization.  I opened my eyes.

“I’m hungry,” I said to the upside-down ocean of Vulcan blue.

I sat up.  On all fours, I peeked over the edge of the boulder which was my sofa.  A grasshopper seemed to ponder me with igneous eyes like the stone that was its Gibraltar.  I squeezed on my boots.  There were two boulders to hop, then the bank of the creek.     One.  Two!  I was there.  I danced past a freckled rock.  My feet never felt better.

© 2014 by Michael C. Just