I hike the North Kaibab Trail down from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, following the still active Bright Angel Fault. I slip down a narrow side canyon, flanked on either side by Ponderosa pine, with forested buttes in front of me. Eighty miles southeast broods all 12,000 feet of Humphreys Peak, an old stratovolcano the earth’s hotspots have abandoned. It’s out here that I confront the trackless region and get scared, not of its darkness or inscrutability, but of its vastness and glory. It’s the greatness I fear. My creature comforts protect me from my awareness of this desolate place inside.
The weak pewter and gold walls of the Toroweap Formation loom above, studded with pinion and juniper. Below, the Muav Limestone roars as water bleeds from a fissure and tumbles to a streambed. Locusts sing in the cottonwoods as I gaze down from a high bridge into the spinning narrows of Roaring Springs Canyon at its confluence with Bright Angel Canyon. Droplets of water sparkle and strobe in the sunlight from the hair of a hanging vine of Canyon Grape. Noiseless breezes tickle past my ears, caressing my ankles, dropping into the silence of the Bright Angel, where they are channeled like water, rising into a wind by the time they reach the Inner Gorge. The sun’s disk hangs just below the eastern edge of the rim, in eclipse, kept at bay by sedimentary pinnacles stained with the black scat of the primordial sculptor who chiseled this place.
A pair of darting Western Tanagers, a near phosphorescent yellow, the male with his red head, fly as one bird but split in a capital ‘Y’ formation around my head. I’m about a mile past Roaring Springs, about two miles north of Cottonwood Campground. I peek up at how far I’ve let gravity abscond with me down this inverted mountain. I don’t want to rest and enjoy the beauty too much, because I want to get the unpleasant parts over with. Unpleasant parts of the Grand Canyon? The two are mutually exclusive. Still, I drive myself on.
Hauling himself up the trail from a sunrise hike, a dirty retro-hippy comes toward me. Should I trust him? I wouldn’t in a city. He says ‘hey,’ with an authentic nonchalance, maybe some drawl thrown in there. He stops to take a drink from his camelback just as he passes me. I’m obliged to stop too. I need some relief from all this aloneness.
Wild shafts of green bleed from his brown irises. Turk’s his name. He’s been everywhere, done everything. But he’s always just passing through. At 23, he’d already lived all over the States, worked on Navajoland, clubbed it in LA. He tried to hike up to Alaska, but the Canadians wouldn’t let him through because he didn’t have $500.00. Now, he’s working up at North Rim Lodge, getting ready to move on to Tahoe and then start a drum distribution business out of Eugene, Oregon. The kind you bang.
He remarks on the unseasonably cool June day as he scans the foamy blue sky, wishes me a good one, then drums on. I suspect Turk doesn’t think too much about where he’ll end up laying his head next week, let alone whether his 401(k) will carry him through to age 70. I’m sure he doesn’t have one.
If I had a daughter, would I want her marrying a dude like him? He’s too much in the moment to have a future earning potential. He seems to lack a certain ambition often found in the men of cities. Turk takes risks the rest of us only dream of, unencumbered with the burdens of too much foresight. What I like about my city is the comfort of cable and the rear ends of women I can spy at the health club. I wrap myself in blankets of Barnes and Noble and dip into pumpkin ‘n spice lattes to insulate myself from awareness of a terrifying and infinite stillness I might find deep inside, if I look hard and long enough. The price of that stillness is to stand alone sometimes, and to say goodbye often. Good luck, Turk. Keep drumming.
© 2014 by Michael C. Just