I dream about these vacant places. I lull myself to sleep with imaginings of desert solitude when I’m cooped up back in my Chicago rowhouse. Desolation, dark winds are my fantasies, always alone. I drive over a thousand miles to be alone. I pack gear and read survival books and study maps, so I can rely on no one but me. I train in gyms for rugged, uphill hikes and jog in oven-like conditions to adjust myself to the desert. I even do some high-altitude training once I’m out here so I can acclimate to the lower oxygen content that comes with a mile-high world.
I make this effort to escape the islands of too many people back East. In Chicago, the streets are choked with extraterrestrial armies brandishing Birkenstocks in bags from Bloomingdales. The cultural life of the beings from another world centers around something called a mall. The one called Angelina, and her attachment, Brad, are everywhere plastered and become as Hermes and Aphrodite were joined by the gods, so, too, was Brangelina. The gods must favor them.
Children overrun the coffee shops and cough up half digested cuds of cookie mash into my eye. The children should be confined to their own continent until they’re 23 at least. In fact, everyone should be confined to their own continent, and I should have mine. I’ll take North America. Everyone else can move to Manhattan, which is really the eighth continent, I say.
Yet once I’m here, in Grand Canyon, I crave the presence of others. I look with longing on young lovers at the overlooks, who whisper words in foreign tongues, words easy to discern. There are mothers and children, and whole extended clans. Everyone here seems to belong to someone. I finally have what I’ve craved: solitude, and I long for its opposite, attachment. It’s hard getting what you’ve always wanted.
I’m in my hotel room tonight before the big hike down South Kaibab Trail tomorrow. I’m doing what I do in Chicago: watching television, the same shows I watch in Chicago. I’ve seen this episode of Becker about nine times: it’s the one where it’s Christmas Eve and he tells everyone to go have fun without him, but ends up at a morgue drinking beer with a stiff. At least he’s got somebody to drink with.
I wind up in one of the two grogshops in Grand Canyon Village. Going to one is like visiting purgatory. You realize it’s purgatory because when you go to the other one, you know you’ve found hell. Grand Canyon boasts great restaurants, wonderful accommodations, fine bookstores and shops, rarified works of art, grade-A Mary Colter architecture, rich history, and passable scenery. But Club 21 it ain’t. I end up in purgatory. It’s so bad, I decide to take a chance on hell.
I survey the windowless dungeon, which could be used for a Hamm’s beer commercial from the 70’s. In fact, an old Hamm’s wall clock backlit with a hologram of rippling sky blue waters and a can of beer blinks on and off along the faux rock walls. I’m hunting for a vulnerable woman to pick up and salve my loneliness with. Any woman in this place is vulnerable by virtue of the fact she’s here. Hell, I’m vulnerable. But the only woman at the bar has fists bigger than mine. It’s the only seat in the house, so I wedge in next to her. A man tries Rocky Raccoon and then Margaritaville on his guitar and on his voice. He means well. I strike up a conversation with the woman. I tell her I have this fantasy that everyone should have their own continent, then ask her if she wants to dance. She gets up and makes conversation with the guy on the guitar, who takes out his glass eye and replaces it with an eye patch. I gulp my club soda, and declare defeat. It’s hard to fail in hell. There’s nowhere left to go.
On my way back to Yavapai Lodge for more Becker reruns, I purchase several high-impact energy (candy) bars. Then I take a wrong turn in the darkness and end up at Yavapai Lookout. In the empty parking lot, the Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” blasts from a lone RV. I alight to the overlook. A limestone moon welcomes in first quarter in the immaculate midnight. Small trees on the rim cast giant shadows on the ancient stone faces hiding in the velvet darkness. The Canyon is wreathed in convoluted shadow. The feeder canyons to Granite Gorge are mired in fog below. The mists act like a dreamcatcher for all the hopes and all the fears of the world tonight, floating up from the deep embayments beneath the ceiling of steely clouds. A sole lantern from Indian Gardens far below pierces through the nebula. I ponder down into this second sky.
Fast, high heeled steps chatter from behind me onto the observation platform. I whirl around. They belong to a slender young woman, who hovers at the guardrail a few seconds. I’m hopeful. Before I can even imagine my first line, she whooshes away. She didn’t get what she came for.
I grab a seat cushion from the car and perch on the thick ledge of a stone wall. The moon smoothes away the fog. Macroshadow alternates with geoform. The wind moans out a thousand ghosts. With the banishing of the mist, three tiny star lights below signify Indian Gardens. Another light, almost three miles north across the River means Phantom Ranch.
I meander to the eastern overlook and check out a whole new view. I could swear I see a dot of light farther in along Clear Creek Trail. Must be a night hiker. But with the coming wind, darkness gulps the far off light point, leaving me with the ghostly, indiscernible shadowform, and its paramour, the night wind.
© 2014 by Michael C. Just