The very first time I saw the Grand Canyon, it had a helicopter in it, rising above the sides. I was looking from the car as we approached, and the blue and white helicopter was there, hanging in space, space with walls of rock behind it, white and ochre stone.
The light green creek water flowed under the branches that were the crossing. Four steps: one close, another to the middle of the first branch, then a third onto the second branch, and a fourth onto a stone at the other side. I refrained, for fear of drowning my camera.
The path was red dust. Softer and finer than I expected, so that going up involved sinking deep into it, and required a run in order to make any progress. At the top, nothing but an enclosed small grassy patch, the end of the trail, and shoes full of sand.
Zooming down, wings tucked close, then spread out for the turn, up and around and close to the top of the falling water, then to the side for an updraft, flapping a few times to gain enough altitude to allow another dive, this one close to the curtain of water.
All the time, whenever there’s light and you’re outside, the canyon walls rise around you. Red and reassuring, beneath the sky, as if to say that whatever beauty may exist above, there is a solid beauty within touching distance. Perhaps even simpler, as to me they said, “there is beauty”.
To my right, the water fell straight. I lay flat on the rock, trying to line up the perfect shot of the creek’s path at the falls, down to the roar of white at the bottom. The canyon extended in front of me, walls helping define the drop before me.
Lack of water did not prevent the rock from being perfectly shaped like a prow, pointing the way down the canyon, steady beneath my feet as we plotted our course, together. I had to leave it to go on, aground, but waiting for the next traveller in need of direction.
The horses and mules do the heavy work, carrying packs and supplies in and out of the canyon. I never saw fewer than four per pack. Some looked spry, others worn. I saw one, in play or petulance, trying to push his pack brother off the trail onto rougher ground.
On a ridge over a waterfall, a line of black, burnt trees. The ground is yellow beneath them, or grey, sickly and unlike anything else nearby, creating the sense that the ridge wasn’t really part of the canyon, and would not be so again until it healed from the fire.
As I was about to cross, it settled on one of the planks. An inch long and apparently all black, it had taken its name to heart. And, indeed, I paused. But as I was about to move forward again, the dragonfly departed, having made its challenge and its point.
As it flitted by, I thought it was a bird. Too dark for a bird? And small, perhaps it was a hummingbird passing too quickly to be properly seen. No, as I saw when it settled on a rock nearby: a butterfly, black or a deep deep blue or both.
Looking upstream, past a fallen tree and around branches and between rocks and shrubs, there were four. Each a glory in its own right, but from here four of them. Four waterfalls, all visible from that one spot, and while none was at its best, together they more than sufficed.
Chains. Slippery handholds. Two ladders. Tunnels, of a sort—certainly it’s dark in them and there’s stone all around you. Viewed from a distance, ochre shapes like icicles. Up close, a safer climb than it sounds, but it’s so makeshift and haphazard a way to traverse so paradisical a waterfall.
Apparently it’s the presence of limestone that adds the color. The unearthly green color seen in the creek especially near the waterfalls, and where it shades from being shallow enough to seem clear above the white bed to being deep enough to seem more like an expected color of water.
After miles of canyon, and stone, and dust—trees. Trees and plants, not struggling to be seen, nor attempting to blend with the rest. Instead they announced themselves to the world, proud flagbearers of green, claiming their place alongside the red of the rock and the blue of the sky.
Guaranteed shade in this place, always, although sunlight was in easy reach. Slightly raspy rock as I ran my hand along it, but not the softness of sandstone that might soon crumble. Impossible to guess how much stone there was above. I hoped it wasn’t borne by the overhang alone.
It wasn’t much of a climb, perhaps ten feet, but it was soft sandstone. There was one more waterfall to see, and it was near. My climb was a false trail, and for emphasis holds collapsed to debris twice as I went up and down. Somewhat expectedly, so no damage.
Along the dry riverbed, each step sounded alike underfoot. At first. No two stones were the same, and each crunch involved different sets of them, different numbers of them, different types of them. Could such a sound be simulated, accurately, without mapping every rock in the canyon, and much more?
Two paths diverged, not for long, and merged again. Always within sight of each other, never much apart. I took the left, because it was less sandy ground. There was nothing nearby except for stone and rock. Yet as the paths merged, I checked for traffic over my right shoulder.
I did not feel many flashes of insight while there. No stories came to me unbidden. No chapters descended whole from the heavens. Nevertheless, the environment drove home to me the importance of expression and creativity. Creation simply seems necessary, mandatory, in the face of such beauty, such uncaring grandeur.