Here’s the piece that led to “Museum of Americana” (below). Enjoy.
Hopi Point (10/19/2011)
My eight-year old son and I drove into the Grand Canyon from the east, as so many before and beyond us, making haste through the Painted Desert so we could enter the park before sunset. We had a week-long stay planned, but we were filled with anticipation shaped by a year’s worth of facts, legends, and word of mouth. Majestic views, ever-changing colors, and spiritual awakenings promised to enthrall us at every turn. Precarious cliffs would taunt my fear of heights and steep hikes would challenge my physical fitness. And, every day my son and I would share an adventure that neither one of us would forget, because we were doing it all together. This is the essence of what I expected.
Our first opportunity to view the Canyon first hand came when we pulled into Lipon Point. As we got out of the car, Jude, my son and adventure buddy, ambled to the edge of the fence effortlessly. I stayed back, inching forward slowly to acclimate myself to the one mile drop off and endless sky, a process I’d repeat many times during the week. At first I wasn’t even sure where to focus. My eyes are very sensitive, and if I venture outside on a windy day, I tear up instantly. It’s as if the wind is looking for the places the matter, the spaces that cut a little deeper around my eyes with each passing year. And, when the tears flow and I wipe them clean, I see what’s ahead of me with more clarity. That’s what happened at Lipon Point. But it was okay, because I always had a different view ahead of me, equally resplendent, dazzling and ever-changing because of the way the shadows move and dance across the rocks as they play with the sharp but fading sunlight.
If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.
Much is made of the spirits of the ages at the Canyon, etched into the soil and the rock, felt in the water and the wind, seen in the sun and the scenery. That cannot be underestimated. Jude and I challenged our sense of person and place every minute we were there. But, despite the drama of that first breathtaking view, I’d still be hard pressed to call it our defining moment. No, our most magical and memorable experiences came, as they usually do, when we least expected them, in the here and now, falling upon the simple things, the undiscovered. An unmarked trail led us through a forest to Shoshone Point, where we shared a picnic and admired the view in complete solitude, just us and the ravens. Jude got sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Tusayan Ruins within spitting distance of the park’s oldest artifacts, twig animals that date back 4000 years. We learned about ancient Navajo constellations and star gazed from rocking chairs outside Kolb Studios, a stones throw from where we discovered the work of a modern Navajo painter by the name of Shonto Begay. Before a hike, we met a man on the bus to Hermit’s Rest who was doing research for a film on the life of Mary Coulter, Canyon architect, and after the same hike, we saw a raven entertain a crowd of tourists. And yes, I braved my fear of heights on the Bright Angel Trail.
Each day we went to a different spot for sunset and each minute brought a different view, the best one coming towards the end of our visit, at Hopi Point, on a mild yet vivid October evening. We walked through the sagebrush to a little clearing, past one couple having a picnic and another couple taking a picture, the former leisurely, the latter hurriedly. We found our perfect spot and sat down on the ground, far enough away from the edge for my comfort, but close enough to be present. Jude was in a great mood and he talked constantly about the day’s adventures and I listened and nodded until the conversation wound down to silence as the sweeping vistas took over. There are no words. There is no time. An hour later or so, we decided we were hungry enough to head back to the village to eat dinner.
As we left our spot, I spotted an elderly man bundled into a wheelchair, parked on the Rim Trail, facing the Canyon. He was at that age where you sensed he was growing smaller, his back slightly bent, his hands folded quietly in his lap. Nodding his head slowly, I saw a crescent smile cross his face. Across the Canyon, the geologists have given the most prominent points spiritual names such as the Brahma Temple, the Vishnu Temple, the Buddha Temple. It’s fitting. There is no coming, no going; nothing created or destroyed. We just change.
My son held my hand and I saw myself as that man, someday, remembering this particular moment and thinking of my son wherever he might be, hoping he was living the life he always wanted to live. Or that he was living with the good grace to know that whatever life he had was a gift and with that would come happiness. I thought of my parents and their parents and my son and his children, and I hoped he would visit this spot again someday and send me a postcard that simply said, “Dad, remember when?” I saw myself smiling and holding the postcard in my hand. The man in the wheelchair kept nodding. My son and I kept walking. My eyes are very sensitive, and if I venture outside on a windy day, particularly at the Grand Canyon, I tear up instantly.