The hike through the canyon is peaceful, climbing up past sandstone edifices and cottonwoods. I see markings on the wall from a lost civilization, abused and forgotten. The caves on the canyon walls to my left arch high above the red sand at my feet, ashen ceilings indicating ancient campfires; I imagine the deformed shadows excitedly dancing across the ground. A hint of trail continues upward towards infinite fins of petrified time. I wonder how many creatures were born and then died here. The wind tells me there will be many more. Birds mingle in front of me gossiping about the best places to find hibernating insects that have survived the warm winter.
Only steep sandstone remains as I continue ascending to the highpoint of the canyon. Fear grips me and suddenly the winter climate is void of green and has a depressing pallor. I hear machines rumbling in the distance, cutting down introduced species of trees that have been choking the native population. The intervention of nature long ago has led to the prolonged suffering of native species. It seems ironic that in this place, of all places, history repeats itself. I hear the saws cut through the thicket, replacing death with death to control the erosion of the river below. As I take each step up the sandstone it becomes more puzzling to me that human intervention is seen as an appropriate action for endeavors of conservation. What will become of this wilderness when we are gone? Are we so powerful that we can ebb the forces of nature for our own purposes? Will the earth ever again be as peaceful as it was before the homo-sapiens discovered fire and consequently sought to control it?
I stand at the edge of the canyon rim, high above my starting point. I look out into the distance, reminded of the frailty of this landscape. Roads made long ago navigate the desert like deep scars. They will heal with time. I think about the gray coyote and his friend the jackrabbit. They dance in careful equilibrium, generation after generation supporting each other. What is my generation supporting? What will we leave behind? Standing at the top of the tombstone, I am reminded again about death. I sit and think about the meaning of my life, and those lives around me. Compared to the breathing stones around me, my life is incredibly inconsequential. However, the passion that the desert instills in us short-lived creatures is so brilliant that it is beyond words. One smile can power a dream, one kiss can fuel a lifetime of happiness. I embrace everything around me with a saturated happiness and listen to the wind as I ask a question: do you know that I am here? do you know that I appreciate you? do you know that I am listening?
The desert will survive, it is the toughest of climates; a habitat for the toughest of species. We will not. Death is inevitable. One day my dust will follow a rogue sagebrush as it bounces through the contours of this unique topography. My flesh will become fodder for flowers as yellow as the sun, and as blue as the sky enveloping it. But for now, I have two boots on my feet and a parachute on my back. As I step into oblivion and fall towards the rocks below, I smile, feeling the intensity of my passion for being here. My parachute opens and breathes along with me; for a moment we are suspended midair together. I fly down to the riverbed, tiptoeing on the dry grass and thanking the birds overhead for giving me the courage to try the impossible.
(not me, random photo of Tombstone from online)
The tombstone above me is not a mark of death, but a celebration of it. Many have lived and died in these tall canyons, and their connection with the earth was unmatched. They celebrated the sun, moon, and stars; they celebrated each of the rare creatures that inhabited this delicate landscape. The natives of the desert appreciated the beauty of life more than almost all of us do in this “modern” world. Each moment of this life is spectacular and ineffably beautiful. While it must end eventually, why not celebrate these moments? I’m not trying to seek out death, just beautiful glimpses of an understanding of true passion. When I find them I’ll be sure to share with you :-)