I stood along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and said nothing. If ever I finally understood a moment where words failed me, this was it. The landscape defies description and I surely felt as if I must be the first person to ever see it, such is its power and magnificence. Standing near me other travelers looked out on an incomprehensible vista. They chattered excitedly. “Beautiful. Unbelievable. Soulful.” And so it was, and certainly had been described thousands of instances previously. Yet I felt a stirring beyond that which I could not identify.
Almost as a story from a mythical era that must be told several times before its meaning is clear, I couldn’t help but stare at the enormous chasm, dazzling with colors, its face completely fractured. I decided, or maybe it was decided for me, that I would hike down into the gorge itself, to become part of it all and not simply remain an observer. I have come to accept as truth from my travels, that immersing oneself in whatever is at hand is the only way to understand and glean what answers are available to the lesson being offered. Be it a hike in a desert to smell a rare bloom, or facing one of life’s desperate challenges and walking through it so as to arrive peacefully and better in the end. It has become my experience that to find the balance we all seek, one must behave appropriately to whatever moment we stand before. All too often, this is more easily said than done, yet it shall always remain true.
I was compelled to follow the Kaibab Trail down a fracture in the bedrock. The canyon is almost three hundred miles long, one mile deep, and approaching twenty miles wide. Far below, a gentle turquoise ribbon, which from my vantage point seemed a fathom wide, meandered at its greatest depth. But as is said, looks are deceiving. That ribbon is a knife and it has been cutting the rock face for two hundred billion years. I stopped several times as I went down and touched varying layers of rock, each older than the next, all, older than I could conceive, and became completely overwhelmed by the thought that this mighty force of water had barely scratched the surface! What is time? I found I could not begin to wrap my head around the concept of it.
The Colorado River is just the largest of elements and certainly the easiest to blame. As I kicked up the dust of centuries having no number, I thought of the subtle yet equally invincible components shaping this place. The tiniest snowflakes, the smallest drops of rain, the changes in temperature, the wind driven particles, each constantly exposing layer upon layer, eon after eon and on into a future that seems without end, yet surely must exist for that is the way of all things and the immeasurable mastery that is Time itself.
I stopped on a cliff jutting out over the greatest fissure imaginable upon the face of Mother Earth, a cut that revealed the compendium of wisdom amassed throughout her lifetime and realized in a way never before imagined, just how brief—just how fragile all things are.
I laid my hands on prehistoric ages, and ages with no name even before that. My eyes gazed not simply at colors of rock, but periods in time that our Great Mother has lived through. The cataclysms, the floods, the inconceivable periods of growth—all the things that have occurred, and made her what she is. And there I stood, amongst the unfathomable wisdom of all that ever was, and upon that which is yet to occur, within a wrinkle of her most wondrous face. Ever so slowly and yet barely understanding the smallest fraction of it, her silent voice called and some deep, unknowable place within me listened. I allowed myself to liken it to one great soul whispering to a smaller one seated before it.
Within each of us is such a place, this I believe. It matters not to me if one has a complete faith or whatever path they themselves choose. After experiencing the Grand Canyon and being humbled to such a degree that all I could comprehend is my own arrogance and ignorance, I think we each must accept we are all being acted upon and revealed by forces both great and small under any name. Combined they reveal our own layers, the days and years of our lives made bare and left exposed. The memorable triumphs. The infinite depths of despair. All seen in hindsight, leaving only what lies beneath, yet to be made known. As the great Canyon is cleaved and laid bare even as I stand within it, so too am I, any of us, at the very same moment, by rivers and bits of life flowing through us. It is no other way than that and to deny it is both foolish and reeking of fear. I have known both. I began my climb back to the top.
Upon arriving precisely at the spot I had begun, I felt like I was looking at the Great Gorge with different eyes and found the description I could not settle upon when first I saw it. This then was the wisest face of Mother Nature, her deepest wrinkle laid open for any who could understand it and how it was possible for everyone who ever viewed it to think they were the first. It is because that is precisely what it is. And the voice within that spoke so gently to my own? I am now sure it was telling me that the soul of creation in each of us is the grandest of all canyons.
Michael Brigati was born in New York City and later spent many years living on the New Jersey shore. Attending college in Maine, he played ice hockey and soccer and received degrees in psychology and anthropology and studied at the graduate level in counseling psychology at Virginia State University. He is a retired professional firefighter-paramedic and rescue diver for Chesterfield, Virginia and former member of the International Association of Fire Fighters. An avid outdoorsman, he has traveled extensively throughout our nation’s state parks and parts of the Canadian wilds, hiking, paddling and cycling along the way. His writing reflects his love of nature and offers personal insights that profoundly connect us with the spiritual and emotional resonance of America’s wild spaces. You can follow his exploration and discovery at www.michaelbrigati.com and find out about Fire Thieves, his forthcoming thriller due for publication at the end of the year at www.firethieves.com