“When your spirit cries out for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land” – August Fruge
Seeing all the photographs, tv and movie images of one of the most photographed places on earth still does not prepare you for the sheer size and raw beauty of the Grand Canyon. Years ago I stayed in Cairo for a short while and went on the compulsory trip to see the pyramids. Expectations were high and I was really disappointed to find them in the middle of such squalor, and so much smaller than my expectations. The Sphynx was the biggest disappointment of all and I have tried since then not to let my imagination take me too far into flights of fancy and to see things as they are, not how I want them them to be. So I think part of me was a little bit apprehensive about seeing the Grand Canyon.
It’s one of those places I used to see on cowboy films and hunger for – all that space and freedom, beauty and cruelty, life and death hanging in the balance – somewhere so far removed from my life and experience. And to the girl from Blyth “least likely to succeed or achieve her full potential” it remained in my subconscious as somewhere beyond me or my capabilities, somewhere I could never go. But yesterday, sitting on a rock in the sun like a lizard, only a foot from the edge of a one-mile drop, taking in the majesty of the vista before me, I had to pinch myself that I was really there and was grateful for all the opportunities, education and support of people that changed the course of my life, bringing me to this single point.
The Grand Canyon has inspired many artists and writers over the years and the Visitor Centre is full of quotations and examples of their work. I think it was John Burroughs who said something about we each see the canyon in ourselves and when we leave we take it with us. It was described by the first white explorer to discover it as being desolate and of no value at all, that people would never go there, but fortunately he was proven wrong. There is a silence there that can subdue even the excited shrill voices of tourists and most people spoke in hushed tones, like in a church, awed by the spirituality of the place.
Sunset settled on the mountains as a slow drift of shadows across the ridges and peaks. As the sun slid lower, towards the rim, the sky changed colour and the clouds became pink and lavender in the east, orange and gold in the west. Shadows lengthened and edges, points and curves stood out in relief, before they, too, were swallowed by the darkness of shadows. The tallest peaks were the last to go and the sky by this time had turned turquoise and lilac in the east, deep orange and brown in the west, with the area directly around the sun cerise and vermilion. I cried. To be so close to evidence of something bigger than us mortals felt like something was being passed through me, rather like an x-ray or microwaves. There was a connection, a thin thread to hang onto, to save me.