I’d been to Powell Plateau before. A couple years back in July. This time I went at the end of September, before they closed out the North Rim for the tourists. As a backpacker, I was a step above the tourists. So I thought.
There’s no source of water so you have to haul in your own. Hauling water. Last time, that meant about 3 gallons plus food, and since it was hard as rock sleeping on hard rock last time, I’d need an air mattress. And since the sleeping bag I used last time was rated for 60 degrees or above and I still froze, in friggin’ July. I’d need a larger, heavier sleeping bag. I brought a liner, too, since temps were predicted to go down to the 30’s. And I had to bring rain gear, and a rain hood for my backpack. They say you should only pack 25% of your body weight, but I’m special. I’m a step above the tourists, remember?
I took the side roads to Swamp Point, chasing off herds of forest bison through the montane woodlands. The forests stretch from east to west across the North Kaibab Plateau all the way down to the North Rim. The bison, released into the wild after a failed attempt at ranching, have lived on the North Kaibab Plateau since the early 20th century. They migrated into Grand Canyon National Park in the 1990’s and are considered a nuisance. They spend most of their time in the meadows, but when I saw them, they browsed deep in the North Rim forests. Something must’ve caused their retreat.
The land sways up and down in long, gentle folds covered with endless stands of ponderosa, aspen and fir. A Kaibab squirrel, endemic to the forests of the North Rim and North Kaibab Plateau, romps across the road, jet black with a white tail and tufted ears. Descended from the more common (commoner?) Abert’s squirrel, you could take it for a skunk at long range.
The last of a rafter of turkeys whips across the rocky road. The roof of my old popup camper scrapes yellowing New Mexican locust brush, which protest with metallic shrieks. Who says plants can’t talk? Listen to what the ponderosa forests have to say as their crowns thunder with wind. Their vanilla scent is unmistakable as I step out to survey whether my vehicle can make it between two chain-sawed sections of a sharp, fallen log that juts into the track.
My old directions, which I wrote down the last time I trundled through here, are a little off, at least in terms of mileage. My pickup’s snow tires grip the bottoms of the long, muddy pools in the ruts and low spots. The last 7 miles are a slow grind, where I avoid sharp, rocky teeth and crawl over muddy logs in my groaning Silverado. I always think the end of the road is right up ahead. I always think wrong.
I arrive at Swamp Point, the ends of the earth, literally. I set up my encampment at an intimate spot right off the southeast edge of the isthmus, canopied by ponderosa.
Along the ponderosa bark, charcoal veins from old lightning stripe the orange trunks between the plates of reddish-brown bark the color of medium-rare. The pines pillar the ground all the way to the very edge of the rim.
Down at the end of the road, the land peters out to a trailhead which drops down Muav Saddle. I count the SUV’s – 6 – and note the plates from all over the States. Most of the occupants probably went down North Bass Trail to the river. I look out across a couple miles of open space to Powell Plateau, connected to the mainland of the North Rim by Muav Saddle. The north wing of the saddle plunges from 7,800 feet down to 7,000 feet before rising to about 7,900 feet on the plateau.
Swamp Point is deserted. To the east, the drawn-out linearity of the San Francisco Volcanic Field stretches out along the base of the South Rim, though the mountains are in reality about 50 miles southeast of the Rim itself. To the west, Steamboat Mountain takes up the opposing side gorge. I spend a peaceful night in my camper, all alone at Swamp Point.
Next morning, I set out with enough water for three days. I bring a camelback and fill it and place it between my backpack and my back. That’s the reserve I’ll use for my hike in. I’ve done it before. I’m more inventive than the tourists I’m a step above.
Down at the col of the saddle, as the straps of my 45-pound load cloy into my shoulders, I stop for a break to readjust (no, not to ‘read just’). The lowest point of the saddle is a tipoff where the North Bass Trail keeps heading down to the river. A short spur leads to Teddy Roosevelt’s cabin, even though it wasn’t built until after he stopped hunting here. The other trail heads south up the steep north face of Powell Plateau through dense ponderosa and pine, under skin-scraping tunnels of plasticized oak brush and thorny New Mexican locust. That’s where I must go, touristless.
As I reshoulder the backpack, water oozes out of my camelback sandwiched between the pack and my back. The pressure was too much, I guess. My water storage is partly ruined. Now, I have to cart the camelback side-shoulder up the south wing of the saddle. Then I have to cross Powell Plateau the same way. That’s a total of 8 miles. The muttering at self begins as I climb the 900 feet up the south side of the saddle to Powell. It’s harder than I remembered two years ago, carting all that extra weight.
Powell is about 7 square miles. It’s the only place in Grand Canyon where you can float out into the middle of the gorge right above the river. It’s the only mesa covered in large pine. These ponderosa are twice as tall as the one’s that grow around my Four Corners home 200 miles east. It’s the only place where the FS hasn’t interfered with the natural, lightning-inspired burns. Cloud-scraping ponderosa groves tower in meadows over the whole plateau from rim to rim.
Powell Plateau, named for James Wesley Powell, the first Anglo explorer to run the river which defines the plateau’s southern base, is a forlorn place. The two times I’ve been here, I’ve only run into one other person. I haven’t found much literature on it. It’s flat-sided, steeped in terraced, ivory cliffs which step out in giant talus hillsides before the next vertical drop down toward the river. It’s the perfect fortress, its own lost world.
After much, touristic huffing and puffing due to an overestimate of my cardiopulmonary efficiency, I finally finally top out at the northern rim of the plateau. My sleeping bag, carried in rear loading straps secured with plastic snap clips called Delrins which I’ve (in)artfully tied through the rear compression straps of my Kelty softpack, explodes open and unfurls like a canned snake. My sleeping bag is now a peacock tail, sans the florid colors. I am a cursing Godzilla. My negative self-talk grows audible. It’s the private speech one reserves for self-remonstrances when there’s no one else around. What I get for using a sleeping bag adapted for 11 year-olds in living rooms, I guttle. I carefully repair the cheap plastic clip locks and move on.
Carrying 70 ounces of water on my right shoulder, 45 pounds of gear on my back and using useless hiking poles, I teeter and wipe out on the stony path. Audible cursing becomes fucker and motherfucker. This what tourists sound like?
Stay to the east side of the Plateau. Everything I read about Powell warns me against straying to the middle of the plateau. Powell is a place where the veg herds you, prods you, corrals you. Stands of scrub lead you to the plateau’s center. I’ve made that mistake out here more than once.
Beneath and between the endless groves of ponderosa, stands of oak brush behave like waiting room plants. New Mexican locust with yellowing ovate leaves and sharp, ¾” thorns block my way if I don’t stick to the east edge. I found it out when I hiked out last time in the middle of the night.
The trail, such as it is, is marked by ancient blazes on ancient trees. Some of the blazes are the rusted, smiling halves of coffee can lids. Many of the trail markers were nailed to trees which long ago blew or burned down.
The east side of the plateau seems to take a U-turn back north where I started. “I wonder what that’s doing there?” I mutter out loud to the bulge in the plateau that seems to turn back on itself. It’s disorienting. I have twin compasses on the handholds of my Swiss hiking poles, and they seem to indicate that the plateau veers southeast. The bulge in the cliff-line confuses me. Stay to the East echoes like a biblical injunction. But the trail always peters out or multiplies into a host of social trails. I lose the track and pick it back up six times. Fuck the East.
The brush herds me to the heart of the plateau, where wide, deep glens force seemingly unneeded negotiations up and down steep terrain. At the bottom of these canyons, the rebounding oak and thorny locust make crashing and thrashing and cursing my mode of transport. I begin to hate the veg and understand how humans can exact revenge against nature and seek only its taming. I am stooping towards tourism.
I end up at the bottom of one of those giant ravines. I slash through the locust. I’m terrible at field identification of plants. But pain teaches. I can recognize the autumn-gilded oval leaves, the frail-seeming woody branches and empty lattice structure, the thorns that tear easily through buttocks and cheap, backyard sleeping bags.
There’s something about me that does a new task better the first time and then fucks it up on the second and third times. I’ve never understood it. There’s something about me that repeats errors again and again, for I find myself not listening to my intuition, but becoming anxious and ending up in the middle of a spike-riddled plateau. But it’s a minuet, isn’t it? A dance between my becoming lost on my own and this strange mazelike conspiracy of cusped hills incised with coulees, bearded by brush and woodland. It’s as if the plateau wants me to become lost, is designed to maximize the probability of becoming bereft in its labyrinth of oak-cloaked fells. After a few wrong turns, I end up at the bottom of Dutton Canyon. These crazy canyons zig zag all ways once I leave the certainty of the edge.
Soon, I’m getting the crap ripped out of me by locust needles. I’m panting. Not in shape for this trip. Thought I was. Reviewed an old survival guide during commercials of the Broncos game the day before I left.
But I hadn’t worked out in a couple weeks. Had to rest my back. And my knees. Funny, but out here, my back never talks to me and my knees don’t squeak either. It’s the rest of me that groans under all that extra weight, by having to truck in water.
I ended up gasping, complaining, my boney shoulders aching. Dragging my camelback, dangling it by the end of one scraped up hand so the concertina wire of the locust branches doesn’t knock it off my shoulder. I’m a 3rd grade kid carrying his school pack home at the end of a day of being bullied. Too much goddamn weight. Poor planning. And that fucking sleeping bag. I was a stair below the tourists now.
I end up heading toward the eastern light afforded by the edge of land, where flagging eyes recognize the rim and its skylight. I rest on a log. I run into two hikers, middle-aged men, and we stop and chat.
“Hey, how’s it goin’?” I pant. “You guys been camping at Dutton Point?”
“No,” the younger man drawls. He must’ve owned the Oklahoma plates back at Swamp. And he smiles like that would’ve been silly, going all the way south to Dutton. “We never made it that far. A woman and a man did, though. They hiked out last night.”
“Funny, but no matter how many times I’ve been up here, I know I’m s’posed to stick to the east,” I say, having recovered my breath. “But I ended up gettin’ lost.”
I hold up my hands, blacked from the burnt log I was sitting on to recover my breath and my dignity.
“We stay within a hundred yards of the East Rim,” Oklahoma says. I glanced at their backpacks. They must’ve slept open-air. They carried radically less weight than me. Being out here forces you to choose. In my fear of running into trouble, I over-prepared. That’s poor planning. Too many survival books.
And too much Belden Lane. I’d been finishing up The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Lane, an author on desert spirituality. He wrote about how the indifferent desert forces you to choose what’s important and to give up what’s not. Evidently, I still thought too much was important. I carried around too much. I couldn’t tell necessity from luxury.
They seemed in a hurry, glancing at the sky. I glimpsed up at the clouding sky. Dutton was a mile south, they told me, and we parted.
I knew I’d be alone on the Plateau at the end of my journey of 8 miles. Despite sticking to the east this time, I hiked up and down more fells. Dutton Point at the southeast edge of the Plateau where I’d camped last time. I emerged from the last stands of ponderosa at the southern edge of the plateau. When I got home, I looked at a map and realized I’d ended up at Dutton Point Southwest. Somehow, I’d missed my rendezvous with Dutton Point at the southeast edge of the plateau. “How the hell did I end up here?” I’d forego the compasses next time. I felt less lost without them.
I set up camp between two frail ponderosa, figuring they may offer some protection from the wet, if it came.
I walked the few feet between my campsite and the rim. I scraped between the shiny, mahogany-stemmed manzanita which fruited with brown berries. I kept getting tangled in the dead, woody branches and scraping myself on dead pinyon and juniper. I was losing my balance and tipping over like an old cow. That wasn’t like me. I was getting old.
I had a feeling that I’d run into a dozen or more accidents and mistakes this trip. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes warned me that hostile forces would respond to my entreaties with indifference. Something told me I might not make it back. Hell, part of me didn’t want to. I reflected on Everett Ruess, a young man who disappeared into the Escalante wilderness northwest of here decades ago, enthralled by desert beauty. They never found his bones. Just a pair of shoes and the word Nemo written in his own hand above the doorway to a ruin. What reminded me of Ruess now? It was that word, ‘nemo.’ It was scrawled across the pillow of my air mattress. In English, it means ‘no one.’ What if I disappeared here, too? I looked back at my life and kind of wanted to.
Yet when I reached the edge of the canyon, forcing myself to look into it for the first time, all the pain in my shoulders, all the ache in my gluts went away. All my bitching poured into the long, straight stretch of river miles below. From my crag, I could almost lean over the river. I could see the Gem Rapids from this limestone perch. I spotted a tiny boat beach on the north, and the dots on the sand formed a rafting party. The schist rock above them planed into the turbid water.
50 miles or more southeast, the San Francisco Volcanic Field laid out serially in four mounds of mountains, with Mount Humphreys, the tallest, farthest left. The head-and-shoulders shape of Red Mountain Volcano nested like a bell curve inside the larger, identical shape of Kendrick behind it. Due south, Bill Williams Mountain and its range pierced the broad, gently rising sweep of the Coconino Plateau, a vast plain which lapped up to South Rim. West, the blue line of the Uinkaret Mountains brooded, another volcanic field that may have passed over the same hotspot as the San Francisco Peaks. It all became worth it. I wasn’t ashamed of my bitching or even of getting lost. The smallness of my complaints crawled down with the thinning shadows between the rocks when I confronted that littleness with the grandeur of this.
I cast a look back north across Powell Plateau. The mottled sky was building to a monolithic ceiling of cobalt. Torn, gray pannus clouds were a sign of deteriorating sky, bad weather in a few hours. In the foreground, the groves of ponderosa winnowed out. Blacked stumps stood like bears frozen in death poses. I walked west along the southern rim and stopped at outcroppings which served as natural overlooks along the way.
Viewing points seem almost engineered along the rims, mile after mile. Limestone crags jut out into the air like revetments, often with nothing but a mile of air underneath. Pinyon and juniper dot the ledges there like umbrellas.
Out across the canyon, the rough symmetry of the mesa-butte complexes offers a true glimpse of the evenhandedness of erosion. Twin buttes in the northeast canyon, the Holy Grail Temple and Elaine Castle, bear limestone caps and green scrub forest. Their talus slopes resemble Mayan pyramids.
In other places, I see double-sided sphinxes and steeples. Cognitive psychologists call this kind of perception apophenia, the tendency toward abnormal meaningfulness. Modern writer, Michael Shermer, calls it patternicity. I see graffiti in the redwall that’s not really there, because my mind searches for pattern, for cognates corresponding to my past. And so, I carve out battlements, half-formed towers along the North Rim scarp behind me, the chimney cracks beginning to form watchtowers. All is metaphor. Since John Wesley Powell and before, the Canyon mints us all poets.
Inchoate sculptures erode along the top tier of the walls across the Canyon so many miles south at the Havasupai Reservation. The facades of cathedrals in the making, with saints unknown to us standing above the porticos, all half-formed. Such is an Anglo’s metaphor. I’m certain that the peoples who’d been the first human eyes to cast and paint this filigreed world fumbled for different gods than mine.
As sun nears its set, I discover that light here is the real painter. It’s the true sculptor teasing out color and shape which each moment casts as a different figure. The relief always shifting, to the point where light making its settlement with night can reveal a mesa or butte left camouflaged all day, suddenly springing out for its half-hour of life at day’s end. Where a flat rim wall lay disguised before, its curve and bevel pops bull-nosed, a vast dais.
I move west to a new outcrop. The clouds build, merging with the graphite mountains. Rains come.
In their aftermath, the sun shone through droplets which flew at my eyes like ghosts of gnats, from every angle. Turning to firefly, burning to sparks from the fire that forged them.
I mutter prayers on the edge of the escarpment, where a thousand shapes wait definition by the mind. The indifference of the desert, writes Lane in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, masks a surprising love which, received by the desert trekker in her moment of vulnerability, must remain unrequited, for what can we give back? It’s in the nature of the desert to strip everything away so it can bestow upon its defenseless trekkers a love which can’t be returned.
No sleep that night. I discovered that the terrarium nature of both tents and sleeping bags can be ameliorated by opening the door of the tent and deploying the zip screen. I surrender to the sleeplessness that comes from sleeping in a strange place, where the reptile brain assumes the nightwatch against unknown creatures, awash in foreboding, electric with premonition of some small doom.
In the middl of the night, I rise and wander back to the rim. Wheeler Point stretches far to the northwest edge of Powell Plateau. It wanders out in one long finger of P-J forest.
A couple years ago, I tried to reach the promontory at Wheeler so I could savor views of the western Canyon. But the plateau, like much of the North Rim, meanders in and out in vast, south-facing peninsulas interfingered with side canyons. The interior of the plateau seems to afford quicker access to Wheeler Point and Ives Point farther west, but as it turns out, Dutton Canyon intersects this approach. Besides that, the intervening, unnamed headlands multiply like false rims. I ended up crashing up and down through Dutton Canyon, thrashing through much brush. Cursing returned as I drowned in oak over my head, my arms slit by locust thorn.
Here’s my life: I know something’s bad for me; a certain food or kind of mate, yet despite the warning of both experience and intuition against tasting it, I move toward it, like I did when I moved toward from the forests of thorn. Two years ago, I trekked through canyon after canyon on my way out to Wheeler Point, only to be forced farther ‘inland’ by stand after stand of tall oak brush mixed with the thorny problem of the locusts, both of which became trees twice my height.
It was the metaphor for my life., being drawn to painful, rejecting thorns. I’d tried: alcohol, drugs, practicing law, acting, screenwriting, writing. Then there was the field of endless relationships. And they’re pretty endless.
So, the next day, after this sleepless night, I tried Wheeler Point yet once more. A reprise of two years ago…
“This time, it’ll be different,” I told myself. I’d outsmart the brush with my cunning. I’d make it to Wheeler Point. I wouldn’t quit, wouldn’t be turned back by adversity. Two years ago, it landed me in a tall stand of endless spikes and rebounding oak brush on Powell Plateau as I slashed my way to Wheeler Point and never arrived.
This morning, I tracked outside the fields of brush, followed the very edge of the edge of the rim, and ended up in a field of red barbed wire that sliced me to sushi strips. I even, I swear, caught a thorn on the head of my penis. And I wasn’t hiking naked again, I swear! As I stood in stands of this persistent vegetative state so high I could not see a way out, I remembered, I said to myself: “This is where I had to turned back two years ago.” The exact same place.
No matter where I start from,
No matter where I want to go,
I always end up stranded
In the middle of Powell Plateau.
I’d cursedmy way out, stepping on the looping locust branches just for revenge. I hated the damn things, and now I understood how previous generations of pioneers the world over could hate a naturally-arising thing like a spiny plant or a cantankerous beast. I just wanted to wound what’d wounded me. Yet that was just dress for wanting to wound myself for my own stupidity at repeating the same choices I’d made two years ago, in there at the bottom of that glen, as well as in my larger life.
After many a weed-carved cul de sac and just as many hills huffed and puffed up and many a long, purpled line on my hand and my arm and my leg drawn by the thorniest of problems, I made it back to the rim that day, the second time I’d tried to make Wheeler Point.
Clouds gathered and thunder sounded out in strange bowling pin knocks, little rattles and crashes following the main boom, the way thunder sometimes rolls in the mountains. The old saying my mother taught me when I was a boy – The angels are bowling – seemed apt.
I was glad that day that I’d turned back from the long trek to Wheeler Point. Water would’ve been a factor. At the end of windswept Powell Plateau, there were no trails, only scrambling. It might’ve been more trouble than it was worth. I still lived by my old motto – You only got bragging rights if you make it back, in one piece.
At the edge of a soil-strewn pour off along the rim, I found a giant pinion on one side and a giant juniper on the other side. They framed the river so distant below. Feathered cliffrose dressed the rim.
I hopped from lookout to lookout along the rim. White-throated swifts and cliff swallows were fighter jet accompaniment to the ravens as sleek, black, B-something, stealth bombers. Be something, my thoughts told me. Make it to Wheeler Point.
The swifts and swallows dove and swooped at tremendous speeds as they moved in swept-wing squadrons in a hunt for insects. What did they eat come wintertime? One strafed a group of three, four ravens who’d circled too close. Awhile later, another flitted right over my head, perturbing the air with a vacuum woosh.
The storms came. They occluded Mount Humphreys in the distant southeast. Puffy white cumulonimbus topped out at the tropopause in a long smear that arced like a surfer’s white barrel.
I went back to my camp and threw on rain gear, uncertain whether to hide in my tent, which was impossible for ingress or egress, which ceiling scraped my nose the way a coffin might when I laid down. I opted for shelter beneath some squalled pinions on the rim, and minimized contact with the earth, avoiding the conductive rocks, which was hard along a rocky cliff on a rocky planet. Storms came and wetted me down. My face and hair were grateful for the gentle wash cycle of cold rain.
When the storms passed, a double rainbow dipped down into Muav Canyon to the east, and I saw its end. First a full rainbow, then a half rainbow double-bowed against a backdrop of lead-hued penumbra.
Wave after wave of storm stacked to the southeast, like incoming aircraft. Thunder and lightning. Sturm and drang. Guess the cloudy but no rain forecast back at the NPS office at Jacob Lake was wrong.
The sun set and shone behind curtains of slanted rain. Sun bolts leaked as fallstreaks through shredded clouds like the slits torn in the rear of my pants by locust needles. A sunset in sheets of liquid gold poured from the heavens. The last of light, a golden mist, dissolved in the black east, darkened by storm and nightfall.
Arriving squalls forced me into my tent. I crawled into my sleeping bag. Now I remember why I was going to buy a new tent after my last trip out here. It falls down. It sits on your face, but not in a fun way. And now, I discover, it leaks cold rain from all directions at once. I throw the rainfly for my backpack over my sleeping bag and make the best of it. I stay dry, but sooner or later, everything gets wet when you’re camping in a storm. I could’ve gotten less wet by camping under a grove of aspen. But I wanted out in the open. I needed storm and indifference and adversity because that’s what The Solace of Fierce Landscapes told me I needed.
Why this insistence on learning the hard way? I don’t know. But after hours of mock acceptance in the shriveled dark, my resignation churned into flashes of anger to match the flashbulb lightning outside the skin of my tent. I’d been thinking of the desert’s indifference on this trip. Belden Lane’s book talked about that. Indifference is a path to love, it says. Love tests you, and when you think It’s given up on you, It shines down on you in a beatific vision. What crap.
I’d already had my beatific vision when the sunset, pouring through faults in the nimbi, backlit shafts of rain. How much beatific shit’s one person entitled to? Now, I was getting pissed on by the Indifference, and that pissed me off. Now, God was just a big jerk who wouldn’t let me sleep. Never mind that I’d ignored my own weather forecast, that with glassy insistence, the rain chatted up the skin of a tent I’d chosen. Or that the roof rubbed my nose like a giant Kleenex or that the nylon, sans the rain fly I’d not packed, was cold and wet to the touch and everything was feeling like I’d just went on myself. It was all God’s fault. She wouldn’t let me sleep. She wouldn’t answer my prayer to fall asleep. Why is God so, . . . well, so goddamned indifferent!?
At dawn, I emerged and it was not like the dawn before, when I’d snuck to the rim and watched the sun rise behind a mask of fiery clouds. Now, I refused to see my lover, the Canyon at sunrise. I’d pack and get the fuck out while that road 8 miles north was still passable.
An hour later, camp was struck and I dumped as much excess water as I could. I’d carried too much of it.
I realized that the stark indifference to my own petitions which nature offered was its harsh loneliness, its terrible storms and cold violence. But the indifference was also created by how I reacted to indifference. You see, after a few nights without sleep when I’d been out here in 2014, I’d had a similar reaction. The discomfort came – not so much from the harsh conditions – but from my response to those conditions. That was the real adversity. I was the real adversity. It’s hard to blame anyone else when you got your own plateau.
I could handle getting lost, and getting wet, and getting stormed, and getting thorned. What I couldn’t handle was my disappointed pride in not being Zen, which was just a form of self with a small ‘s.’ shiiit.
I needed indifference to introduce me to myself. The breakdown was in how I handled breakdown. All my ghosts flooded out of my ears like gas and showed my wounds to me. Not the wounds on my hands or on my body. I could handle those. The ones on my psyche. Because here’s what happened next.
I hiked out, and got lost yet one more time, despite my best efforts to stay east. I’m tellin’ you: it was the compasses on those Swiss hiking poles. The Swiss must not be able to find their way around much in the mountains. I fell hard, and split open my hand. I panted and sweated all the way up the switchbacks of Muav Saddle back to the North Rim.
And I refused to watch the fog creep in claws up from the canyon bottom over the lip of the plateau and invade the primeval forest, touching even the highest crowns of the ponderosa, until all was wreathed in mist. She was a great lover, seductive in her beauty. The one who breathes double rainbows.
Will you at least agree not to be mad? Indifference asked.
She was negotiating. She wasn’t indifferent anymore, because She didn’t need to be. She’d broken me open, like love needs to do in order that we receive itself. It can’t get through my sense of competence or the ego that comes with having all the right equipment or looking good, being better than all those tourists. So, It had to wait until all my walls were down. The walls only all came down when the tent was wrecked.
Alright, fuck, I won’t be pissed anymore, I replied. But I’ll refuse you. I’ll refuse you by refusing even more to look into You below the rim.
Usually, I said goodbye to my campsite and the Canyon when my time was done there. But this time, it was “good fucking riddance!” I assiduously avoided a final, poetic gaze into the Canyon. I felt Her tease me with Her beauty, clamoring up the sides of the North Rim with Her long fingers, soft and cool to my cheeks. She really knew how to seduce. Funny how interested in me Indifference could be. But I pouted. Yet even as I held my breath, I did have to admit that She was beautiful as the mist crossed over the upper story of the ponderosa.
Exposed on the saddle, I was getting soaked now. Visibility was zero. I was in the middle of the rain clouds.
Still, I’d punish Her for punishing me. All the way up the north wing of the saddle, I ticked off all the failures I’d had. Now, I knew that Indifference really had nothing to do with it. It couldn’t if it was indifferent, right?
I was blaming myself. That’s what all the fuck God talk covered for. I only had a problem with me. Not with Her. And the remorse and morbid self-reflection back in my ordinary world were excuses for inaction. I had a job interview coming up and I wanted to turn that down. I needed reasons, and the best reason of all was not good enough. I’d stay in control. I knew so much of this drama was made-up. Drama’s always made up, isn’t it?
So I huffed and puffed to the top, reaching the mainland at Swamp Point, muttering fuck you and I suck every 30 feet. And I get there, and I am damned sure I am just gonna leave and never come back to the Grand Canyon or backpack ever again. And what do I?
I get back to my camper. I change clothes. I air out my dirty laundry, laying it out across the floor of my camper. I ask Indifference whether I should stay or go. She shrugged. What’d you think her answer was gonna be?
I realized that all the way back to my camper, I’d just been blowing off steam, just ranting, and that ranting gave me a purpose. It helped organize my energy and point it up the cliff where I was heading, that I needed that energy because I was trying to make it back to the mainland in a terrible storm.
And the other part of Indifference? It forgave because it looks past all wrongs. She didn’t even need to forgive because she’s indifferent to wrongs. There’s nothing to forgive in the first place. That’s what Love does. It overlooks wrongs because there is no wrong. I spent an hour on the hike back this morning juryrigging my sleeping bag so it’d stay tied to the backpack. Before that, it flopped down and kept hitting me in the backs of my knees. My gear looked like a 6-year-old rigged it. For all the world to see, right? Only who was there to see it? Only Indifference, another of the names for God. And Indifference doesn’t judge. Only I do. Through all the tunnels of scraping brush on the way down, my gear never came loose. It’s not about looking good. It’s about what works. I need to be indifferent to anything else.
Love dressess itself in indifference, and during moments of adversity, that nonresponsiveness seems like apathy and even cruelty. Then it turns its face and shows us beauty, like it showed me at the end of my trek. I hadn’t done anything wrong even by refusing to talk to It and kicking It out of my life. Who we need to forgive is ourselves. What we need to forgive is what we thought we’d done, but really hadn’t. How can you harm indifference?
I’m writing this the next day, just before I leave Swamp Point. I already want to go back to Powell Plateau, to Grand Canyon. This camping and hiking thing is like alcoholism. You feel like crap and lose control and get all beat up and you just can’t wait to go out and do it all over again. I know I have to get in better shape, pack less, realize I need less, use better equipment, and make more informed choices, not just plan more. I thought I’d planned enough, but it isn’t about enough. It isn’t about quantity. It’s about quality. Mostly, the adversity and mistakes told me where I need to change in my attitude about myself, and how I need to grow up.
I jumped back into life as soon as I landed, with twice as much energy. More opportunity presented itself because there’s more room inside me now. I can focus on being honest instead of looking good, and on humility rather than pride. I can look at what’s important, and I don’t have to take any bolt of lightning personally.
I fell down on this trip, hit the rock and the mud. But I stood back up again. I like falling down, because it teaches me that as long as I get back up as many times as I slip, I’ll walk again.
I started planning my next trip as soon as I got back home.
© 2022 by Michael C. Just
Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.
You can purchase the book through this website. Or go straight to amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+dirt+journey+of+a+mystic+cowboy&crid=1S40Q4BXSUWJ6&sprefix=the+dirt%3A+journey+of+a+m%2Caps%2C180&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_23
Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through this website or through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002
Four of his short stories have recently been published online:
Lies, Ltd. has been published by The Mystery Tribune @ Lies, Ltd.: Literary Short Fiction by Michael C. Just (mysterytribune.com)
The Obligate Carnivore has been published by the Scarlet Leaf Review @ Category: MICHAEL JUST – SCARLET LEAF REVIEW
I See You, Too has been published by the 96th of October @ I See You, Too – 96th of October
Offload, a short story about a man who can heal any disease, is now live and can be read at The Worlds Within at Offload – The Worlds Within