Thursday, February 7, 2013

Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell meet Mandela in the Grand Canyon

Mandela Leola van Eeden at North Canyon mile 20.5

A memory—Mile 62 on the Colorado. We had rafted the "Roaring Twenties," hiked through a downpour in Saddle Canyon, meditated (and played Frisbee) in Red Wall Cavern, and now are at the confluence of the Little Colorado, a tropical-blue stringer of a river that folds into its muddy sister. It is evening. And the stars are big and bright and there are billions and billions of them, just like Carl Sagan promised. And we—the river guides and their passengers—are sitting in a circle on canvas camp chairs and are happy. So happy. And warm. And comfortable.

And no one is thinking about the things going on a mile away. Just a mile. Right up that wall. That busy, chaotic, make-no-sense world that sucks us up and spits us out and changes us in ways we refuse to consider. Not tonight. Not down here. Down here we feel like we have discovered harmony. Right here on this spot, we have discovered it and we want to bottle it up and carry it with us wherever we go forever, and ever, and ever. Because, if we can't, then how will we bear it? How does one bear knowing there is a way to live and then not living it?

And that is where we are at. Living our "bliss", as Joseph Campbell would say, when out comes the didgeridoo.

Mandela brought it. Yoga teacher, river goddess, world traveler, didgeridoo playing Mandela. Six guides—all of them river goddesses—except for Berty, a man who has rafted the Colorado almost 200 times. He is not a River Goddess. He is Mentor to the Goddesses. Wise in river ways. Filled with river lore and stories. All of them, each and every tale, special.

But this night it is Mandela with the stories. Mandela and her didgeridoo  She does not take this instrument lightly. Women, she tells us, traditionally do not play the didgeridoo. Yet somehow this young woman—tall, fair and blonde—was taught in Australia by Aborigines. She was taught to play, and went away with a promise. She would only play for people after she explained the story of "the people." Told how their way of life has been diminished and yet their music, their stories and their people still go on.

And Mandela fulfills her promise, whispering history and story into the dark. The sound of the didgeridoo is the sound of nature. The night animals calling, the water, the wind, storms and their wake. It is human breath moving in and out.

And we closed our eyes to the sounds, and off we went. Souls leaping from vision to vision. Dream to dream. Settling like dust and being happy with being dust. Satisfied. Complete.

When she was done playing, the moon had risen over the cliffs. It lit our camp, and all its sleepy campers, and we made our way to our sleeping bags, and fell asleep under Sagan's stars. Billions and billions of them, just like he promised.


Above is of Mandela at North Canyon.

Below is Mandela playing her didgeridoo on the river a few days later
and below that is Carl Sagan with an important message

Mandela on the River with her didgeridoo

Carl Sagan

-Naseem Rakha 2/7/13


  1. I love this posting. Beautiful images and awareness.

  2. Gorgeous! I was there with you on every adventure, Naseem! Thanks for helping begin my day with beauty and passion.

  3. Thank you for sharing all of this beauty and wonder with us.