Friday, March 1, 2013

Saying Goodbye

I left the Grand Canyon before sunrise. I had said my goodbyes the evening before. It was time to move on.

Saying goodbye
So I got in my car and crept out from the park. An hour later, I was nearing Williams Arizona—home of the Grand Canyon Railway. Everyday of the year since before the Grand Canyon became a National Park in 1919, this railway, which has the enviable url, rolls into Grand Canyon National Park around noon, offloads a few hundred people, then leaves again around three. It's whistle would punctuate my day, making me look up from my writing, glance at the canyon. Smile.

When I have to leave a place I love, I think of things I can count on continuing to occur after I'm gone. Eddies corralling debris, mail being dropped in a box, a train's whistle. Simple, ordinary things. And when I remember these things, I don't feel so far away. It helps.

VerKamp's Artist in Residence living room
Right now I am thinking of the morning light coming in through the living room windows at Verkamp's - the place I had the honor to stay as Artist in Residence. I am thinking of the ravens that glide above the canyon, slick black wings licking the thermals. I am thinking of the two stones I received as a going away gift. One, a brachiopod fossil, the other a piece of chert that mimics the pattern and color of the canyon. These were not found in the National Park, but on Forest Service land, so giving them to me was no crime. And right now they are in my pocket, and they will be there for very long time.

But enough of that. This morning I wake 767 miles away from the canyon. I am at Scott's Shady Court Motel in Winnemucca, Nevada (think 1950's). And I had dinner last night at the Martin Hotel - an old Basque family-style restaurant on the railroad line through town. I sat with a bunch of cowboys and listened to stories about pigeon roping, and a father who rode in the first Pendleton Roundup, and how there was a time when all cowboys, in Oregon at least, would wrap dead snakes on their saddles. And they talked about coyote killings and bucks who lose their gems jumping barb wire fences, and how the horns of those poor castrated animals grow all screwy. And I heard about cold, cold winters, and hot, hot summers. I used to work with ranchers a lot, and miss these stories from people who live in a land is so vast they identify their home not by town or county, but by "country." As in, 'I come from that country just east of the Jordan Valley.'

I got to Winnemucca by taking a route I had never been on before. In 250 miles I saw exactly three cars, and was buzzed by exactly one fighter jet. I was in basin and range country. Flat land bracketed by mountains. Land so empty and wide it was perfect for some hotshot pilot to skim right over. It probably took me two minutes to pry my hands loose from the steering wheel after that jet tore over my car from behind. But then the road - my god that road.... It was such a beautiful drive. So open and alone. And then the sky started to darken and clouds came in and the sun went down, and in a moment of spectacular beauty, the sky exploded with color. I pulled over, got out of my car. I could hear the cows mooing, and the air was cool and calm, the ground cracked and heaved from freeze and thaw. And I will carry those small things with me as I go on.


  1. Thanks for taking us on that trip...

  2. I have enjoyed all of your entries. I hope you will continue to write reflections on your experience and thoughts.

  3. Even your account of the road home is so beautiful. It has been wonderful to make this journey with you. x0 N2

  4. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences with the world. It has been fascinating reading your accounts of your month in the canyon. I look forward to more stories and pictures as you reflect back on this unique opportunity.

  5. Sorry, I had to steal your picture - for personal use only as a computer desktop. The clouds seem to reflect the strata of the Grand Canyon. I am fascinated with the basin and range, but haven't dared to cross it in the middle of the summer. Early Spring seems to be a better time...