Saturday, February 9, 2013

CONGO - The Grand Inga Project - Official Trailer

The Grand Canyon has big water. Very big water. I almost drowned in Hermit. I've helped rope a boat through Crystal, and once survived Lava without anyone oaring. But this water? I have to see this movie.

A Half-Naked Man Walks into a Bar -OR- One Writer's Struggle with Distraction

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon, Arizona

The man sitting next to me is half naked. I am sitting in El Tovar’s Bar on the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, working on my novel, when he comes in wearing nothing but a shirt and jacket, and then sits down right beside me. I keep writing, noticing him only like a moth might notice there are more things in a room then just a light. But after about ten minutes a thought intrudes—why is this dude half naked?

And then, like one of those annoying low-pitched hums put off by a refrigerator, a sound that never bothers you until you actually begin to think about it, this notion of a half-naked man sitting just four feet away, starts to hum. The word “shorts” cames to my mind. Of course. He is just wearing very, very short shorts on this very, very cold snowy day. 

Maybe, I think, he is one of those European types, like the man that was with us this summer on our rafting trip down the Colorado. He was Danish, and every morning at sunrise he would run into the river and go for a swim. I’m talking 45 degree water. The man sitting next to me now, he could be from Denmark, maybe even further north, someplace where they like to roll in snow and then beat themselves with switches. There are people from all around the world at the Grand Canyon. Just this morning, while hiking in a snow storm I met people from China,  Romania, Baluchistan, and Nepal. Siberia even. The man sitting next to me could be a Siberian wearing very short shorts. 

I keep writing. 

I am a moth, I think. I will not be distracted. Naked men can walk all around me. They can dance, they can shake their junk, and what will I care? I won’t. Not one little bit. I have work to do. 

An opportunity like this—to sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon in the El Tovar Hotel’s Bar on a snowy night. An opportunity to do what I love - to write, and write and write and not have to make anyone’s dinner, or wash anyone’s clothes or make anyones bed (but my own, but my own, but my own) comes—what? Never? 

Maybe if you are single. 

Maybe if you are not a mom.

But I am married and I have a child. 

So, go head, sit there naked man. See if I care. 

I set down my pen. Look up at the TV. Snow storm in the Northeast. Big drifts. Big plows. Big news. I rub my neck and then, slowly, discretely—look to my right. 

Orange, skin-tight pants. 

That’s all. 

Just orange skin-tight pants on a middle aged man with a beard. 

Back to work.

-Naseem Rakha 2/9/13

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Getting into a Groove

Daily schedule—Wake around 5 am. Make coffee. Stretch. Draw for 10 minutes. Check email. Get dressed, get outside for a walk. Sunrise at around 7 am. Be out there for it. Fill water bottle with spring water. Come back take shower. Work until 11. Have breakfast. Work until three. Stretch or dance or get outside and watch ravens—anything. Then, back to work. Keep at it until 5:30. Go for a walk. Come back. Eat. Go to El Tovar. Have a glass of wine. Work until 9. Come back. Check email. Perhaps blog. Get to bed by midnight. This has to change - this last part. Tonight I am aiming for 11 PM.

Also, tomorrow I want to go for a hike so I won't be back in my room until maybe 10am or even 11. So there will be that to add to the schedule.

And tonight? While walking home from the bar? There were more stars than sky.....

-Naseem Rakha 2/6/13

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First world problems read by third world people

It is hard to get perspective sometimes. This can help. A brilliant and humbling look at what we have become.

After the Fall

Over the Abyss
The first thing I did when I got to the Grand Canyon was fall. Not into the "abyss" - or I wouldn't be writing this. My spill was in the bathroom. Actually, in the kitchen coming out of the bathroom. The apartment I'm in has two steep steps linking the rooms and I entirely forgot about them and fell so hard on my knees I thought for sure I cracked the kitchen's tile floor.

It took me about three or four minutes to get up and walk again.

Did I go straight for some ice? Of course not. I still had a ton of stuff in my car I needed to unpack. Ten trips up and down 32 stairs on knees that felt like they were inflating into something resembling the Goodyear Blimp. But I didn't want to look, so instead I just unpacked and kept on unpacking until I was all unpacked, then I got back in my car, went to Grand Canyon supermarket, and looked for Arnica.

You know Arnica. That "natural" anti-inflammatory you can pick up at almost any pharmacy or store these days?

Any store except the Grand Canyon Supermarket. They had plenty of other things you'de expect at your average grocery store—2500 people live and work here year round— and then there were the hiking polls, and crampons, sunscreen and teeshirts boasting, "I hiked rim to rim." Yet no arnica for all those people who actually survive the 17+ mile odyssey down the gorge and then, because you really have no choice - all the way back up. What they did have, though, was Epsom Salt, which is the kind of remedy my grandmother might have suggested for my knees—an iconic, old fashioned item I would expect to see sitting beside her Milk of Magnesia or Geritol.

But I had no other choice. It was Epsom Salt or nothing. I bought the salt, brought it home and then didn't know what to do with it. At first I thought I would bath in it, but then I imagined emerging from my Epsom bath looking as shriveled as a salted sardine. I didn't want that. The fall already had me hobbling like a ninety-year-old, I didn't need to emerge from my bath as wrinkled as one, too.

So instead of bathing in the stuff, I dissolved a half cup of crystals in hot water. Then I wrapped my legs in Epsom soaked towels. And I did that over and over again. After the Epsom Salt wrap, both knees got ice for a good part of the night. And today, three days after the fall, they are doing better. In fact, they never even bruised. Not even a little.

But that is not the point of this story. The point I am driving toward is that yesterday I met two women who had just hiked rim to rim. Well, rim to the same rim. They started on the South Kaibob Trail, descended nine miles to Phantom Ranch and then wound back up to Grand Canyon Village on the Bright Angel Trail. And when I say they had just climbed rim to rim, I mean they had just that minute at 3 PM, finished a hike that they had started that morning.

I guessed them to be in their early 30's. They were obviously independent, adventure seeking souls that push themselves out into the world, testing their mettle, breathing in life. Peers, I thought. I took a step in their direction, a hobbled, old-lady step that was braced by my hiking stick. Then I remembered—I'm not thirty. I'm nowhere near thirty. I couldn't go up and down that hole in one day. Not even if my knees were in good shape. Not now. Maybe not ever.

Still, I went up to them and shook their hands and asked them about their day—how was the weather down there, what did they see, how long did it take, how hard was it?

"It wasn't too bad," one said, taking a swig of water.

"You're not tired?"


"You don't need arnica?"

"No. We're fine."

"Well that's good, cause they don't sell Arnica here."

"Really?" They both looked surprised, as they well should be.

"But you know what works if you get achy?"

They shook their heads no.

"Epsom Salt. It's really cheap, and works great."

"Yeah." The other hiker said pointing at me. "I remember my grandma used to use that stuff...."

What I didn't tell these two women is that I am planning my own hike down to the bottom of the canyon. I hope to leave once my knees are fully recovered. But unlike them, I'm not just wetting my feet in the river and coming back up. I'm going to stay a few days at a bunk house in Phantom Ranch. There is magic deep in the canyon. Real magic. Like the kind Carlos Castenada would write about. The kind that urges a person to wake up and forget all their groaning about this and that, knees, aging, expectations, life. Forget all of that and look at the river and then those walls, five thousand feet tall, 1.8-billion-year old rocks right there where you carefully, very carefully, are taking another step.

-Naseem Rakha 2/5/13