Monday, July 21, 2014

the heart of the matter

Looking out from The Abyss. Grand Canyon South Rim. Rakha-7/2014

I was blessed this last week with a special, one week bonus residency at the Grand Canyon. That meant that once again I had the opportunity to live at the VerKamps studio, a  100+ year old home and shop perched on the edge of the South Rim near the El Tovar Hotel. The last time I was there was February, 2013. It was a cold snowy month, subzero temps, gale force winds, and I loved every moment of the experience. Now, though, it is summer, and the skies are clear and the temperature warm, and when clouds do come (which they did in full force my first night back) they are heavy with monsoon rain, and blazing with lightning.

Another difference: my previous residency was largely an isolated experience. I knew no one, and spent each day on my own. Now, I have friends at the canyon. One is Carol, a recent import from Portland. My first residency at the canyon ended up changing Carol's life more than my own when I suggested she look for a teaching job at the National Park. The Grand Canyon is the only National Park with a public school, and Carol, my writing buddy and dear friend, had been looking for a teaching position in the NW for quite some time. When I emailed my contact at the Grand Canyon School, I was told it was good timing, the current high school english teacher was leaving. Within six weeks, Carol had packed her life, including her two African Parrots and about a ton of books, into a U-Haul and headed southeast to the heart of the desert Southwest.

So this time, instead of my having a totally isolated residency, I was able to share time with someone who loves the canyon just as much as me. Carol is a naturalist as well as a writer and teacher, and so we enjoyed walking and talking and trying to understand better where it was we were—this land, this history, this wildlife and fauna, these people—a mosaic of language and color and belief all there to revel at the gigantic "gully." (Gully, a term President Howard Taft gave the canyon the first time he saw it. As in, "Golly that's one big gully.")

My schedule was thus: Wake at sunrise, coffee, write, then exercise. A nice bike ride up to Hermits Rest and back. Nice runs through the woods, or along the rim. Majestic hikes, then more writing. All the while with an eye to the window. Then before sunset, it was time to be with my friends. I had a dinner party one night, and we ended up lying on the roof staring up. The high altitude skies making the Milky Way appear exactly as its name suggests.

And all the while I am pinching myself, because I felt so damn happy.

The Grand Canyon is my reminder of how impermanent human existence is. How fleeting. Yes, we make marks, but they are small marks. Tiny etchings. What matters then? To be in this life as fully as possible. To work hard, to produce what you are proud of, and care about. To explore and question and push your physical and mental limits. To breathe deep and make good food and eat it with friends, and laugh and laugh and laugh. And then, at night, to lie under the stars and try to figure out what we are looking at, and what it is all about.

Just like humans did 100,000 years ago.

And what is 100,000 years to the canyon? Barely a layer of dust.

-Naseem Rakha 7/21/14