That’s how far I walked along the south rim of Grand Canyon today. My hands are puffed up like little Vienna sausages, and my feet felt for a while like they would burst out of my shoes, but for the moment I’m sitting on the porch at El Tovar with my shoes unlaced, drinking a tumbler of club soda and a glass of Irony, a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon. The sun pours through the wine onto the table leaving a red stain of light. Morning and evening, elk feed on the grass lawns at the south rim, leaving the place smelling vaguely of wildlife and dung.
Last week René invited me to Grand Canyon for an evening concert presented by the South Rim’s Artist in Residence program that she runs. She had work to do in her office, so I’d be free to roam during the afternoon. We’d meet for the concert, stay overnight at the rim and head back to Flagstaff first thing in the morning.
On our way to the canyon, we passed a billboard: “4000 years of history in 34 minutes!” What’s the big rush, I wonder?
René dropped me off at the village, and I hopped on the bus out to Hermit’s Rest. Every so often the bus driver would say, “You can get a glimpse of the river from here,” and then slow down, and people on the bus would crane to get a peek. Riders got off at various viewpoints. Others got on.
At the end of the line, I prepared to walk back the way I’d come. I didn’t even visit Mary Jane Coulter’s architectural vision of a hermit’s hideout or the giant fireplace. I just wanted to walk.
I ate a small snack, shrugged on my daypack and set out at a pace that suited me well, a little on the fast side, but not a race. I only had to meet René at El Tovar at 5:30, which gave me four hours to walk.
I realize that eight miles is a short stroll for most of the world. But life has conspired to discourage me from walking over the past few months. I’m finally feeling stronger, and also hungry for the rhythm and space that walking presents. This tame, familiar trail is a perfect re-entry; I’ve hiked portions of it several times alone and with friends. Traffic on the trail was sparse this day, except for a loud American family, who I quickly outpaced, and two chatty German girls who leapfrogged me throughout the afternoon.
Mostly I wanted to be alone and reconnect with my self. Walking helps me to drop down into the topsoil to see what might be about to germinate. Not only am I looking to see which seeds are about to emerge, I’m also deciding what to cultivate. What do I most need to harvest at this point along my path?
Hips and knees, feet and ankles carry me along, one mile, then two. My foot hurts. The next bench, I sit and write a few pages to record ideas that have come to me while I’m walking.
The blue sky cracks me open. I’m restored by the cloudless brilliance, and by the sparkle of sunlight off the pinon needles. Each one looks to me like it’s covered with glass beads, embellished to reflect the sun.
A few years ago, I stayed at the South Rim for ten days on an abbreviated residency. I hiked many miles every day, and eventually, on the last day, hiked to the river and back. “Experience millions of years of history in just a few hours!” Today, I think, what’s the rush? The afternoon stretches out before me, a vacation from the stress of daily life.
My dream is to take a very long walk, or perhaps several, over the next few years. Each such venture would seem to involve a mind game: walk until you notice some aching body part or other. Acknowledge it. Bring your mind back to its rightful place. Keep walking. In that way, the walk becomes meditation, propelling the walker forward in both body and mind. The journey – as is almost always true – is incidental to the path.
Time to think. Time to not think. Time to put one foot down on rocks and earth or pavement, then the other. This path suits me.