The four of us stood on the porch admiring the last glimmers of light on thunderheads over the Echo Cliffs. A few moments later, the moon rose from behind those same clouds taking our collective breath away. This is a fact: at Kane Ranch the contrasts often leave me breathless, sighing over light and dark, or gasping aloud at something I never even imagined was there.
The stone building is a record of this place’s history. The worn threshold reminds us how many boots have crossed over. The back door’s paint is crackled with age. The latch on the front door predates doorknob technology. This past makes the present possible.
The silence here is palpable, interrupted by a fly buzzing, the metal roof expanding in the heat of the morning sun, the lowing of cows in the field, all things that register either barely or not at all in our daily lives. The quiet gave us time and space to breathe, think, and resolve whatever we’re wrestling with.
Saturday morning, I walked most of the way up Kane Canyon. I wanted to take note of what was, against the odds, still blooming in mid-November: paper flower, globe mallow, purple asters, prince’s plume, Indian paintbrush, Apache plume and astragalus. I wanted to feel the walls of the canyon pressing in on me, imagine what it was like here a hundred years ago, and walk along a diminishing path to a place few people see.
Change happens honestly and inevitably here, the result of eons of pressure from inside the earth, from wind and water, light and dark, and a multitude of hidden forces. By stepping away from man-made places, and into a world constructed according to a deeper, truer order, I feel I have a fighting chance to understand the nature of truth.
Sunday morning, the air is still. I wake early and watch the sun rise. In this empty space, I can almost see my thoughts coming, like headlights after dark. I think nothing can sneak up on me, but it does. I luxuriate in the morning light, and pick up a book I’ve been struggling to read. A quote by Rainer Maria Rilke jumps off the page and into my lap.
“[It is]…impossible to see the Angel without dying of him.”
In that instant, I drop into some altered state and experience everything in sight – grass, rocks, cows, air, sagebrush, birds, fence posts, absolutely everything – as animate objects. The feeling lasts for several magical and yet solid moments.
Later today I will return to that other world of work, relationships, complexity, entanglements, conflicts, and a barrage of stimulation. But this morning, for just a little while longer, the distractions of the man-made world are held at bay and I see the Angel.
These moments of clarity settle my thoughts, so I can recognize grace when I see it in the constructed world, even if it’s just a glimpse of something true and wild, or true and tame. Most often, and if I’m lucky, I graze that state of mind at my desk in the early morning.
In these wild places, we develop acuity. That keenness of perception allows us to point to truth, to call it by its name, to see patterns and how things work. To know what is important and worthy, and invoke grace to jettison what is not. These places give us time to think, to resolve our conflicts, to come to grips with necessary injustice, to become passionate about injustices we can change, to construct and then understand our personal stories, and to understand our place in the world.
When I am ready to die, I want to lie down in this sagebrush sea and let the coyotes and ravens take me. Or have my ashes carried up Kane Canyon and distributed, a thimbleful at a time, under certain four-wing saltbushes and globe mallows, and the other plants that still bloom in the last days of fall. In that way, after I am gone, my spirit will stand with hands raised to rest on the gateposts in front of this house, waiting for the full moon to rise.
Kane Ranch’s ecological and scenic integrity is being restored and maintained by the Grand Canyon Trust. For more information, visit Grandcanyontrust.org/kane