Of all the gifts that Nature bestows on mankind, few are as powerful as perspective, and if there is one thing I gained standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon last June, it was that irrefutable feeling of being dwarfed by the scale of the chasm that lay before me. The view extended on as far as the eye could see, with the resplendent walls fading into indigo and violet as the Canyon receded into infinity to meet the bright blue sky. However, the most humbling observation was not the immense size of the gorge alone, it was the fact that the Canyon had been carved, inch by inch, by the great river that flowed unseen over a mile below the rim. What once must have begun as a ditch is now a palace of rock, stone, and light- 300 miles long, over a mile deep, and in places, nearly 20 miles across! Surely there is no greater monument to the power of time than the Grand Canyon.
“Each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon – each one makes his own Canyon before he comes; each brings and carries away his own Canyon.” This quote by Carl Sandburg is featured prominently in the Grand Canyon National Park visitor center, and it remained in my thoughts as I hiked down the trail into the Canyon that warm summer morning. Surrounded by the panoramic majesty of the great crevasse, I reflected on Sandburg’s words. We have all carved our own canyon walls, and not so differently from the Colorado River. My solo trip to Arizona that summer was my gift to myself after a pretty tumultuous year- one that had seen the end of a long-term relationship, a move to a new town, and the start of a new job. All of those events were landmarks in my own history, a fact which was poignantly brought to mind by the fact that I was walking in a place where two billion years of geologic history are laid bare.
Indeed, the Canyon keeps no secrets! Layers of the rock tell of a past of volcanic eruptions and prehistoric creatures that inhabited long-forgotten seas. There are places carved in the rock where the water must have run smoothly eons ago, lapping gently at the stone. Other places, the jagged edges speak to the fury of the rapids and crashing waves, tearing the rock away in violent chunks. How similar we are with the Canyons we create! Whether the moments of our lives were made in times of peace or in times of trial, what’s done is done; there is no changing what has been etched in stone. The life we have created – our Canyon – is permanent and unchanging; an everlasting monument to the choices we have made and the way we have spent our time. In light of this, how important it is to make the time we have count! The Colorado River has had two hundred fifty thousand lifetimes to do its work; we each have but one.
There is a webcam set up at Yavapai Point, on the south rim of the Canyon. Very soon after I returned from my trip last June, I discovered the webcam feed online and bookmarked it. Since then, I have viewed the webcam quite often, sometimes several times a week. I simply direct my browser to the site and wait for the picture to load, admiring the familiar stone walls of the Canyon. Sometimes the chasm is splashed with the bright hope of the early morning rays, other times it is covered in billows of fog, still other times it is bathed in the golden light of the setting Southwestern sun. The solidarity of the walls is comforting: I may be busy, stressed, or tired now that I am back to the demands of my twenty-first century life, but the Canyon is always there, unchanged, just a click away.
Of course, I know that is not entirely true: somewhere far below, deep down in the crevasse, the mighty Colorado is still working, continuing to push ahead into the future, in spite of the beauty (and even pain) that its past has created. I only hope that I can live the same way.
About the Author: Paul Rotramel is a public school music teacher. He spends his time away from the classroom visiting America’s national parks and baseball stadiums.
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