The first time he saw it. It was sudden. The desert lay around him. A sage brush filled blankness. He drove along thin road. Keeping with the traffic. The sky was wide and blue. Then at a bend you could see it.
There was a Grand Canyon. Falling away from the floor. A unbelievable depth. He stopped. He stared. It is like looking at the stars. They are so far away your brain doesn’t understand. And away out there was the bottom. A river wounding though the land. But it was so far. How could it be so far. He stared. And feared falling to his death.
The cliffs were layers and layers of sand. Rock created over an senseless amount of time. The layers like sheets of paper. Adding a feeling of depth. He almost wanted to count the layers. But knew it was a fools errand. The sun was beating down. His head turned this way. And then the other way. Staring down into the giant hole.
But it wasn’t just deep. It was wide. Could he even see the other side. How many ions was the ocean working on this in secret. Imagine the first person who found this place. Did they lose their mind. Could they even believe their eyes anymore. The canyon wasn’t a hole. And it wasn’t a crack. Though poets may call it both. Not even a fissure. The canyon is multiples of anything you can think. Canyons, cracks, holes. Because it was so wide. A fractal of canyons falling into canyons. Holes sunk into holes. And cracks which just kept cracking.
He couldn’t stop staring at the depth. Like this time I will understand. But he didn’t. And he stared some more. It wasn’t an empty landscape. A trail could be seen. The thin line like a con-trail cutting across the sky. A comet path in orbit. And trees. Like baby trees. Like ant trees. Down there so far beneath his feet. But were they trees at all. He stared from this rock, and then from the rock over there, and then another rock. He was drawn to the edge. And feared the edge.
Could a person even take a picture. His camera was with him. And he attempted to capture the canyon. But failed over and over again. He couldn’t photograph it any more than he could understand.
Standing before something so big, you turn to others. It makes you feel small. And you know your mind can’t grasp what is sees. You talk to others and they talk to you. People don’t speak to each other in public. But along the edge of this spectacle you talk. The various features have names. And they are named after gods and goddess. They look like temples. The god and goddess having come to earth. Made themselves homes with their own hands. And dug a ditch to keep humans away. Those mounds look like humans have never touched them.
He felt like he could stare for hours. But he wanted to move along. To see from another spot. Maybe he could understand from another angle. And every look contained the same raw power. The same vast explosion of being. Every look was the first look. Your mind can’t hold what it doesn’t grasp.
Over millions of years. Layer after layer. Winter and summer, winter and summer. The water washed its way into the very foundation rock of our planet. At the bottom is the Vishnu Shale layer. Rocks close to two billion years old. Half the age of our planet. And layered deeper than anyone knows.
There are almost 2 billion years of history written on the canyon walls. You can see traces of seas. And traces of deserts. Deep traces of history. One can’t imagine a timeline so long. As long as the life of those rocks at the bottom. And what kind of world gave birth to those rocks. The heat and the pressure they have existed through. They sat for so long. Under oceans. Under sand dunes. And they still sit beneath our feet.
It makes him dizzy. Again he fears the edge. But he can’t keep away. Won’t stay back where it is safe. Because he still hasn’t grasped the view. Hasn’t come to terms with its being.
On day two things aren’t any better. It is still the same. And his mind is still too small. In fact years later he makes a second trip. Which does nothing to help him understand. This canyon. One could wonder in its lives for ages. Disappear like Everett Ruess. In this incomprehensible labyrinth there is no exit. And there is no Minotaur. I’ll be honest. The subject of this story is myself.
Years later I sit unsure of anything I saw on those trips. And I want to go back again and again. To re-read it like a sacred script. Find the secret passages of truth. Seek the depths of our world. Crawl into the hole and come out like Alice in another land. Anything seems possible in a world where the canyon is possible.
The first time is like sex. But better. You remember what you thought. What you saw. How you felt. And there is something deep inside. A longing to return. There is a taste and a desire remaining. As long as I breathe. Even now it pulses. Return.
If I ever see it again, I am certain it will feel fresh. Once again the first time. In the long years between these years of my youth and my death. I hope to visit it again and again. In the shadow of the canyon, humanity itself is always in its youth. The layers representing our lives, our whole history. They would be a couple feet. In a mile deep timeline. Maybe another people, or race will follow us in a thousand years. The canyon will still be there in the dirt. But traces of ourselves will have washed and blown away.