Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

The High Thin Edge

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The overnight temperature predicted is minus four degrees Celsius. We planned to walk the whole length of the Rim trail today. It's 15 or 20 miles. I don't have the courage to ride a mule down the narrow trail to the bottom of the canyon or the stamina to make the ten mile walk down Bright Angel trail to the canyon floor and back.

I prepare a knapsack:
• Water
• Turkey sandwiches
• Mixed nuts
• Power bars
• Paperback books
• Knife
• Digital camera
• Maps
There is a system of propane shuttle buses that run every 15 minutes. We take the bus fifteen miles to the westernmost edge of the park, on a road that bans private vehicles.

The terminus on The Rim is called 'Hermits Rest'. This place has another building designed by architect Mary Coulter. The road we traveled was built by the Union Pacific railroad from their railhead ten miles back. From here wealthy travelers took mules down into the canyon a mile below for an overnight stay. The whole two day package cost $18.25. The 'hermit', Louis Bouchard, lived in the canyon below and was hired to tend the mules by Union Pacific. The railroad built this route to avoid paying the toll on the Bright Angel trail.

We've seen a picture of Mary Coulter preparing to descend into The Canyon by cable in the early part of the last century. During our hike we find the concrete and steel stubs of the top of the cable system that was used to transfer supplies and Mary to the Union Pacific resort a mile below. A student from Bulgaria asks me to take his picture and I ask him about his travels. He's also been to California and Niagara Falls in New York.

We head east along an unpaved trail on The Rim. The trail is built on the very edge of the rim, often becoming a two-foot wide ledge with an abyss on one side and a rock ledge on the other. The trail is full of large rocks and loose gravel. This trail is much more than I expected. It's fairly pointless to try to describe the beauty, grandeur and vastness of The Grand Canyon. Eventually we find a flat rock outcrop and stop eat our lunch. I ask the Commandant for a full hour lunch break and we read our books and try to decide what colours we are seeing. We decide that greens, browns, oranges, blues and purples in combinations predominate. The stillness and quiet is strange to us. A black Raven flies past our rock. We hear the wings beat.

We walk for five hours, counting lunch. The whole trail is an overlook, but we also pass many abandoned developed overlooks from back in the days that private vehicles could travel on this road. The only ones who use these overlooks now are on foot like us. We only meet two other hikers during the day who pass by as we eat lunch. I struggle with my vertigo, approaching the edge but unable to look down, then stepping back again. I remember looking down from the World Trade Center roof and visualize five very small World Trade Centers stacked one on top of the other in the center of the Canyon five miles distant. An old Quicksilver Messenger tune called The Works of Man replays in my head and I think about all the people who decided on the same day to step out of the building and hit the street below. This is a place that lends itself to meditation and daydreams, but I need a daydream-catcher to filter out bad daydreams.

Onn the 11th of September Tom and Jil lived on the south side of the south tower of the World Trade Center. They built their flat on the seventh floor of an abandoned office building in 1972 and moved from Brooklyn. The office workers, in the tower across the street, would sometimes wave at us when we went to visit them.

You could only see the first 30 floors of the tower from the flat's windows due to its proximity. I never missed a chance to go to the South tower roof on our visits.
They were in New Mexico, on vacation, on The Day. Their flat was used by the FBI as an observation post since it was on the same level as the rubble. Someone drank all her wine and left graffiti on the walls. This was no great additional loss since all their windows were blown out and the flat was full of dust, asbestos, pieces of the tower facade, computer pieces and possibly body parts.

Their dog-sitters took their old dog over the Brooklyn Bridge. She was traumatized and never really recovered. Eventually they had to put her down since she howled continually when left alone.

Tom is an artist and photographer. Some of his photos are on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jil collected and sold African ancient tapestries to decorate Corporate offices. She studied at the Sorborne in Paris and Julliard in New York.

Tom had never driven very much or owned an automobile. They decided that owning things was not all that important. They purchased a diesel pickup truck and a trailer. This is their third year of full-time travel. They work in places like the Indianapolis 500 and Mount Rushmore for a month or two and move on to Alaska, Mexico or Florida.

We spent two days with them this year and brought two bags of freshly picked citrus. Tom likes red grapefruit a lot so I load him up with those. I cook them salmon and a salad of spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes, raisins, mandarin orange slices, pine nuts and goat cheese with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

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