Our Story in Layer and Time

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

There is nothing like the Grand Canyon to make you feel like a speck in time. I hadn’t foreseen the irony of that as my partner and I planned a trip to the Grand Canyon to celebrate the 60 years we have each been on the planet as of 2022. You can start to feel kind of old when you’ve been around that long, so it was disorienting to feel as microscopically fleeting as I did a couple of weeks ago, standing before that otherworldly land formation split open to reveal the chronology of time itself, millions upon millions of years charted in rocky bands of color, each layer stair-stepping higher and higher to the heavens.
In canyon years we were but a mere millisecond, but nonetheless, out there on the trails our own strata of age was more than evident. Divvied up amongst our party of 4 was a set of bad knees, a pair of asthmatic lungs, a bum foot, a problematic shoulder and a skittish nervous system. But despite all the wear and tear, we were keeping it together and feeling young and free as we sailed along on bikes that first day through the Snow Canyon park.
It was dastardly hot when we pulled off the bike path to glug water and grab handfuls of trail mix. No sooner had I plopped down on the bench than a truly elderly gent plopped down beside me, asking if I’d saved the seat for him. He was a trim and spry guy wearing a baseball hat, a golf shirt, what appeared to be a very good pair of jeans now cut off at the knee with a neatly folded cuff (why am I so charmed by that neatly folded cuff?) and white walking shoes. He also had a bottle of water and a stick which he rested on the bench between us. We offered him some trail mix which he waved off saying he had diabetes and it would mess up his numbers. He walked three times a week on the path and always checked his blood sugar when he got back from his walk, so no thank you.
We ambled through the lovely sort of conversation one has with a friendly fellow human being, especially when on vacation. In the presence of the staggering, striated beauty of the canyons, we found out he lived a few miles down the road. He’d moved to the area 20 years ago and was still moved, every day, by the grandeur of the landscape. As for activity, he no longer golfed because of his knees – he’d given that up 3 years ago at age 84. Instead, he’d taken up walking. Though his balance wasn’t all that good and he wasn’t all that strong anymore, he managed by stopping at every bench along the way to gather strength (which explained why he so quickly claimed the seat by me before anyone else from our party could get there.) We admired him for his liveliness and adaptability, one of us mentioning the usefulness of his cane which he quickly and a little sharply corrected: it was a walking stick.
A while after riding off on our bikes we saw a red convertible driving out on the canyon park road. It was him with the top down, face to the sun. Here was a hobbled man who still walked his miles. When he could no longer walk you got the impression he would go find some wheels. When he could no longer wheel himself around, you got the impression he would just sit and look around at the world with awe. You got the impression that no matter what fell away, as long as he had eyes, he would look for the light.
I think ever-increasing awe may be one of the gifts of age. One afternoon as we (once again) stood gaping at the Grand Canyon, a teenager a few steps away with his family was muttering about “the colossal waste of time” this all was. We smiled. In a moment he will be an old man and I imagine he won’t see it that way.
Age…there is a brutal beauty to it not wholly unlike the force of the Colorado River as it dislodges the boulders and debris that pummel the sides of the Canyon walls during flash floods, shearing away great plates of rock to reveal what the canyon is made of, the astonishing beauty of its layered bedrock, the wonder of its story through time. We are not so very separate.
Have yourself a heavenly day,