First Sight: The young man hunched in the wind leaned on the rail at the overlook gesturing to an unfenced tower beyond which it looked as if all the rock on the continent had been cranked open. He said, “I feel like I want to go to that rock.” Maybe he too felt the temptation of that galactic fall, the Canyon humming to him like some ancient radio made for luring one close, closer, a little further out and to look down, deeper, over, up, far away. The body wants to unlink from caution. The eyes fall in love with going into that space, with just rising and joining the ravens out there on the thermals.
Before we were saturated with the paintings and then photographs that have dulled our sense of awe and perception, what must the early Navajos and Hopis have seen when they first wound through the screen of fir trees to the edge? Were they overwhelmed?
The Canyon widens to 10 miles at the South Rim and coming down to the river, ledge by table by esplanade, it deepens to a mile. In this range of vision lies the Unkar Delta, farmed by native peoples for hundreds of years. I can trace the drainages they descended to move from the high desert plateau to the Colorado river. A Ranger tells me that on winter nights, the air clear and cold, she can watch car lights and the home brightness of individual hogans far to the west in the Navajo lands that border the National Park. She hesitates, and then slightly blushing, she says that she comes out here alone when the Park is deserted to see those lights, and the star fields too.
No photo or adjective can capture the experience of directly gazing at the Canyon. It is too much. The eyes look for contours and thresholds, for a frame where a contrast can render its width and depth distinct and thus comprehensible — so … a tower set against the drop, a raven poised at the summit of a tree which leans into its emptiness, a cedar lit by the sun on the edge of the abyss.
I walked along the rim until the crowds and their noise dropped behind me. Some ravens follow, curious, brilliant black in the sun.
All this unsubdued, nameless, beguiling immensity.
I envied the ravens who pitched and rolled above it.