Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim

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If all you ever see is a photograph, you can’t help but sense something of its grandeur. You will understand it is unlike anything you have ever known. You will marvel at the colorful layers, at the jagged edges and curious shapes, at the blue of the sky.

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If you stand on its edge…well then. You will feel something in you grow larger to meet it. You will breathe deeper, stand taller, and your soul will begin to sing. Your eyes will try to fasten on something familiar; something to keep you from dancing off into the abyss. And the deep gladness you feel for the gift of being here, even once, will astonish you.

A breeze blows up from the canyon carrying silence. A silence that is ancient and raw and wide. You watch sunlight paint the stone in brilliant washes, while pockets of shade keep certain secrets to themselves. You strain to catch a glimpse of the river, but the cold, dark Colorado is elusive unless you walk the rim trail to the west. There you will see fragments of its sinewy form and, if the air is still, hear the thunder of its rapids.

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But if you dare to dip below the rim…then, my friend, you truly begin to know her. You feel the grit of her against the bottom of your boots. The deep plunge of her walls becomes a memory in your muscles. And the play of sun and shade are something you wear on your skin. You are becoming part of her; your footprints in her soil, her dust on your skin. As the rim recedes further and further into the distance, you are astounded that the river is still so far beneath you. And the enormity of her becomes a visceral, ponderous reality. You rattle around inside her like a bead in a washtub.

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She whispers secrets to you. She shows you stones of vermillion that break open to centers of verdigris. And you walk on the green dust. She startles you with clumps of yellow wildflowers, purple asters, piles of snow. You look up to see a bighorn sheep perched on an impossible ledge, and pass a rattlesnake curled against a stump. You feel the wind that blows up off the Colorado River. You hear the shimmer of the aspens.

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She will test you. She will ask questions of you. Questions about motivation and fortitude and what it means to truly love. You may taste pain and despair on her behalf. She will prove that there is more to you than you know. And she will provide companions on the journey. Companions who encourage and tell stories, commiserate and give advice. And if you manage to climb out on the other side, you will understand that a part of you is hers forever. That you are wed to this place, to this endeavor, to the blood and sweat and heartache of it, to the wild extravagance and the glory.

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On Saturday, October 12, the state of Arizona re-opened Grand Canyon National Park to the delight of a great many federal employees, and to visitors like us who poured across her threshold that very day. On Sunday, October 13, Mike and I hiked from the south rim to the north by way of the Kaibab trails. It is one of the hardest and most rewarding things either of us has ever done. Due to some unexpected health issues, we did not return to the south rim on foot as planned, but rode the last north-south shuttle of the season back along with 4 other rim to rim hikers.

The hospitality we received on both rims and the sweet companionship of fellow hikers on the trail were unforeseen gifts. The long, leisurely hikes we took along both rims on the days following will linger in my memory as golden morsels of grace. My gratitude for the health and strength to undertake such an audacious task is without bounds. And the knowledge that so many friends and family were following our story and cheering us on magnified our joy immeasurably. To all of you who provided kind words of encouragement, and especially to those who offered hospitality in our hour of need, thank you.

My heart is full.

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When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~Mary Oliver, excerpted from “When Death Comes”