Wholeness and Javelinas ~ Grand Canyon
At 3am, on the Fourth of July, I found myself barreling north along highway 180 from Flagstaff Arizona. The sun was nowhere near rising. The star-wave above held down my anxiety like the hand of a good friend. It was one of those nights I wished I could photograph the sky, that I had actually excelled in photography class and understood the F-stops and whatnots. But I didn’t want to stop, I was driving north at seventy to eighty miles an hour. Sunrise at Grand Canyon on Independence Day. It wasn’t my original intention; but now it was hard line. Hoopla had barked at odd intervals between my going to bed at 11pm and 2am when she finally woke me for good. The airbnb where I was staying felt and smelled strange, so I just packed up and left.
The road was barren. The lines on the pavement pulled me forward against the dark dark of the terrain around me. I hadn’t expected forest, but there were trees along the white lines, and the Moose crossing signs gave me pause. From my medicine cards, I’d learned that the moose totem is one of self-esteem. Moose represent a grand sense of self, and usually spend time with their own gender, until mating time. What if in the middle of this adventure, I collided into a giant regal Moose? What if my main memory of the Grand Canyon was ending the life of another animal, and destroying my car, or worse, myself?
Now, to be fair, I’d been ruminating in a dark head space. And I didn’t want to write about it. It feels ungrateful. Despite the fact that I have been exactly where I’ve needed to be this whole time, my sense of displacement has shuttered me more in the past couple days. I felt lost in San Francisco, so I left. Life is a guess-and check, so if one thing doesn’t work, you try another. How many times have you heard “get back up, wipe yourself off, and start all over again?” Well it turns out that lost feeling can follow you like a broken bumper on your car. I have felt lost in basic ways, like where do I put down my purse when I walk in a new door? Like, where will this highway detour lead, and when will I get cell service again? I have felt lost in trying to decipher if each new person I’ve met will be my travel friend, be annoyed with my desire for conversation, be wary of getting close because s/he may like me too much. There is a song by Kings of Convenience that I’ve been singing lately, “A song for someone who needs somewhere to long for, homesick cause I no longer know where home is.” I’ve traveled and moved enough to know that feeling “found” isn’t a place, it’s inside me. But it doesn’t stop the restlessness. I have been homesick for something I can’t name. Leaving a stable life didn’t deliver it to me on a platter.
So maybe, I thought, the wonder of the Grand Canyon would settle me into the home of my present moment.
Except that those signs were not just a hoax. I was not worrying for no reason. Intuition, it turned out, was spot-on. Sometime before highway 64, my headlights, and then my car, collided with a living thing. Brakes have little recourse when a wild thing appears so quickly. The thud of the animal against my front bumper happened before I even registered what I’d seen. Was that a porcupine? An armadillo? A pig? It looked like a hairy, spiky pig! It must have been 50 pounds, but the thud registered the way it would if I had hit a large skunk. I didn’t veer off the road, and didn’t go back to check.
I had killed a living thing. A large living thing. The shock gradually solidified into something else. Anger? Sadness? Why, when I was already hurting, did this happen? The story of defeat gradually crept in. The story that I should have trusted my instincts, but didn’t. The story that fear begets the thing you fear, but I was incapable of quelling it. I said a prayer for the life of the animal, which I later learned was a javelina. I said a prayer for myself. And I drove.
Within 20 minutes the sky began to warm, blueing and orangeing into day. After this collision, I felt even more desperately that I had to get to the canyon by dawn. The fervor overtook me, as if I could arrive and drop all my negativity into this hole. As if the sun warming into this giant wound on the earth’s surface would fill the hole in my heart with light.
It took another forty-five minutes to get to the gate, where no one was working. There was no map handed to me, so I drove in circles for a while looking for Mather Point. Or Hermit’s Rest? Or, what would be best? It didn’t matter. I had to get to the rim. This is the one park that allows hiking with a dog, and both Hoopla and I needed it. I just needed to arrive. After circling campgrounds and the canyon medic, I finally found a sign that said “Overlook” and parked. I snapped Hoopla into her harness and we walked through a long maze of paved trails. At the first sign, I remembered, I killed a strange animal. Three hundred feet, another sign, I had no home. Five hundred feet, I was alone on a national holiday. Another three hundred feet, and then I saw the chain-link fence.
I walked up to it, I took a giant deep breath and looked out into the abyss. Nothing could have prepared me for this. My imagination had not gone to this kind of depth. To the north, I saw layers of warm grey. To the west, the greys divided into the colors of dirt, rock, and greenery like a washed out photo. To the East, I saw the sun crest the horizon. I caught it. I could simultaneously not breathe, and took the deepest breath I’d taken in weeks. I felt a wave of love that swept over me like a permission slip to be broken, be frail, be lonely, be human. The sun began to hit the sides of crags and peaks in the canyon, forming sharp angles of shadows. I began to hear the animals scurry and sing around me. I looked down at a pair of ravens flying half a mile below me. I have never seen two flying together, but I was happy that I did that morning. As the sun continued to rise, I walked along the fence, out to the overlook. At its deepest point, the canyon is a mile down. At its greatest width, it’s seventeen miles across. How could something as hard as the rock before me, be worn down and shaped like this? How could land be lack of land? How could the earth divide like a layer cake jostled in the back of a car on a hot day? Something so broken down be whole? I felt small, but important. The vastness humbled me. I was part of this amazing world. I am part of it still. Amazing and misshapen as I am.