Arizona Travel Poems
3 January 2015 — Los Angeles to South Rim
Stillness of spirit
The steady hum of motors
A tenuous bond
Climbing through the hills of San Bernadino on the I-15 as the first streaks of light cut through my windshield and mingle with the strumming guitar on the radio. It’s seven a.m., perhaps. I’m climbing in elevation and clawing out of the known territories of California, a land that is still a mystery after years of living in it. I coast into Barstow with five miles left in the gas tank, strategically pumping pedals. There’s ice on the ground. I celebrate the necessity of my winter coat.
I am acutely aware that my deliberately solo pilgrimage is converging with thousands of other journeys as I idle in the line funneling into the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. I have never traveled alone before. I am often alone, in company, in thought, in soul; I am often too invested in that aloneness to keep company with myself. And now, to be surrounded by the narratives of all these people in minivans and Range Rovers, to be trapped in a car with a road bike and myself, to grip the smooth steering wheel beneath my chewed fingernails — my aloneness is a vast, desolate stretch of sky.
The Grand Canyon looks like the pictures I have seen on my computer. It is larger than I can comprehend, but the structure — the peaks and valleys, the cragginess, the blend of colors over the centuries of wind and weather — are all, terribly, obvious. My pilgrimage has devolved into a Google image search in my brain.
I am amazed that the Rim Trail is nothing more than a barely discernible path along the very edge of this canyon. This massive, swallowing, gaping gorge of nature; I walk up to its brimming precipice and I am the only one responsible for stopping. The trail is, at one point, glazed over with ice. Gentle snowflakes ride the beams of fading sunlight as they dance off the ice, blinding my eyes.
. This canyon changes with each twist in the path. The Grand Canyon of bedroom prints and brochures is fading darker than the waning sunlight. It becomes more unbelievable the more it’s in front of me. This creation of God and of wind exists with or without me, oblivious to the crowds of people daring to get close to its edge. It is whole in its aloneness.
The moon rises and announces itself as the sun hovers above the canyon rim. Two halves of a whole.
4 January 2015 — South Rim
The abyss that stretches on
Past sight, past sound, gone
There is a meditation rock just outside the main village on the South Rim. The stone is frozen and firm underneath me, and I feel the golden insistence of the beginning sunlight pressing into me through my eyelids. I am paper thin and I am swirling in the wind over the canyon, dancing over the abyss in sudden gusts.
I hike for miles along the edge of this canyon. I occasionally come across another person at a main viewpoint, but I am mostly accompanied by silence and the crunch of my own boots. Soon, the path is no longer shoveled or maintained, but rather I am plowing my way through the feet of snow. I am a child ballooned with giddy air. As a child, you can venture out into the far end of a pool, the shining new classroom, the pristine morning snow. You can go forth knowing that you have someone behind you, there to carry you back if the snow gets too deep. I knew the canyon would whisper to me if I ventured too far.
I followed another twist in the path and caught two deer frozen behind a pine tree. The three of us were penetrated by silence. They were the first beings I had seen in an hour. The doe stayed behind the tree, cautious. The buck took his first tentative steps out, reaching across the divide. I crouched down, thinking that he might be more comfortable if I stood at his level. He wasn’t. We circled each other, trained on each other’s eyes, full of questions and wonder (on my end, since I refuse to project human thoughts onto this pristine animal). We existed together on that stretch of rock on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for ten minutes. Nature allowed me into its experience before dashing off across the deserted road a few feet ahead.
My last moment with the canyon was on a ledge I had crawled out to, a small protruding rock that dangled me over the open air. The smallest part of me wanted to die in this canyon, to climb further down and venture into the places where the sunlight never reached. The largest part of me wanted to take the canyon with me, in whatever figurative sense I could grasp onto and hold in my clenched fist for unknown days. I kept looking with strained eyes, eyes open wider than they are meant to be, searching for more sensory meaning in my last moments. The canyon carved space into my aloneness, and my solitude had breath. I wrote my initials on a patch of snow.
5 January 2015 — Sedona to Los Angeles
Ask me who I am
I knew in that brief moment
That faded reprieve
I have the road bike in the hatchback trunk of my car, and I intend to use it. I will ignore all bodily cues signaling that it is far too cold for me to be cruising at twenty miles an hour down the paved roads of Sedona. I will harness my willpower and brace myself against the rushing wind.
The sun came up an hour or so ago, and it warms the red hues of the rising rock surrounding me. These monuments of being are mute, subdued by the damp of melted snow. They loom ahead of me and stand sentinel in the side mirror on my handlebars. My teeth chatter of their own accord and I make up songs to sing about being frozen to death on a black-and-white bike.
The heat of my own sweat permeates through my jacket and steams the inside of my helmet. The hills of rock and pavement unleash lactic acid into my thighs. Everything is clenched, and I am breathing hard.
I find myself pedaling through a residential enclave, adobe and Spanish villas dotted along the road in the shadow of clay. There is a small, fenced off park. An entrance to a hiking trail. My feet slow their cycle. I allow myself to aimlessly wander along the rim of this other world.
My time in Sedona can be measured in hours. I am back in my car, watching landscape flit by as it flattens out into California desert. I am sinking into my seat as the highway sign welcomes me to my home state. I could get lost inside the crevices of this chair, sucked into the seat belt buckle with my hands stretched like Gumby, stuck to the wheel. I am hurtling back at eighty miles an hour to all that’s known, to a landscape that doesn’t change with the shifts in sunlight. I am out in the deep end of the pool and I don’t know if there is someone behind me. That space the canyon carved in me, the soft pungent air that allows me to be filled with myself — I pray that it has crossed over state lines.