Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Below the Rim, Here is What Matters

Chris and I hiked down into the Grand Canyon today. We took the shuttle bus out to the South Kaibab Trailhead and hiked down into the canyon. We went down four and a half miles and then Chris, wisely, turned us around. It turns out that hiking down into the canyon is much, much easier than hiking back up. Go figure. At some point I'll have to check how much elevation we climbed, just for giggles, but I know a few things now and that's what I'm here to talk about this evening.

One, it is important to do difficult things with a friend sometimes. It is especially important when the friend is your best friend and knows you better than almost anyone on Earth. He's the guy who knows your enthusiasm, your mania, your occasional habit of forgetting reason. When you have someone like that with you, it's easy to live to fight another day. I wanted to touch the Colorado River today, but instead I have a plan for my next trip to this place and I have some energy left this evening to type. I didn't leave it all in the canyon and I didn't hurt myself.

Two, to experience a thing like the Grand Canyon, I needed to get down into it. The rim of the Grand Canyon is a place I would rather never visit. I have just now listened to a woman counseling a couple about how to see the canyon without any effort at all. I've seen that part of the canyon. It is crowded and loud. People smoke there. They are pushy too. And many of the aren't terribly nice. Even those who are nice are lost in the hubbub.

Below the rim, even a quarter of a mile in, Chris and I found hikers who wanted to be in the canyon, to be away from the day to day nonsense. We didn't want to hear car alarms or smell cigarettes. Instead we wanted to hike and see impossible beauty. Getting below the rim made that possible almost immediately. We chatted with couples who were hiking down to Phantom Ranch, doing day hikes, or coming out of the canyon. All of them, every single one, were friendly and shared our enthusiasm.

Three, there is a lot to talk about when hiking down four and a half miles and hiking back up over the course of seven hours. Chris and I talked about politics some and we are of like minds when it comes to that sort of thing. Today we were talking about gay marriage and how it seems a matter of kindness to not just allow anyone who is in love to marry, but a matter of moral imperative. How, we wondered, could someone claim to believe in the teachings of a compassionate religion and then maintain that some people have no right to marry the person that the love. It baffled us.

We walked on and talked about how faith can be beautiful but that religion, to our minds, is not. Rick Santorum is a supposedly a religious guy and yet a hateful guy sure that he knows the one true way. He's out of the Presidential race and we aren't going to miss him much.

Other than no liking Rick Santorum or religion, it's tough to be negative hiking down into the Grand Canyon and back up out of it. Hiking it with my best friend, I found myself thinking of compassion and awareness rather than the politics of the moment.

Soon we lost touch of politics and pointed at the rocks, the cliffs, the path ahead and behind us. Beauty goes beyond politics and the daily news. Being in a place that so clearly is ancient, I find myself questioning my need for news, politics, religion, name brands, money, or any of the other trappings of our culture.

Next week I'll be back in the world, so to speak, and be thinking about Romney, Trayvon, the Pope, Samsung, interest rates, and what's on television. But for now, it's lovely to be in a place where I can step onto a trail that leads down into the ancient world away from the madness. There I find people who are also only too happy to escape the current world. There I can walk with my best friend and imagine that friendship, kindness, and compassion are the only things that the Colorado River can't wear away no matter how many million years it tries.

Write on.