My pedometer said it was 32,000 steps from the rim to the river where the base rock is 1.8 billion years old, give or take a hundred million. (It was less than 8 miles, but nearly a mile down, so I took little steps.) But every little shuffle was about 56,000 years of geology. So my first twitch down the trail passed democracy; the first lift of the knee marked all the time since Jesus, never mind Wesley, all the fruits of scientific method, the Indigo Girls and the Web.
I was silenced by the distant witness of petroglyphs that had improbably survived just a scramble up from the trail. But before my first foot touched the icy mud, I had passed them and all of recorded human history; and then all trace of humanity before the first switchback.
From then on, nothing but the raw creativity of time, wind, water and microbes. Entire oceans filled up, drained and up again. My favorite formation is the "great unconformity" where two geologic layers coincide impossibly because 1.25 billion years in between washed away without a trace. Think about it.
It is no small presumption to think we can comprehend the question posed by such a testament, much less an answer. But you would have to be dumb as a canyon full of rocks not to notice that life found a way. Infinitely serious creativity produces mule deer with ridiculous ears (they turn out to be really helpful in cooling), purple cactus (God only knows why) and trees that can grow in the most absurdly precarious places. God or time, some ask. God in time, I think.
And why we humans? Our sole capacity worth the evolutionary risk may be our capacity for awe, wonder, gratitude and sometimes, even kindness.
There is no litter in the canyon until you get back within a hundred feet of the rim and the 5 million people who come here. People at the bottom talk of "micro trash" and carefully scan their campsite before leaving. So I was so shocked when I neared the rim to see a plastic water bottle in the muddle trail that I stopped, carefully thought through how to get myself and my pack bent over far enough to reach it without spending the afternoon in that position. I figured it out, picked it up, poured out its purified water on a grateful pine, crushed the plastic into my pocket and walked on.
Only 1% ever go that far into the chasm, which might be about the same percentage of those attending church who ever give themselves to the vulnerability of the Spirit and its Question. Meanwhile, as Larry Pray suggests, walk softly.
Give way to those making their way up the path.
Thank the ones maintaining the trail.
Take on part of the load before giving advice.
And pay with the currency of gratitude.
(And thanks to Karen and the kids for sending me, to Jeff for accompaniment and to John and John for trail guidance.)
- Posted on the journey