Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Grand Canyon: Postcards from the Rim

Today is the rick-man’s and my last full day in Arizona.  Almost three glorious weeks in Northern Arizona will not be followed by an intended multi-week adventure to the Tucson and south border area.  It is just too hot down south.   And so tomorrow morning we head off in a different direction, continuing our chase for good weather.

This last day will not find me on any trail.  Today is mostly about making preparations to move this condo-on-wheels to more remote locales with a good supply of house-hold provisions, groceries and clean clothes.  The rick-man is out and about running errands.  And so I find myself with an interlude of mid-day alone time inside the Airstream.

The want of precious alone time is no complaint directed toward the rick-man.  Nor is it a pronouncement of weariness with this lifestyle where our condo-on-wheels provides a mobile homestead of approximately 180 ft2 of living space for two people.  It simply is what it is: time alone indoors is a precious commodity when traveling with an RVing partner.

And what is my first action as the rick-man starts up the Suburban and drives into town?  I am nothing if not consistent:  I plug my iphone into the Airstream’s speaker system, turn up the volume, and select “Shuffle” for four of my favorite Joni Mitchell “albums” in my playlist.

Ms. Mitchell has kept me company during most of my therapeutic alone interludes for some forty-plus years.  But my consistency for love of her unique voice and melodic arrangements also comes with a kindness to those less appreciative—I save listening to J.M. until no one else is about.  “Good” grief from roommates and life partners in “the early years” did not present a mission for redemption of my musical tastes or theirs.  It just made any alone time all the more precious.  
Sometime around the age of fourteen I sat alone in my childhood home’s bedroom, and listened to “Blue” with the angst and introspection common to that age’s archetype.  And although I wrote many a stilted poem as part of my routine when alone with J.M., it was my shortest poem that has stayed with my memories and my life-personality all these years later:  Sometimes I Wonder, Sometimes I Wander.

With Joni Mitchell as my mid-day companion this last day in Northern Arizona, I would like to be able to share that I walked the South Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon this week and was overwhelmed with a depth of introspection that warranted a written journal of cascading thoughts and spiritual relevance.  But my 4+ mile leisurely stroll along the south rim was accompanied by only one repeating thought:  It is too big—it is just too big for me to personally understand.  I cannot relate to its vastness from the rim trail.  A baptism into the Grand Canyon’s meaning would, for me, require a trek to the canyon floor.  I am fairly certain of one life destiny:  I will never make that trek, at least not during this lifetime.  The Grand Canyon will remain for me a place too big and too distant to impact my life’s journey.  All I can give it is my respect.  All I can take from it is the photographs of a casual tourist.

And so I relegated my role to that of a pedestrian tourist, attempting to create photographic postcards that family and friends would probably view with ennui.  But I needed to feel some small purpose when in the presence of a place so grand.  I stood at rim’s edge (as close as my fear of heights would allow) and took digital snapshots.

The late morning’s full-ball sun gave my eyes a natural overexposure that would make capturing the vibrant canyon colors a challenge.  The rim’s angle of attack for viewing the canyon walls would make framing the extremes of depth and perspective a greater challenge.  I fought off a feeling of smallness; a sense of futility for my accepted mission.  But I turned and framed and shuttered my camera.  Again; and again.

I share with you my postcards from the rim.  I kind of like them.  But they only model a reality that is too big for me to understand.  Sometime I’ll wonder about this grand place.  Tomorrow I’m going to wander to another corner of Mother Nature’s homestead.  But today I wanted to share my Grand Canyon postcards with you.



  1. One of the things I remember Dad saying when we were young was that it was impossible to accurately paint the Grand Canyon because the colors are constantly changing.

    He would really like your photographs!

  2. Very cool.

    As you pictures get better, my expectations increase accordingly.

    In my humble opinion...

    Picture 1 has all the elements of an "average picture": the distance is getting hazy, the foreground has some "vegitation" that looks like just what was in front of you. (I'm sure you shopped for the best foreground, but it does not measure up when compared to picture 3.) The sky is overcast and so the lighing is all diffuse and flat.

    Picture 2 is much better: all the average elements from picture 1 have changed. The sky is showing through and where you can see it it is very blue. The foreground is now terrain/rocks with vivid colors. But the light is behind you so the facing canyon walls still look flat.

    Picture 3 is wonderful: there is a close forground object that is not just trees, but is rocky terrain up close, with just a bit of green and yellow. It matches the "terrain as rocks" that we see in the rest of the picture. The lighting of the facing walls is a combination of sunlight, shadow, and cloud cover. I particularly like the fact that the entire near face is in shadow, including the light colored foreground rocks. The contrast of dark in the lower right and light in the upper left keeps my eyes moving! The contrast in "mood" between the near dark and far light is surprisingly effective. Very good!

    (My only question for future reference is how a polarizer might have changed the sky color in picture 3.)

    Upon reflection, lots of pictures of the GC are actually of people standing in front of it. Many of those pictures include trees or other very close objects for "interest" or "framing" effects. But when you want to take a picture of the GC itself, do you want to include those same "framing" elements? Not in the same way, I think. That's why the trees in picture 1 seem out of place - they distract from the red rocky nature of the terrain. In picture 3 the close object is the canyon itself and that's why I think it's so much more effective.



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