It’s called the basement of time. I am eight miles and five-thousand feet down the South Kaibab trail at mid-day. The temperature hovers close to 105 °F. My knees ache, and my body is tired. There is a rest house on the trail at this point, but it’s at least 100 yards from the Colorado River, so I have a choice between shade and putting my feet in cold water. I choose the water. Water is life. Mni Wiconi.
I like to hike alone. It allows me to go at my own pace and be at peace with my own thoughts. There is a small risk. A misstep, a turned ankle, hypo or hyperthermia which it seems I am feeling now, are all possible. But the solitude of wild places is worth it. I often pick a spot and just sit to absorb the wonder of the world. Small things like the fossilized reptile footprints I found yesterday 270 million years down under the Coconino sandstone layer. Or the shape of clouds in the sky, the angle of the light, the sound of the breeze in the quaking aspen.
We are conditioned to a world of action, motion and sound. We get bombarded by a cacophony of advertising messages on our portable media. Civilization insulates from the natural world. But there is no cell phone coverage in the basement of time.
I find shade behind a large bolder and watch the Colorado roil by. Then my eye catches movement across the river. A male Desert Bighorn makes his way down to the river. Slowly several ewes and a couple of kids emerge. The group begins to relax and the kids begin to play tag. First one dashes down to the water’s edge, jumps ten feet to a rock in the river, then to another and another before jumping to back to shore while the other chases. Then they change places and the one doing the chasing is now the chased. Their sure-footedness is amazing. One misstep and they are in the swift current. The sheep have evolved to live in this climate and to cling to the rocks. Their only natural enemies are mountain lions and man. The play helps them prepare to escape.
I watch them for twenty minutes before they move back up a cordillera. I feel grateful, and partly abandoned. We forget that we are part of nature and don’t control it. We have no dominion.
The Bighorn used to range over most of the southwest, but their range has been diminished by development and habitat loss. I understand that an Italian development company has proposed a community of 2500 luxury condos on the river bottom a few miles upstream. They would be connected to the rim by a cable car. They promise jobs and income to a few people so it must be a good idea? Never mind that a community that size would drain water resources and pollute the river. The jobs would be temporary.
We do a lot of this. Put our civilization in the middle of the wilderness. As I sit here, I think that this is a good place not to build a condominium. I don’t know if the bighorn can escape a condo. We can help restore what we’ve taken. But for now, it’s just a good day.
Savor the Earth!
Lee Hobart Stocking