CHASING DOWN THE MUSE
“Let the beauty of what we love be what we do. There are a hundred
ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Kanab Creek is the largest tributary canyon system on the north
side of the Grand Canyon. I’ve had the remarkable good fortune to
hike its lower miles twice in one season. It’s rock-strewn canyon
slips between step walls colored with mauves, reds, deep browns and
golds. Large boulders litter the creek bed, shoved by upstream
flashes and rock falls from its vertical slopes. Fresh water steeps
provide verdant green plant life that includes Crimson Monkey flowers
and Maidenhair ferns. The cliffs are home to bighorn sheep and
Sunlight casts soft shadows on the canyon’s center, teasing me
with subtle reflections of the redwall and tapeats. Late September
light is seductive and sensuous. Drained of the burning heat of
summer and not quite the cooler air of fall, the light and I bridge
the seasons as I climb gingerly into the morning.
Stepping through green rushes and heavy red silt, I nearly place
my foot upon a sleeping rattlesnake. She lifts her head and rolls an
eye. Then, recognizing that I am no threat, she tucks her neck back
into coil and resumes her resting. Beyond her, deep tracks of gray
heron and big horn sheep are deeply etched in the recently flashed
mud. I walk up canyon, mesmerized by the quiet, broken only by
running water and the soft call of the canyon wren.
I’ve set out alone, leaving the other hikers from the Canyoneers
rafting trip to organize their gear. I walk in meditation, camera
connecting, eyes fixed on the light and shapes of rocks and water. In
a Zen-like space, lulled by the creek’s flow, I transcend another
level of my “citied” self and once again am honored as the canyon
opens herself to me. Primordial rocks and carved stone pass secrets;
carry ghosts of those ancient ones who once called this arid region
One by one, the rest of the hikers pass me on their journey to the
Whispering Springs. I remain un-swayed by their hurried cadence,
exalted in my solitary exploration.
The scent of sheep catches in my nostrils, musky and fresh.
Hikers’ tracks, those who have just passed me, lie beneath fresh
sheep prints. How is this possible? The sheep have come between us
without a trace -- save these thick cloven prints. I stop and scan
the narrow canyon. The sheep’s sure-footedness must have carried them
onto rock ledges where their soft tan color blends completely with
the terrain. I sense they are gazing at me, maybe even “sheep”
laughing at my attempts to discern them.
I kneel to touch the cool clear water. A monarch butterfly brushes
my arm. A pair of Anna’s hummingbirds whiz skyward in a jubilant
mating ritual. A blue damselfly lights on a shimmering boulder. I
stoop lower, barely breathing, hoping in stillness to gain closer
proximity to the silently beating wings. This arid canyon teams with
life. I am but one beat.
I join the other hikers at Whispering Springs, where clear water
spills from a cliff overhang. We swim in the deep pool, snack on
fresh fruit and relax out of the sun’s glare. Our “other” lives
continue to slough away as the canyon’s magic opens our souls.
The morning softness yields to the brilliance of mid-day as we
scramble down rocky faces back to the boats. I linger behind the
group, clinging to the sacred space, filled with a sorrow at leaving.
Just before the Colorado, I am again washed by the scent of musk.
I turn, and there, just beyond the creek’s edge, stands a small
female sheep. Could she be the same calf I had seen in the spring? I
stop, lower myself close to the ground and reach for my camera. As I
am set to release the shutter, she bounds out of view, as if she were
We climb back into the boats and float farther downstream. Another
side canyon, another hike only increase my hunger to know more of
this wild place. Each journey brings me closer to something that
continues to be just beyond the reach of my vocabulary, my skills
with language. I see the sheep in my memory, laughing. She knows that
I’ll be back, and that I’ll be looking for her up Kanab Creek.
* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer
who thrives off beaten trains. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 497-5081.