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Moments in the canyon

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.”

-- Rumi

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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

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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

peregrine falcon.

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

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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

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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

home.

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

never there.

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

cooper@cooperdesign.net or (949) 497-5081.


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