Canyonlands Journal
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The Whole Works

Five p.m. I don my knapsack and head out. On the trail, I meet a backpacker coming back toward the trailhead. He’s young, has brush cut hair and, the stuff of envy, a shirtless turtle belly.

He opens with, “Neat place!”

“Yeah, sure is," I reply. “How long have you been out?”

“Three days, long enough to see everything.”

“Everything?” The word jumps out of my mouth – as much a challenge as a question.

“Yeah, Lost Canyon, Druid Arch, Chesler Park, the Joint Trail, rock art, ruins – the whole works.”

“Wow, that’s quite a hike in only three days,” I say. But I'm thinking that in my 25 years of hiking in this labyrinth of sandstone canyons I haven’t yet seen “the whole works.”

As in a mirror, I see my younger self in him – a child-man full of enthusiasm to hike all the trails, see all the places.

“So where are you headed?” he asks.

“I'm going into that wash,” I say, gesturing towards a small, non-descript branch of the main canyon.


“Oh, what’s in there?”

Maybe he’s hoping that I'll say the wash contains an Anasazi ruin or an arch. Anything will do, so long as it has a name to designate its collectability.

How to tell him? There’s no great feature in the place I've selected for this evening’s walk. It’s one of many small places where an occasional rush of water shapes sandstone walls into delicate curves, where desert plants offer unexpected splashes of color, where stunted junipers twist and twirl in the dance of life and where there will be no footprints besides my own.

“Nothing much,” I finally venture, “I'm just wandering around.”

“Well, have a good one!” he says, and hurries off.

I've stepped to the other side of the mirror, seeing myself through his eyes – sparse hair, graying beard, weathered shirt, scuffed boots, waistline bulge – “the whole works.”

“You too,” I reply, and might have added, Have a good, full life. There’s plenty of time to learn to walk in the beauty of small places.

alpenglow –
the long shadow cast
by an age-smothed pebble

Published in tiny words, April 25, 2003