Day's End

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Day's End


The Whole Works


The high desert has cooled to a tolerable 70 degrees. A slanting sun is painting the canyon walls pink, maroon, orange, lavender. I grab camera and knapsack, and head out on the trail.

A short way out a backpacker coming toward me stops to chat. He's young and tan with a brushcut 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?"

"Five days, long enough to see everything."

"Everything?" It's too late to pull back the word.

"Yeah," he replies, "Lost Canyon, Elephant Canyon, Druid Arch, Chesler Park, the Joint Trail, Peek-a-boo Springs, a whole bunch of ruins and petroglyphs—the whole works."

Social ritual demands a reply like "Wow, that's quite a hike in only five days." After all, in terms of distance covered, his is a feat not easily matched.

But I'm thinking that in my 25 years of hiking in this sandstone labyrinth, I haven't yet seen "the whole works." Of course, he was seeing the works laid out by the park pamphlet, which suggests that experiencing Canyonlands National Park means reaching goals, that visitors are collectors of arches and ruins visited, trails walked, miles hiked.

I see myself as him – as a young man again, lean, strong, full of enthusiasm.

"So, where are you headed?" he asks.

"Over there," I say, gesturing towards a small, nearly invisible branch of the canyon we're in.

"Oh," he says. "That's off the trail. What's in there?"

I imagine that he's hoping I'll say there's an Anasazi ruin or an arch.

How to tell him? There's no great feature in the wash I've selected for this evening's journey; it's not even a very long walk. It's simply a place where the occasional rush of water and the slow chiseling of wind and ice have produced curving sandstone walls, where wildflowers offer unexpected splashes of color, where stunted junipers twist in the dance of life, where there will be no footprints besides my own, where I may be lucky enough to hear the evening song of a canyon wren.

"Nothing much."

"Oh. Well, have a good one!"

"You too."

The mirror reversed, I see myself through his eyes—sparse hair, gray beard, long-sleeved shirt covering a paunch, worn-out boots.

day's end
the long shadow cast
by a pebble


R. Rasmussen, Tiny Words, April 25, 2003.