Haibun in the Modern English-Language Style by Ray Rasmussen
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The Whole Works
Canyonlands, Utah, April 28, 2001

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

A short way out a backpacker pops around a corner heading for the trailhead. Young, tan, brush hair cut 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 it back, the word just jumped out of my mouth.

“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,” and, I provide it. 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 labyrinth of sandstone canyons, I haven’t yet seen ‘the whole works.’ Of course, he was seeing the works laid out by the pamphlet highlighting key features. It suggests that the experience of being in Canyonlands National Park is one of 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, “What’s in there?”

I imagine that he is hoping I’ll say that 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,” I say.

“Oh,” he says. “Well, have a good one!”

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

“You too,” I reply.

day’s end –
the long shadow
cast by a pebble

published in tiny words, April 25, 2003