Here before us is “the big picture,” or at least a part of it. The breadth of this canyon, the nested oasis it contains, the plants we see here that do not show their thirsty faces elsewhere; all these combine and conjoin, spilling out from the base of the talus in a premeditated jumble.
We marvel at our species’ capacity for knowledge and our feats of engineering, but before us is a jumbo-sized puzzle no human could complete or improve upon by placing a corner-piece in one place or a bit of sky in the other. Yet someone has tried to build onto this puzzle, to tame the land here. The crumpled piles of barbed wire and bleached cow skulls say this place would not go easily.
Apart from the artifacts of defeat, here are some of the things which make this cliff-side canyon a place defined on its own terms, resilient to man:
- A pair of eagles swooping down, searching for food or shelter after a long day’s flight.
- Breezes and gusts split from the prevailing wind and sent swerving around basalt obelisks that rise from the flat grassland.
- The sweetly surprising softness of soggy ground in low places.
- Frail trees holding talus slopes in place against gravity’s anxious call.
- Water that once flowed 300 feet above the escarpments.
- The neon-glow of the lichen scattershot across the eastern cliff-face.
This hanging canyon is a home, a refuge, a restaurant, a pasture. For us it will be subject to a few hour’s study. It will not change (much) before our eyes, yet our sense of what it is will expand exponentially in the finite time we have.
When we leave, this place will have changed within us more than we will have changed within this place. It has seven billion years left, in theory. The land will change, species evolve and life be renewed for another eon. We each have only our lifetime, our small pieces of the puzzle to wander around and wonder at and interpret. So far there are only smudges of humanity’s fingerprints here, leaving the view clear. Sadly it is hard to believe that our species – enfant terrible to the world— will not break this piece to fit the others tossed in a pile nearby.