Monday, March 13, 2017

#SOL17: Canyon

From my art journal (2017)


There are moments during the last few weeks when I experience Rob's death as if I was standing inside a too-deep box canyon with no apparent way out.  At such times, it is not the beauty of the canyon walls I sense, but rather the impossibility of scaling or descending such steepness in order to arrive elsewhere. Arriving elsewhere is a destination I have trouble seeing, naming. What rests beyond the life I have known? Where is elsewhere?

And thinking once again about the canyon and its walls has me recalling Barry Lopez's opening description of a box canyon in his essay, "Gone Back into the Earth. "  It is an essay I first read on a May afternoon, one year after my mother died, when Rob handed me the book, Crossing Open Ground, with the opening page of the essay (p. 41) marked and simply said, "You'll want to make time to read this."

And I did.


In this essay, Lopez chronicles a ten-day river trip he made with 41 others--many of whom were musicians, most notably--Paul Winter. He begins the essay with a description of himself and the canyon:
“I am up to my waist in a basin of cool, acid-clear water, at the head of a box canyon some 600 feet above the Colorado River. I place my outstretched hands flat against a terminal wall of dark limestone which rises more than a hundred feet above me, and down which a sheet of water falls—the thin creek whose pooled waters I now stand. The water splits at my fingertips into wild threads; higher up a warm canyon wind lifts water off the limestone in a fine spray; these droplets intercept and shatter sunlight. Down, down another four waterfalls and fern shrouded pools below, the water splits into an eddy of the Colorado River, in the shadow of a huge boulder. Our boat is tied there.”
And it is the closing line that most catches my eye, most hitches my heart. "Our boat is tied there."

Since Rob's death, I've been bereft of both man and boat.
Moored, some days, by grief, and unmoored other days by possibility.


I wonder where there might be a boat for me. I recall that lovely advice Antoine de Saint-Exupéry gave: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

And isn't this a truth that grief reveals? It is not so much the vessel as it is the yearning that moves us, propels us.

Tonight I am wondering, how I might travel beyond the confines of the known canyon?


  1. Hi Mary Ann. Another post of depth and sadness intertwined with beauty in both prose and art. What came to my mind was "The Emerald Mile" by Kevin Fedarko. The reason is because it's about the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon and what I wanted to suggest to you, besides reading the book, is about hiking up out of the canyon. It's an amazing story, and in one way it's about getting out of the canyon but it's much more than that. Take care, and hope you're having a Spring break and some respite from what appears to be more winter weather in the East.

    1. Gary, I will look for the Emerald Mile. Now I am intrigued.

  2. I got lost here in the beautiful words and the difficult pain. Grief. Sigh. Grief.

  3. The depth of grief and grappling to understand and make sense of it all to carry on. I need to read this over and over. My mind mired with fresh, new grief makes this all so difficult to understand. Thank you for unearthing your pain, your sorrow, your questions.

    1. I read voraciously after Rob died. I amassed 50 or more books in the months following his death and read them all. I found comfort doing that. Looking for some bit of ground.Think I'll write about that.

  4. I haven't read Lopez's book, but the passage you share resonates. I've experienced that physical and emotional fear. I hope you'll find your mooring, your boat. I don't know when or how you'll find your way through the canyon, but you will in time. Sending love and thoughts of peace and comfort.

    1. Love, peace and comfort are all good and all necessary. I wonder if the boat isn't found in the words of others?

  5. I think that you are traveling the canyon right now, Mary Ann, with every post you write and every piece of art you create.


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