Grand Canyon and mules – extract from Farther from the Sun

We arrived at Grand Canyon, parked up and moved into a travel lodge – my parents, the kids, Liz and me. A snowstorm had gone through and coated everything in a couple of inches of pristine white. Icicles hung off the lodge. The sun shone and the sheer faces of the canyon glowed red in the evening light.

It was decided that my dad and I would go down on the two-day mule ride while the rest stayed up at the lodge.

We got on our mules bright and early and set off on the crisp and icy trail. It was exceedingly narrow and the mules were wide. I kept looking down into the seven thousand foot drop and wondering about the footing of our mules on the glassy ice. There were times when I was hanging out over the drop. One slip and you fell thousands of feet to your death. But the mules were sure footed and as we progressed down the temperature rose so that the ice turned to slush and then was gone altogether and I began to feel more secure.

It took a long time to zig-zag down and I had ample time to look at the amazing view of the steep, red, striated sides. Did one river really do all this? It seemed hard to believe.

At the bottom we got off our mules, our backsides sore and aching. We were not looking forward to the return trip the next morning.

Though it was late afternoon the sun still burned – thick winter coats at the top and T-shirt weather at the bottom.

We stood on the bridge and watched the red rocks glow in the evening light, fluorescent, like they were shining with some inner light. The shadows crept across the whole bottom but still shone on the escarpment on one side. It was magical.

Neither of us spoke. We looked down at the muddy waters of the Colorado, rich swirling chocolate and soaked it in. It was one of those shared moments that live in you forever.

Later we watched the moon reflected in the river and stared up at the stars through a clear sky from the bottom of this great crevice in the world’s crust. The sky was a mystical pool.

At least we’d experienced it together.

I wonder if it meant the same to him as it did to me?

The next morning we set off early, back up the same trail, with our legs stretched wide over the leathery hide of our mules, our sore arses bumping and aching muscles cramping. The ordeal did not feel so bad. The memories eased the pain. We finally reached the top and dismounted. Though I did not know it at the time, our last adventure was over.

I have a photo, taken by Liz, of my dad bent, bowlegged wincing as he stood at the top, having just dismounted from his mule. I doubt that I looked much better.



So what makes me angry? Rudeness, injustice, cruelty. I can’t see why a human being would want to do those things – to hurt other people. I wanna put them right. A lot of people see that as weird. Wanting to put things right, that is.

“Why? Just grab what you can for yourself. It’s your life. Forget the losers!” They say. “They deserve it!”

Nope. They don’t deserve it. It bothers me. I am compelled to at least say something about it.

I believe in gestures.


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