One of the particular joys of arriving in the canyons at night is not seeing where you are until morning. You set up camp in the dark and go to sleep blind, and maybe wonder, “What does it look like? Is there snow?” Because you can’t know the scale and scope of the canyons in the dark, even with a moon. You just can’t see that far by the reflected gleam of moonlight. Detail is lost and you can’t judge distances. It is ghostly and ethereal.
But in the morning you wake in unfamiliar territory and stare for a few warm moments at the wet inside of your tent. Y0ur first thought is usually about time, your second about weather. You try to gauge both by the ambient light in the tent, but it is a crude measure. The condensation that slowly runs down the inside of your tent doesn’t bother you; your sleeping bag is too comfortable. But the curiosity you fell asleep with spurs something in you, creeps in and eventually wins out – like unfinished business from the night before.
Maybe you don’t even have to get out of your sleeping bag. Maybe if you just unzip and poke your head out, that will be enough. So you sit up, reach down to the foot of your bag, and stretch to reach the tent zipper. With a jerk or two that inevitably ruffles the tent enough to rain gentle but cold droplets down on you and your partner, the zipper opens and you flip back the flap, and behold the world outside.
It is like being born. You find yourself utterly transported to a foreign landscape of staggering beauty and magnitude. The details are sharp on the canyon walls and the low sun – must be about 7am – bathes everything in soft, orange light. Blue sky, red earth, dark streaks on the canyon walls, and a dusting of white snow layered on the prominent features – the color scheme itself is astonishingly beautiful. You may wonder, is it really that beautiful or am I just giddy? Am I somehow conditioned or evolved to appreciate natural scenery? Maybe both or all three. In any case, you are enjoying the sight and you feel like you should have been here all along.
Because it has been here. The canyons have been here. Just sitting. Waiting. All of this – the canyons, the walls, the red earth, the snow – all of this has been here and you haven’t. What have you been doing? What on earth have you been doing?
The canyon walls are tall and far away, so tall and so far away it is hard to conceive of their size. You feel like you could just bolt from your tent and run there and at the same time you know it would take you an hour to get there. The air is crisp, making your sleeping bag all the cozier, and then you remember your students and the job you have to do. There is breakfast to organize, packs to pack, curriculum to teach.
The first step is getting dressed and out.