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Copyright 2005 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

Tara K. Harper
March 30, 2005
    

In which TKH goes to Utah and Nevada, and does a really stupid thing
on the edge of a cliff in Bryce Canyon...

    

Sometimes I think I'm a flake.  ("Sometimes?" asks my husband.)  I mean, my mind seems to be in different segments, just as I think of writing time as different types of time.  For example, book time is character time, not my time--I'm not writing for me, but for them, the characters.  I'm just telling their stories.  My writing time is empty-book time, when I wander on paper.

So what do I write for me?  I recently went to Nevada and Utah, ostensibly to visit the in-laws, but ended up with a birthday surprise trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon.  I came away with an adventure that will definitely go in the books--which I won't tell here, except to say it was one of the stupidest, most frightening things I've done in a long while, and had to do with the edge of a cliff, a slidy snow pack, and my abject fear of heights.  Anyway, I was doodling away in my empty book at a rest stop on the way there, and my husband asked what profound thoughts I was scribbling down.  So I read to him:

         Sittin' at the rest stop
         Watchin' people eat
         Listen'n to the highway sounds
         And little birdy tweets 

Shades of Ogden Nash.  My husband gave me the oddest look.

Here are some other excerpts, just descriptions of where I am, what I'm seeing:


3/18
It's green here, really green.  I never expected green.  Rain, they say, too bad you missed the bloom.  But it looks like central Oregon in spring, where all the ground is green.

There's a line of mountains, scattered shadows of snow, a single inch of coolness in the distance against the sky.  Clumps of tiny purple flowers, heady grasses about to collapse under the weight of water-fed heads of grain.  Birds--sparrows, picking the moths off the grills of the cars, and the green grass, green weeds, green clumps and humps of shrubs and thin-stemmed eager weeds.


3/18
Joshua trees.

Odd beasts.

Stubby trunks like stunted rhodies, then tufts of sharp green spikes at their ends, as if each plant burst out in response to the sun, but had no knowlege -- being desert-born -- of how to reach up to the sky like a proper tree, and so settled for exuberance instead.


3/18
Long drive; rocks fading into darkness, shades of red and sand and black washing away, one into the other with waves of stone and rumbles of hills--the stubs that are left of the mountains, the remains of an ancient sea.


3/18
Zion -- majestic, Paul said, but I find the rocks leading into and out of the park far more interesting than the faces and pinnacles within.  I understand the fascination people have for the place.  The creek is pretty with gray-green water, the trunks of trees lie gray-white-bleached, scattered like the boulders.  It's green and white with grass and growth and old scales from the tree trunks, while all around the walls rise up -- words written a thousand times before, I'm sure -- in all the shapes and shadows one expects.

And yet they are just faces.  They don't rise up so much as they are exposed, worn, wearing down, cracking apart and casting themselves away.  It is a downward movement, not something eager and upthrust.

Small boulders, a lift here and there show ancient lines of movement, but the faces of the valley are heavy with old age.  They no longer raise their arms, but wrinkle back in cuts that deepen every winter.  Their eyes weep and tear in the wind so that the tracks of their tears stain their faces.  Their toes are lumpy, swollen mounds, pocked with corns of sandstone.  Old age, not youth,  and majestic in a ruined sense, majestic with the memory of power, majestic in forgotten glory only dimly glimpsed at sunset.


Side Note:  About Bryce Canyon, I recommend going to the far point first and coming back toward Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, and the rest.  The most fantastic views are the ones closer to the park entrance, so going to the farthest point first means seeing what seems wonderful first, then seeing formations and shapes that are more and more fantastic. Doing the fantastic first may mean being slightly disappointed with the other views, in spite of the fact that they are, in their own right, marvelous.

We were at Bryce when the snow was still deep.  It was blowing down hard enough the day we were there that they were closing the park behind us, and we drove out of the mountains in blizzard conditions while towns around us were being cut off.  My trip to Bryce was a surprise birthday present, so I didn't have anything but shorts to wear (I was prepped for the desert, not snow).  I layered on a vest, fiberpile jacket, and manly-sized shell for a day of snow-shooting.  Looked like a blimp on stumpy legs, but was plenty warm even in the shorts.

In that typical oddness that happens when one goes from the mountains back down to the desert, we went from blizzard conditions, to thunderstorms and flash floods, to 90-degree heat in the space of half a day.

Here are a few excerpts from Bryce Canyon:


3/19
The snow started at dawn, light and dry, driving slowly, straight in at an angle.  No flurries, no wasted motion, just tiny nits against a dark grey sky, above a brilliant, blinding white where their brethren had already landed.

My chest is tight.  I have trouble breathing at this altitude.  Oddly, my heart rate remains steady.  It's just the air, filling but not fulfilling my lungs.  I walk quickly -- naturally.  Then I slow, then stroll, then struggle for my breath.  The wind burns my skin to red, and I don't feel it as I fight to breathe.  My ears and fingers are tingly-burny numb, but I expected that -- the bike shorts leave my skin exposed, and I cut the fingers off my glove in order to handle the cameras.  The initial chill settles into my skin and halts there, just above the muscle, trapped by a layer of fat -- the wry advantages of following after my father's side of the family.


Rainbow point -- fabulous.  Two ridges that carve away, nooks of hoodoos popping out between, or rather, exposed suddenly to view as you shift between the upper cliffs.  I climb out on one of the railings, brace on a ledge of snow crusted with its refrozen surface, and even as I start to shake, even as my chest begins to curdle the air in my lungs, even as some part of my mind questions the rest of me -- is there anything supporting this 4-foot deep, 1-foot wide, wedge-like wall of snow? -- I take my shots and ease back onto the rail, thick and comforting and almost difficult to straddle, and breathe on the trail again.

TKH on snow and fence at Bryce Canyon
Copyright 2005 Tara K. Harper.
All Rights Reserved.

.
Rainbow Point
The background slope to my left
was very gentle, but the drop off the
railing was vertical because it's right
at the cut between the ridges.  The
snow ledge is about a foot wide from
base to top, like a little snow wall
packed against the railling on the very
lip of the cliff.  My husband took this
photo to prove to the life-insurance
company that it really was my own
stupidity, not murder, in case I fell,
but it was only a couple hundred
feet to the bottom, and as you can
see, my boot is actually tucked over
the top of the rail to give me that
edge of stability.


Aqua Canyon -- we're sheltered by snow drifts and the rise of trees.  The snow still snakes into face and eyes, but the canyons grow more fantastic.  We're on top of the formations now, shooting down.  I'm perched on another railing, then a pillar, then between an edge drift and the rail, and my heart pounds with fear, but oh, you can see forever into the canyons, down over the drifts if you stretch.

And the view--columns, statues of wind and rain, pale under distinguished temples of snow.  Flattened tops that offer scant rest to the seeds, then roots, then scrawny plants that cling while scoured by the wind.  The rock is worn and crumbling, and yet doesn't seem to be falling down like Zion, but playing with the wind.


Bryce Point -- The valley -- God, it's not a valley at all.  It's an army of stone marching, statue by statue down off the cliffs, settling out into ranks as they go, moving down, shifting here and there to ease the rank and file around an uncooperative bulge, past the slope, gathering power, gathering the world as they go.

I'd say it's all about light, but it's not.  It's all about motion.

Zion is about old age.  Bryce is all about motion.  Light, wind, stone, wind, sun, wind, motion.

Bryce Canyon, Inspiration Point - fabulous!
Bryce Canyon, Inspiration Point - whole valley view
Copyright 2005 Tara K. Harper.  All Rights Reserved.

Stunning.  Marvelous.  Fabulous -- the words mean nothing.  One has eyes only for the rocks that march off the cliffs, leaving their slower brethren behind.  Down the cliffs, following lines of light and snow.  There is no sense of water.  The snow is a statement, not a condition.  There are no rivers below.


3/25
I'm losing my impressions.

Whirlwind tours, family dynamics, dry heat dessicating my thoughts so that I long for dawn and the cold wind, cool air, chill of metal against my legs, trilling birds like Oregon, the calm and quiet cool, no humans, just cold wind, clear skies, and the edge of comfort as my blood moves under cold skin.


3/25
         Sittin' at the airport
         Listen'n to the slot machines
         F#, D#, two-tone and ringing,
         Pagers for John Folger to
         Meet his party down below
         While all the time the
         Slot machines are singing.
         Smoke wafts, lights flash,
         Terminals unload again,
         Gates fill up like coffee cups
         And empty out again.


Copyright 2005 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.


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