It is Christmas 2008. My grandson is six years old and tearing into his gifts, paying no attention to the cards and strewing paper all over the floor. A card flies by and I pick it up. It is from my mother, his great grandmother, and on the front is a picture of Uluru, the great red rock in the middle of the Australian desert.
I hold the card under his nose – ‘do you know where this is?’ I ask.
‘Sure I do,’ he replies, taking the card from my hand and tossing it over his shoulder. ‘The heart of the earth.’
I am speechless. I have heard tell a theory that many iconic natural wonders of the world are vortexes, like chakras in the human body, energy pulses that connect to each other and keep the earth well – it is his confidence in his answer that stuns me.
I am reminded of this story as I stand staring into the abyss of another iconic wonder, this time in the Arizona desert: Grand Canyon.
Australians note: it is Grand Canyon, not THE Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. That is 445 kilometres. I have to stamp this fact in my brain to understand that the vast rent in the earth before me is an almost infinitesimal part of the whole.
The day is hot but not bright, the canyon alive to the shadows of the fast moving clouds above. The canyon is pretty, as if every frill, every layer, had been designed, placed and measured against its surroundings for colour, shape and texture.
Bursts of wind rise from the valley floor, blowing cool air in my face. I close my eyes and listen, in case the wind brings news from the world below.
I notice a track zigzagged as tightly as a buttonhole dropping vertically from the rim where I stand. I am drawn to follow the dusty trail to the wild waters of the Colorado River on the valley floor. But I am breathless and the day is stinkin’ hot and I decide that after such a sleepless night on the train I do not have the concentration or energy needed for such a walk: because what goes down, must come up.
I tell the shuttle bus driver about this later, on the way home to Flagstaff. He tells me that the canyon is so high my breathlessness is small case of altitude sickness. He also tells me I’m quite fit enough to drop by the river, which I will do when I return to the canyon next week.
Grand Canyon reminds me of Australia, the colours of home on a hot and dusted day. The trees too are the colours of the earth itself. I sit on a rock in scattered shade and stare into a world where wind and water have peeled back the earth.
Grand Canyon is a study in time.
A black crow, which is probably a raven given where I am, shoots the breeze in the expanse before me. She is joined by a second, a third, a dozen black birds shrieking into the silence.
But the world around me is not silent. It is alive with the voices of a hundred languages, the fat and the fit from all the tribes on earth (the fat, I must say, are without exception Americans. In my country, policy makers and health professionals claim one in four Australians is obese. I find that a ridiculous thing to say. Everywhere I go I find myself scanning my world for the one in four and have come to the conclusion they do not exist. Those policy makers and health professionals are the self-appointed Fat Police, getting inside our heads with false statistics and peddling trouble and its counterweight, obsession with not-fat. Now I see why they are warning us, because before me now, everywhere I go in the US, is the one in four. And lest I sound like the Fat Police, there is a national health crisis here in the US and it is probably heading our way.) Anyway, where was I?
Ah yes, all the languages of the world. Thousands of people roaming around the rim, in sensible shoes, high heels and wheelchairs, walking dogs and kids, laughing, picnicking and photographing every mood; over time, depending on the day, capturing Grand Canyon with the sun, the moon, the rain, the snow, the lightning and themselves; in short, awed by a hole.
Like at Uluru, they are pilgrims paying homage to the earth itself.