The Grand Canyon at sunrise is God’s private playground. The colors are unnameable. The light is bewitching. The vistas will break your heart.
My wife and I have visited the Big Ditch several times over the years and it never gets old. We visited after her father’s funeral. We visited on her 40th birthday. We visited after I got fired because my previous boss had short man’s syndrome.
Yes, I realize that Grand Canyon National Park has been commercialized to the point of being gaudy. Yes, this park is visited by 5.9 million annual tourists, all of whom are currently in the gift shop with screaming toddlers.
No, the restaurants aren’t anything special. In fact, the food sucks. And yes, sometimes you encounter annoying tourists, such as loud-talking guys from Arkansas who flick cigarette butts into the gorge and threaten to jump off the edge to impress their girlfriends. Which, let’s be honest, at this stage would be fine with the girlfriends.
Even so. The place has a strange spell over me.
When I was in fifth grade, my old man took me to the Canyon on a camping trip. One sunset he stood at the precipice and was so overawed by the unending beauty that he removed his hat and threw it like a Frisbee into the vast gully.
We watched the hat sail downward.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked.
He shook his head, but his face was bone solemn. “No reason.”
Beauty will do that to a man.
He died nearly a year later. I think about that hat every time we visit.
Our last vacation to the Canyon was a few years ago, my wife and I needed a getaway. We stayed in a rundown cabin, and ate cheap tourist food until our digestive tracts turned to stone. We went for many walks and watched lots of sunsets.
It had been a hard year. My wife had been spending her time caregiving for her mother. We had been living in her mother’s upstairs bedroom and our daily routines revolved around old-person stuff.
Caregiving is life-draining work. It will stripmine your body and leave you without reserves. This vacation was my wife’s time to lick her wounds and breathe free air.
One morning, I awoke to discover that my wife was already out for her daily walk. So I threw on my cleanest dirty shirt and went to the South Rim to catch the dawn in silence. The air was cold. I had the tourist area mostly to myself. The Canyon put on quite a show.
Next I decided to take a stroll along the rim trail. I walked beneath the perfumed canopies of alligator junipers and corkbark firs for about a mile until I heard a familiar voice coming from around the bend.
It was a loud, happy voice. A woman’s voice. The same Alabamian accent I have been married to for almost 20 years.
I moved in for a better look and hid myself behind a boulder like a B-movie Western villain.
My wife was apparently talking to someone, although I couldn’t imagine who. Maybe she’d made a new friend? Maybe she was all alone and going clinically insane? That’s how it starts, you know.
But when I peeked around the slab of granite I saw my wife was on a video call. She was holding her phone high over the Canyon so the caller on the other end could see the most beautiful panorama known to mankind.
“Can you see that, Mother?” said my wife. “Is it coming through alright?”
I felt hot tears come to my eyes when I realized what she was doing.
“It’s so big,” said my mother-in-law’s weakened voice.
“I wish you were here, Mother.”
“Did you already take your medicine?”
“Don’t forget your oxygen.”
“We miss you.”
My wife’s mother, the shut-in.
Throughout my wife’s recent years, she has been the one who changes her mother’s undergarments, who occasionally bathes her mother after accidents in bed. Sometimes I overhear my wife in the bathroom with her mother, using a hand sprayer to wash away the bad. And yet my wife remains cheerful. Always.
She is one of the most upright people I have ever known. She is a better human than I am. Unselfish to the core. And even here, on vacation, she was sharing.
I sat behind that rock and listened to her conversation, realizing what a remarkable person shares my last name. And when I heard her blow her nose loudly, I knew without looking that she was crying.
At sunset that evening, on our after-dinner walk, we remained silent for several minutes watching the purple shadows turn gray in the distance. We kissed a quick, dry, married-couple-style kiss, which means infinitely more than the other kinds.
I wanted to tell her what a pretty soul she is. I wanted to confess how much I loved her. But I didn’t. I simply couldn’t find the words. Instead I quietly removed my ball cap, I reared back, and I let it sail. Because as I said. Beauty will do that to a man.