The Wonder of All Things Great and Small

25th April 2011 by Paul

2011 01 29 (10) - Canyonlands - views from Island in the SkyLockheart Basin Trail, Canyonlands, Utah

This morning, as the blackness of sleep lifted from my mind and the feint awareness of day began to wash over me, I became aware that I should make a decision.

The teeth in my upper jaw ached.

All of them.

The frigid cold bit deep into my jawbone, making the nerves scream.   The exposed flesh above my cheekbones stung horribly, and each breath burned the inside of my nostrils.   The discomfort of waking had already visited me three or four times during the night, but now I could sense the early morning glimmer that heralded sunsrise.   But there was an hour yet before I needed wake Helen and begin the ritual of camp life in the cold.   So the decision had to be made.

Should I keep my upper face exposed and endure the discomfort, or bury my face inside the sleeping bag, where my breath would condense in the down fill, and freeze there, lowering the insulation?

Neither held much of a motivation for me, and in the end, I chose a halfway solution which, I suppose, was no decision at all.   Bury my face until my face warmed and the aching stopped, and then expose my flesh again until I could bear it no longer, then, repeat.

In the dark warmth of the bag, hood pulled tight around my face, I drifted into that place of creative half-sleep where great ideas seem to form.   I vascilated between the pragmatic and the idealogical – how to best design storage solutions on overlanding vehicles, and the kind of leadership the world would need to right some of its chronic social problems.

Later, as the sun warmed the tent, small droplets of melting ice water plopped intrusively onto my closed eyelids, waking me from my half sleep.

2011 01 30 (58) - Grand View Point, Island in the Sky, CanyonlandsI rose first, allowing Helen her customary ten minutes of ‘extra time’, and slipped on the chilled day clothes I had lain out carefully the night before to keep the draughts in the tent to a minimum.   I suppose it was the slight smell of woodsmoke from my clothes that awoke my sense of smell, and as I pulled on my trousers, I noticed a faint whiff of two-day-crotch, and resolved to change my underwear before I smelled any more like a feret hutch.

Swinging down from the tent, I unlocked all the doors, took the shovel and headed uphill towards a bluff, where the sand banked deeper, and I knew I’d stand a chance of digging a decent latrine.   A few minutes later, appropriately relieved, I took a few photos of camp as the rising sun began to cast its fiery glow on the mountains across from the canyonlands.

I wandered further afield, exploring the place we had camped in failing light the evening before.   The air was cold, but there was not a breath of wind nor a sound beyond the slight crunch of my own footseps

2011 02 04 (5) - morning views of campsite on Lockhart Basin RoadClambering over broken layers of Moenkopi rock formations, I ventured deeper into the canyon.   As I walked carefully between the rocks, my feet sank into the fine soft red sand eroded from the surrounding sedimentary rock layers, and over 15 million year old.   In places, the ground crunched underfoot, marking my sudden violation of a paper thin cryptobiotic crust that had taken a hundred years or more of microbiotic activity to form.

I became aware that I was in a sacred place.   A place so huge, and ancient, and remote from human life as to almost defy comprehension.   And yet a place so fragile, so untouched, so delicate in its ecology, that the evidence of my presence here would take two lifetimes to erase.

As the sky brightened and turned blue with the rising sun, I took two more photos in memory of my visit, and retraced my steps back towards camp feeling a little ashamed that I had stumbled so thoughtlessly through nature’s display of wonderous patience, perfect design, and harmony.

Turning to look out once more into the harsh, yet beautiful vastness of the desert, dancing red and orange in the early morning sun, with my mind half distracted by the thought of clean underpants, my soul danced and was uplifted by the wonder of all things.

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