Kristin Keane / Harris Fogel
I am not sure who made the Grand Canyon so wild—it is hot, petrified, ready to bake you alive. In summer, the air strangulates, suffocates, smothers. The way it takes you by the neck, you must dip your entire face—your whole body, even—into the Colorado River for relief, the residue evaporating from your skin as quickly as air releases from a punctured balloon. Dehydration comes regularly and the canyon takes lives that way. Sixty-five to be exact, lifeless and seized on the switchbacks off the rim. Some come for the beauty, but usually it is for the risk.
Once a man waited out the heat by resting, foregoing the hike down towards the river because of fatigue. When his friends returned, they found him dead. I would like to ask that man: Were his last moments with the canyon as intimate as two hands pressing together? Did he see inside himself? Was there a choice?
Lately I’ve been thinking about the Grand Canyon because deep in the gorge I fell into a rapid and the river and I had a moment with one another. I traveled with an outfitter one hundred twenty-six miles in, two billion years of geological history and layer upon layer of eroded rock, a deep gash inside the Earth’s crust. A silty river, colored like chocolate milk rests below the rim, one hundred twelve rapids dotting the surface, shifting and changing every moment; it does not die. The crests of them are entirely whitewater, turbulent and frothy. Formed by holes, formed by heavy, collapsed things; formed by blockages; formed by waves themselves—breaking white-capped haystacks. They are not all the same of course, and a guideline indicates their power by numbers one through ten. We went there to ride across them, hang on for dear life and fly through them, the river guides cowboys armed with wooden-oared reins. The danger was the draw: it made us feel more alive.
The water, remarkably, is not the only peril inside the canyon. Dust storms take you by the throat and during monsoon season, the way the river sweeps into the craggy channels between the rocks, you can get pinned against a boulder and drown. That’s not to mention others: sunburns so intense the layers of your flesh become as powdered as a cigarette sleeve’s ash. The winter temperatures drop so far below zero, the frigid water can freeze your extremities so they snap off the way you break a candy bar in half. Sheer cliff edge’s hairpin turns and rattlesnake bites, the thorny ends of catclaw acacia brushing against your bare legs, poisonous scorpions, the bulls’-eye shaped targets of mayfly bites, left for other animals to sink their stingers inside. It goes on.
When we arrived at Lava Falls, one of the most technically difficult American rapids, the guide turned and said right before the drop, “You really don’t want to go over, so grasp the raft tightly,” after I asked what we should do in case of emergencies, in case the whole plan fell apart down there. In fact I asked this just moments before we got slammed, before the raft lifted up and licked the sky one last time and we hit the wave train in a way that we might as well have been striking the stony surface of the canyon wall. She had also said, “Just make sure you have thirty seconds of air in your lungs,” and something else about not getting caught on anything.
But thirty seconds is a big stretch, after all. It is enough time to forget why you’re there, to make a terrible choice, yield to something. When I saw the guide fumble the oar as the rapid approached, bending down towards us high and glossy in the arch of a snakes’ tongue, I thought: that’s really beautiful; and then: it’s over.
The rapid. Days of getting beaten down by swells of water, pummeled at the edges of the rafts’ frames, made it hard to tell we had flipped, but then I felt my feet looking for a place to anchor themselves where the foot straps should have been. I opened my eyes under water and saw the detritus the canyon spit out floating around inside, brown as a nut. It was quiet under there. I was quiet under there, twisting around the places where the water’s velocity shifted me. I realized I couldn’t really hear the rapid because it is thing you feel, even after breath has been knocked clean out of you, even when your ears are wide open. My heart met the rapid’s heart, they fastened, and we slid down a drain together.
It was a bludgeoning like a baton to the right cheekbone with the rush and force of two magnets’ poles: a tethering that could not be undone. Days could have passed under there, who knows? We compared notes. Bodies: my extremities to its jagged, pencil-thin twigs; the mosaic of its bedrock to the freckled constellations of my shoulders. We have both dreamt of butterflies. In mine their crab-shaped bodies fluttered inside my grandmother’s antique jewelry box; in the rapid’s, their wings were made from weighty arrowweed, sinking them in the river just as soon as they pitched themselves into the sky. The rapid lined my regrets and secrets up like smooth river rocks and held my face up to each buried one: I’ve toiled too long in places I should have left sooner, spent too much time in worry. I hide from myself. It is hard to weep in water, but right then I found a way. You might not believe me, but the rapid shifted shape and showed me myself.
I paused trying to recall what Betsy had said right before the drop. (Be careful not to get caught up, or be careful not to get caught on, anything?) The rapid and I agreed this was a moment when time appeared to fold in on itself.
I don’t know how I came up, or where. I remember immediately trying to commit to memory the things felt inside: arousal, pulling my heart from inside of its heart. I turned back from the rescue raft and suddenly it was gone. The waves barked up from the other side, and considering the mess of the current, there was no going back. You might tell me that a wave never dies, but it also never doesn’t.
The last night on the river, a guide is struck by lightening. Chasing pineapple upside-down cake with thimbles of bourbon, we sang “Happy Birthday” while fingers of electrostatic zipped across the canyon’s edge.
“Lightening rarely comes off the rim, so we’re fine,” someone actually said right before a bolt hit the umbrella we stood under to keep dry. The passenger we were singing to still held a plate of cake in his hand, seven candles stuck into the slice, one for each decade. At first I thought the struck guide was gazing at the lightening from his back like he was watching clouds form—unicorn, bear, ice-cream-cone-riding-turtle. I was reminded of the rapid, how it could reshape itself into anything. But then someone said, Is Jim dead?, just like that. A few of us stepped towards him. He was blue as a starling egg, but breathing.
I went there to bake under the sun, contort myself up rope ladders, travel into something famously perilous. I went there not to be remembered of death but to push against it, to ride the river’s wild edge and feel more alive. The awakening was supposed to be in the risk of the rapid, not in falling for it: it lives unapologetically, moves the way the stars and shifts of the moon’s gravity go, careens and turns and bends for itself because what makes it up is everything else—it is the rapid, but it is the river, the dirt, the rocks—living by its own accord, unafraid and unapologetic of what’s next. We see danger in the way that light flashes against a rapid’s foamy ridges, and the rapid just sees the light.
I could have done things differently down there. I could have reached harder for a handhold, pinched the tips of my fingers between a slot in the rock bed’s surface, wedged my feet inside a gap, bowed my head to exhale. I could have punished myself, ended things. I could have caught razorback suckers with my bare hands, ripped their heads clean off with my teeth. Under is where fear finally stops. Under is an uncomplicated surrender. Under is a good place to hide. The guide got struck by lightening that night, and he went back the very next summer. I wanted to ask him what he experienced inside that streak of electricity, how he felt underneath the pulse. I didn’t get the chance to, but I’m guessing I probably already know. If the opposite of cheating death is dying, then what do you call the place in between?
Somewhere along the way we learn fear, we worry for what’s coming next, relinquish ourselves to control, to loss of pure unrestraint. Then we hide from ourselves. I’m no good at learning from the past, but I know now there is a place under that rapid more powerful than the roar of the water ricocheting between the canyon walls, a place where you can go get caught. A rapid doesn’t drown anyone: it lives primal and intrepid, unafraid of broken bridges.
Here’s a trick I’ve found to feel more alive that is not in dodging rattlesnakes, their forked, smelling tongues: I imagine heading for the edge of the vertical drop, but do not ask what will happen next. I see the rapid ahead, prettily misshapen and speeding towards me. I do not sink my feet into the footholds of the raft; I do not grip the straps so tightly my knuckles go white. Instead I let go, press my hands together. I think about time, butterflies, drain holes. I pull my fingers apart and set the palm of my hand against the place on my chest where my heart is under. I listen. I wait for time to fold.
Kristin Keane lives in the Bay Area where she teaches at the University of San Francisco. A Vermont Studio Center writing resident and LitCamp juror, her fiction has been shortlisted for a Glimmer Train prize in fiction and has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly and Fjords Review.
Harris Fogel. These photographs were made using an 8×10-inch Deardorff view camera; for most of the images the camera was fitted with a Fuji 250mm F6.8 lens. The original book maquette of a Few American Cultures was created in 1993 at the request of the late Reinhold Misselbeck, then curator of the Museum Ludwig in Köln. Housed in a black plastic negative binder, it was filled with one-of-a-kind Cibachrome 8×10-inch contact prints printed on the glossy print material when I lived in Palm Springs, California. The advent of digital imaging allowed me to revisit the work and reconsider it in a larger framework.
The project began in the 1980s, with several themes; water politics in the West centered in California, the western landscape, portraiture, the South, etc., all cultures unique to themselves, but overlapping at the same time. I have continued to work on the project, creating new images, evolving and expanding. The shift to the 8×10-inch view camera not only slowed me down, but it allowed an exploration and description of texture instead the rough jottings of texture that smaller formats provided.
I throw open the creaky front door of my light yellow Victorian house. My bare feet leap down from my porch, covered with cracked white paint and sandy shoes. I look across the street to the dry field as my eyes follow the lime green frisbee that some middle-aged locals are tossing. I catch myself giggling as one of the men runs towards the wooden gazebo, yelling at the other player because she threw it too hard. My eyes glance passed the mixture of aged houses and newly built mansions, while I feel a sense of adrenaline every time I place my foot over a small pebble. The early autumn sky beats down on the small winding tree at the end of the road that I once thought of as a jungle gym. Then I stop, trying to work up enough energy to run across the steaming black road between the two beachside inns to get to my destination.
It’s off season here in Beach Haven, New Jersey. I hear no voices of humans, but faint screeches of seagulls and crashes of shoreline waves. I step through the fields of white sand and broken shells, as if I were sneaking past a sleeping lion, until I reach the end of the dry border of the ocean-kissed floor. While I watch the white ocean foam inflate and deflate from the rough wind, my feet descend into the soft, muddy ground as if I were trapped in this place of pastel blues and misty skies. I can smell nothing but salty seaweed and a slight touch of grilled chicken from the beachside houses. The warm feeling of the sunrays grabbing my bare arms is astonishingly comforting. The beach has always been my go-to.
For holidays, mostly Christmas, everyone on my father’s side, including distant relatives, would join together and celebrate on this beach. After the Christmas feast everyone would hurry to the frigid shore in our sweater dresses and ironed suits. Some would run into the ocean searching for sea glass, while others conversed about the poor horseshoe crab they found washed up on the sand, or maybe about what unimaginable desserts awaited us in the kitchen. With each gust of wind pushing past our ears, it was as if the beach were trying to spark up a conversation too. Maybe about how rough the summer was, or about how happy it is that we were all back again.
On the rare occasion that we would get a snow storm, I would be at the beach all day. I remember my father pulling my bright pink winter hat over my eyes because we were in such a rush to get started. As we ran out of the front door with our multicolored disk sleds wearing snow suits that resembled giant marshmallows, we would try our hardest not to slip to our deaths. The winter wind on the shoreline made me livid, but sliding down the frozen dunes face first was worth the frost-tipped nose on my face. Being so small at the time, I was drawn to the conclusion that I was sliding down mountains. As we descended for what felt like an hour, I would scream a scream that could shatter glass. Thankfully it never snowed too often, but when it did you would know where to find me.
As I sit here in the warm, dusty sand reminiscing about all the times I have had on this beach, a small sandpiper scurries across my view. As I start to stand again, the lightly colored, miniature bird soars across the ocean. I begin to wonder where it might be going or when it will land again. I continue to make my way to the mussel-covered jetties that my mother always warned me about, mostly because she thought I would slip on the mossy seaweed. As I stroll, I catch a strange movement out of the corner of my eye. I think it’s a wave, but as soon as I turn my head I see a silky grey fin arise from the rugged waters. I decide not to walk any further, but to imbibe the beauty of the local dolphins. Each one submerges in sync with the others. I watch the sun begin to set, as the vivid colors of pink and orange fill
Kaya Pulz is a 19 year old student from Beach Haven, NJ currently enrolled in Unity College as a Sustainable Agriculture major. She plans to run a small-scale organic farm and further her studies in soils sciences. Her ultimate goal is to encourage sustainable practices and healthy living, so that everyone has the chance to experience the beauties of the world.
Scrambling up a series of sandstone ledges, I found a nice spot to sit: a bedrock backrest with a view of the wavering line where the waters of the Little Colorado River joined those of the Colorado River in the heart of the Grand Canyon. The LCR is usually an opalescent turquoise blue,
milk-bright with dissolved travertine and limestone. But the rains from a few days earlier had rusted the color to that of an ancient ceramic pot, a few shades browner than the grey-green Colorado. The LCR eased into the Colorado’s corridor, but the two rivers didn’t immediately merge, they simply ran, side by side, down the course of the Canyon. They’d maintain their distinct flows for a good half-mile before rapids disrupted them into unity. The meeting of any waters is mesmerizing to watch; especially so here, with the LCR’s suspended silt mushrooming into the silt-strained Colorado.
Silt-strained From where I sat at The Confluence, I was only sixty-one miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. Behind Glen Canyon Dam, the silt-laden, rusted-red
The Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1963, has wreaked havoc on downstream ecology. The seasonal flux of spring flood and winter ebb was replaced by a mechanical, anthropogenic rhythm: the dam now doles out the river in accordance with Phoenix’s electrical needs. Before the dam, the rise and ebb of floods would deposit and rearrange the river’s sediment into ecologically important fluvial formations: sandbars, islands, beaches, backwaters. With the replenishing floods stifled by the dam and the sediment dropped at the top of the reservoir, the Canyon’s beaches and eddy sandbars are slipping away, grain by grain. No longer scoured by floods, the remaining beaches are increasingly impenetrable with tamarisk, Russian olive, and willow. No longer swept aside or rearranged by floods, the debris fans that form at the mouths of tributary canyons constrict the river, forming narrower, bonier rapids. Before the dam, the
The dam’s effects are geological as well as ecological. Before the dam, the melting of the Rocky Mountains’ deep snowpacks sent spring floods raging through the Canyon. The highest recorded flood (in 1884) peaked at 300,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) (the dammed river now fluctuates between 7,000 to 30,000 cfs). And yet even that historic 300,000 cfs deluge was dwarfed by floods that have ripped through the Canyon in recent geological history. Within the last two-million years, the cyclic melting of the Quaternary Ice Ages sent flood after flood—some as large as a 1,000,000 cfs—coursing through the Canyon. These floods significantly contributed to the downcut topography of the Colorado
No more. The once diluvial Colorado River system is now constrained by more than 100 dams between headwaters and delta. The once volatile river has been reduced, as the riverguide and author Kevin Fedarko has written, “to little more than a giant plumbing system” consigned to slake the thirst of some thirty million people. The river that carved the Grand Canyon in a scant six-million years has been fettered;
After an hour, my muscles beginning to tighten from the day’s miles and the evening’s cold, I stood from my stone seat onto a shatter of scree. At the exact moment that I stood a fish jumped: a flash in the corner of my eye, the distant sound of a splash, and the quickest of ripples. Probably a rainbow trout: an invasive, predatory species that has flourished in the cold, clean waters the dam has effected upon downstream ecosystems. The fish brought to mind another meeting of waters, this one of a bright, fast creek into the dusky, slow Rogue River. One summer my wife and I walked, every afternoon, to perch above that confluence and watch the congregations of three- to four-foot Spring Chinook. Once only one fish, a four-foot long beauty. A few days later a dozen. Then a half-hundred salmon in that bedrock cleft, mouthing up against the cold, oxygen-rich waters of the creek, some spooling out into the deep green current of the warm river, some flipping over on their sides so that the stippled light flashed on their dark and silver fluidities, these dark fish flashing in the green river that itself flashed with the white sun and green hills. Absolutely hypnotic. But my ecstasy was cut with the lament that once the whole river would have been choked with salmon, that this spectacular clustering was but a shard of what used to be a common miracle across the West, another reminder of the loss of the richness and abundance that we used up or wasted or threw away one way or another, that we can somehow go on living our days without accounting for, but that nonetheless shadows our presence, permeates our world.
The Japanese have a term: mono-no-ware, the beautiful sadness of temporality. I am particularly susceptible to this feeling, especially when alone in wild places. I have experienced it again and again in the Canyon: the crumbling slopes around me signifying dissolution and death; the stars wheeling across the sky the same stars my wife had
The losses attributable to the Glen Canyon Dam are more myriad and complicated than the diminished fish runs of the Rogue River. And yet when it comes to native fish, both rivers rippled with what the Portuguese call saudade, that bittersweet tumult of loss, longing, and hope. Before the dam, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon supported healthy populations of eight native fish species. Six of these species were endemic, meaning they were found nowhere else in the world. But then the Bureau of Reclamation plugged the river, and shortly thereafter the Colorado Pikeminnow, a six-foot long, eighty-pound torpedo of a fish, was extirpated from the Canyon. As was the Roundtail chub. As was the Bonytail chub, now considered functionally extinct. A small population of Razorback sucker has recently been located in the lower stretches of the Canyon, but is still considered endangered, and might not be reproducing. The humpback chub, perhaps the most well-known of these piscine marvels, a fish that evolved in time with the six-million-year-carving of the Canyon, its cartilaginous hump allowing it to press against the riverbottom and remain upright in floods, its small eyes, depressed skull, and highly streamlined body adaptations to the aphotic conditions of that once turbulent river-of-stone, is also endangered. The LCR near the Confluence supports the largest of the six remaining populations of
A truly impressive array of government agencies has spent over four decades and tens—if not hundreds—of millions of dollars in humpback chub recovery efforts. Grand Canyon National Park’s current chub recovery measures include “translocations of humpback chub into tributaries, non-native fish control, and the establishment of a refuge population of humpback chub at US Fish and Wildlife Service fish hatchery
in New Mexico.” And yet, on a whole, these efforts have been ineffective: chub populations continue to decline.
A few concerned ecologists have voiced their dismay that we seem not to have the resources, capability, or political fortitude to save the Colorado River’s—indeed, the American West’s—native fish by eradicating predatory, nonnative fish, much less dams. It simply may not be feasible, regardless. There is no chance of eradicating nonnative, predatory fish like rainbow trout in the mainstem of the
I stood for a while, watching the water, waiting for another fish to jump. Nothing. Only the pale moon in the diming sky, the rivers joining forces to flow downcanyon, and a bleached log, high up on the riverbank, settled atop a boulder by the subsidence of the last great flood in ’83, likely never to drift again.
I had crossed the LCR and walked upstream of the confluence to pump my drinking water, and not just because the LCR was running thick. The Little Colorado’s water is some of the foulest in the Canyon: heavily mineralized, slimy, brackish, stank. Jack Sumner, one of Powell’s crewmates on
But honestly, by the time it reaches the Canyon, the Colorado River’s once-Rocky-Mountain-meltwater isn’t all that much more palatable. Reaching my settling bag, I noticed that the river-level had already sunk: the dam engineers let out less water at night, when electrical demand is low. I pumped a liter and took a sip. Alkaline, almost curdled water. The rim of my bottle was gritty; I could feel the grains of rock rasp my tongue, the sand grind my teeth. Despite the dam, the Colorado through the Canyon is by no means devoid of silt. According to Gwendolyn L. Waring, author of A Natural History of the Intermountain West: Its Ecological and Evolutionary Story, the river below the dam still conveys some 12 million tons of silt a year. 12 million tons of silt still makes a raspy river. Much of the silt comes from the Pariah River, which enters the Colorado hypersaturated with the pink, hematite-rich soils of Bryce Canyon. Waring claims that the Pariah, a Paiute word meaning “muddy” or “elk water,” has “carried greater concentrations of suspended sediment than any other river in North America; concentrations of up to 2 pounds of sediment per quart.” The LCR also supplies a significant amount of the below-dam Colorado’s sediment; the rest comes from the Park’s hundreds of tributary canyons. And thus a drink of the river, despite the twist of the mouth at the taste, is a desert communion: the dolomites and mudrocks of Nankoweap or Kwagunt basins clouding into
The Southwest’s intense monsoon thunderstorms play an integral role in the conveyance of tributary silt. For those few wet months, for the approximately two-hundred-and-ninety mile stretch of river between the Glen Canyon Dam and the waters of Lake Mead, the Colorado scorches its namesake red. Flush with runoff, again the river moves the wasted continent to the sea. You open your eyes underwater and it’s like being buried alive. Black as a cave. If you go overboard in a rapid the suspended sediment collects in every fold in your PFD or drysuit and weighs you towards your watery death. The most impressive thing about a video of a flood ripping down National Canyon in 2012 isn’t the hugely aggrandized volume of the normally-small creek, but the quantity of mud that the flood was expectorating into the river: a foamy goo that settled into a few-foot thick scum in the downstream flatwater.
And yet, because of repressed riverflow, most of this tributary sediment settles to the riverbed shortly downstream of the tributary canyons. Since 1996, the various federal agencies managing the dam and river—mainly the Bureau of Reclamation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service—have been experimenting with short-duration, high-volume dam releases (aka “high-flow experiments,” or HFEs) designed to mobilize theses thick mantles of sand and sediment in hopes that when the flood subsides, the mobilized sand will have replenished downstream beaches and riparian areas. They have conducted six such experiments, with no flood larger than 45,000 cfs. The latest tactic, now part of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, is to strategically time the high-flows with the episodic flooding of tributaries, as when, in a three-month, end-of-monsoon-season span in 2012, the Paria River
However, according to a 2011 USGS report, the relation “among sand supplied from tributaries, short-term sand enrichment in the Colorado River, sand transport during HFEs, sand transport between HFEs during normal operations, and the resultant sand mass balance” is complex, and delicate, and “uncertainties still remain about downstream impacts of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam.” For example, the experimental floods may have had a role in the 800-percent increase in the catch rates of rainbow trout—the humpback chub’s main predator—at the
Confluence between 2007 and 2009. On a wider scale, the question remains of whether tributaries even supply enough sand “to provide the elevated suspended-sediment concentrations needed to build and also maintain sandbars.”Because of this, environmentalists have urged the Bureau of Reclamation to install a slurry pipe that would
So it goes with the Colorado River these days; as Marc Reisner put it in the classic Cadillac Desert, “The Colorado’s modern notoriety…stems not from its wild
And yet for all the tangle of acronyms, abstractions, and differing philosophies is the squat, concrete reality of the dam. So too, for all the ways the thickness of our individual and cultural conceptions allow us to see or not see the Grand Canyon, as much as it may be the most staggering, unknowable, sublime phenomenon that I have ever experienced, the Canyon is still rock, and wind, and river. “No ideas but in things,” William Carlos Williams proclaimed, and I understood that best, there; that sublimity, mystery, time, love, passion, loss, and sorrow are aspects of the Canyon and life I’d only and ever truly understand if they burned through me as physical experiences: as sweat stinging the eyes, lungs gulping the air, a stone tossed as far as I could into the void, the rasp of sediment against skin, tongue.
I was born sixteen years too late to have experienced the Canyon before the dam. I couldn’t—can’t—see the suckers and pikeminnows and chubs slipping towards extinction. I haven’t yet spent enough years on the river to witness the beaches waning to nothing, the rapids choking with boulders. There is only so much my mind can bear to read about
Conversely, during those months when the tributaries are flashing, turning the river brown, or during those brief days during the rare high-flow experiments, one understands that the central miracle of the Grand Canyon is the staggering amount of material that the river is capable of conveying. It’s so obvious that it’s commonly disregarded, or slips past without notice, but the exposed and spreading rock is not the Grand Canyon: the Canyon is the absence of rock. The Canyon is a lacuna—a gap, a segment of earth torn from its surroundings, the 1,000 cubic miles of rock that the river has excavated. And not just the iconic gorge itself—in what the geologist Clarence Dutton dubbed “The Great Denudation,” strata a mile thick was removed from the top of the Grand Canyon region. An entire landscape, gone. The Moenkopi layer, gone. Chinle layer, gone. The Moenave, Kayenta, Navajo, Templecap, Carmel, Dakota, Tropic, Wahweap, Kaiparowits, Wasatch, Brian Head—almost two-hundred million years’ worth of sedimentary deposition—gone. Slab by slab and grain by grain, the arterial riverflume sluiced the broken landscapes to the Sea of Cortez. Wells sunk along the river’s delta have penetrated eighteen-thousand feet of alluvial fill without hitting bedrock. Fifty-thousand cubic miles of sediment may lay buried under the Gulf of California. In time that material will be subducted and reabsorbed into the hot crust of the earth, and, in even greater scales of time, again rise to the surface as new earth.
And yet, for a geologic gasp, no more sediment disgorges into the gulf. None.
press my bare palms against that unbearably ancient rock, slide my bare feet in that cold, indifferent water. Despite the abundant instances of sorrow and loss, despite that I may mourn that I’ll never get to see a 200,000 cfs flood scouring and deepening the Canyon, or that I’ll never get to sit at the confluence of the free flowing San Juan River and the free-flowing Colorado River and watch the sediment of one curl like spiral galaxies into the deep space of the other, I find some small, fatalistic comfort in the fact that the dam is a temporary barrier, that the river, as Robinson Jeffers put it, is a “heart-breaking beauty [that] will remain when there is no heart to break for it.” It’s an almost inescapable thought. As
My water bottles full, I poured the remaining water in my settling bag into the shallows. The force of the water plumed sand into suspension, some of which settled back to the bottom, some of which was whisked away by the eddy. I watched the gauzy ribbons of sediment flow past, allowed myself to fancy that they made the main current to be carried past the Confluence, past the endling schools of chub, and down the length of this ancient river to the waters of Lake Mead, where the individual grains will again succumb to their miniscule gravities and drift, slowly, to the bottom.
Carolyn Doucette’s Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3, invites viewers to challenge the construction and implications of traditional Western dichotomies between nature and culture. In this series, I visually disrupt conventionally composed landscape imagery by printing digital designs created with iPhone applications over sepia-tinted photographs digitally altered in Photoshop to resemble historic processes such as the wet plate Collodion. The photographs themselves reference Ansel Adams’s and Edward Weston’s iconic homages to the North American landscape. The geometric forms interrupting these familiar landscape images evoke designs by American modernist and postmodernist architects such as Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne and Richard Meier. These architects’ perfectly proportioned structures abstractly allude to organic forms but defy nature’s logic. In this style, my designs’ hyper-vivid colors and strict symmetry clash with the geologically and historically complex landscape.
Underlying my imagery is an awareness that the American West is the site of significant historical trauma. The brutal history of colonization in the area, as well as contemporary ecological destruction, demonstrates the peril of Western notions of nature versus culture. As a person of mixed Mi’kmaq and French ancestry, I have a heightened awareness of the temptations and dangers of over-simplifying and mythologizing the landscape. In today’s world, corporate greed posses a major threat to the global wilderness. The forms that I impose on the landscape in my artworks represent humanity’s destructive desire to force itself on the land, in one form or another.
Inspired by Anselm Kiefer’s statement, “how can you just paint a forest when the tanks have passed through?,” this series urges us to explore how our aesthetic attitudes about nature influence our actions. Great North American Landscapes Vol. 3, raises the question of whether we can develop alternative understandings of humanity’s relationship with the Earth.
Nathaniel Brodie has worked for many years on the Grand Canyon National Park Service Trail Crew. His essays have appeared in a number of magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, and can be read at nathanielfbrodie.com. He currently lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with his beloved wife and daughter.
Born in North Dakota, of Mi’kmaq|Acadian ancestry, Carolyn Doucette is an American transmedia artist with a BFA from the University of Victoria. Her work has shown and screened at art galleries and film festivals in the US, Canada and Europe. Her work and research concerns the connection between humans and nature, the ecological implications of a nature/culture dichotomy in Western thought paradigms and the natural landscape vs. the “sublime” landscape. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA and is currently working on a mixed-media series exploring her indigenous heritage.
Ten Minutes in Balasana
I came to hatha yoga to deal with stress and low self-esteem. I can be very sensitive, non-confrontational, and have a propensity toward vulnerability. I don’t like being the center of attention or being watched and I suffer from a negative ego. My own worst critic, I came to yoga to take care of me.
Humility, patience, sincerity,
I came to yoga because my dissertation director reminded me to remind myself that I was tall. My dissertation director is a poet. He taught me to read even the most figurative poetry literally. I took that word at face value. Tall. I needed to stop hunching forward and drawing inward. I needed to stand upright and draw the shoulder blades together. To lift my chest like a proud bird. I needed tadasana.
nonviolence, uprightness, purity,
I found a teacher I trusted. I find her beautiful. Her parents are Turkish and she was born in Germany. She is trilingual and her accent soothes me as she guides the class through the poses.From the first class, I felt safe in her foreignness and at home in her compassionate intelligence and disciplined intensity. I later learned that she was raised with Rumi. His teachings and poetry guided her family’s spiritual compass. I never felt judged in her presence. She is among my deepest reasons for gratitude.
devotion to one’s spiritual teacher,
I trust teachers who help their students feel grounded enough to take risks. I gravitate to teachers who do not criticize so much as take seriously the student’s intention to learn. An intention to learn is one of my strongest qualities.
Yoga asana works viscerally. It works before language or conscious awareness. It works with organs and the in the muscle fibers. Internal, intuitive, integrative, integral. It starts at the level of the cells. It hovers between slowness and stillness. A cessation of speed. A quiet holding. Restoring, remaining, reminding.
freedom from the I-sense, insight
A point of fascination: this coming from body into mind. The literal into the metaphorical. An ongoing exploration into the subtle and interconnected layers of experience. A point of great mystery. Mystery accessed only through breath. Spiritus. The biological enmeshment of spirit.
into the evils of birth,
It gives intellectually. A teaching philosophy grounded in a beginner’s mind being ready to begin. A theory of poetry based on the breath. A sense of beauty that cradles the paradox of strength and surrender. A metaphysics that seeks to yoke the fragments born of fear.
sickness, old age, and death,
What I did not expect it to give me is the ability to consume less. To become less of a consumer. That it would offer a personal intervention into the pressing issues of sustainability. Instead, a producer of contentment. A receiver of rest. A professor of poetry. A teacher of tadasana.
detachment, absence of clinging
One’s relationship to hunger changes. Hunger. Literal. Figural. On one hand, the hunger easily mediated by banana or handful of nuts. On the other, the hunger of insatiable discontentment. The hunger of grasping. Both become tempered. Both are occurrences of body and mind that arise and fall away.
to son, wife, family, and home,
And so, needing less. And when needing, knowing what is needed. An apple. Chick peas and olive oil. Brown rice with vegetables. A pint of ice cream can last for two weeks. Just one or two spoons each evening. To be content with a glass of water. To be content.
an unshakeable equanimity
Hunger is no longer hunger. Appetite is no longer appetite. The letting go spirals: to shopping, to planning, to keeping busy. To bargain hunting and searching for fashion. Desire softens into washable cotton, wearing things into the fading and fraying.
in good fortune or in bad,
To be happy staying at home, waiting for the afternoon sun to enter into the break in the canopy of maples that shade the modest apartment. Less need, less worry. A permission to slow down. The world is only opening.
an unwavering devotion to me
Reexamining productivity. Adrift for too long in the suburban crucible of business and beauty. A world of running marathons and radical diets. How counterintuitive restorative yoga practice seems in a culture that is always working to burn calories. Ten minutes a day in child’s pose might do the same work. Hunger is no longer hunger.
above all things, an intense
Ten minutes in balasana.
love of solitude, distaste
Maybe these things happen to all people as they age. The frantic pace of youth cannot endure. Sneakers replace stilettos. Sweatpants replace fitted jeans. Maybe not. Maybe these choices come naturally to some. They didn’t so much for me. I saw enough television growing up to have been deeply affected. I felt enough competition and was exposed to enough images of manicured beauty. I felt impossibly adrift, and often ugly, amidst a reality that could never sustain me. I grew up on Long Island in the shadow of the world’s most photographed city. A city proud of itself for not sleeping.
for involvement in worldly affairs,
Excellent at putting pressure on myself to maintain excellence. A straight-A student. A winner of awards. Phi Beta Kappa. Summa cum laude. Looking like a Christmas tree on graduation, adorned with a dozen tassels. During graduate school, winning the big prizes in teaching and writing. An ongoing involvement in worldly affairs.
persistence in knowing the Self
Addicted to pleasing others. Addicted to being taken seriously. Addicted to validation. Addicted to recognition. Addicted to excellence.
and an awareness of the goal of knowing—
And now, ten minutes in balasana.
all this is called true knowledge;
Thank Shanti and Shiva for poetry and Italy. For the hippies and a plain natural beauty. Thank Whitman for the aroma of armpits and the body being part of the earth. Thank yoga asana for hunger no longer being hunger.
what differs from it is called ignorance.
The greatest terrors of the Anthropocene echo and manifest in the fears and cravings of my own mind. They are perpetuated by each and every action. The psychological dimensions of sustainability are just opening up. The old questions and values are surfacing again. It’s time for less consuming, to shed the old ignorance. It’s time to save and store energy. It’s time to accept responsibility.
I will teach you what should be known;
It’s time for the wisdom of the Tao and of the Gita. It’s time for a turning. Time to switch the televisions off and to let the smart phones break and remain broken. It’s time to turn away from the media and market. Sing songs for mindfulness and a revival of therapeutic philosophy.
knowing it, you are immortal;
And so, some more time in child’s pose. Legs up against the wall. A backbend as a reminder of release and a headstand to flood the anxious edge with warmth. I’ve learned I can have these things just about anywhere and they don’t have a carbon footprint. Balasana. As much child’s pose as I want. No one is stopping me. It’s here. It’s right now. The supreme reality—right here—within me.
It is the supreme reality,
A craving is no longer a craving. Rather, a resting. A breathing. The conservation
which transcends both being and nonbeing.1
1 The italicized passage comes from Chapter 13 of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Bhagavad Gita (New York:Harmony Books, 2002).
Jesse Curran holds a PhD in English from Stony Brook University and is an educator, gardener, and yoga instructor. Her poetry and essays have been published in numerous journals including, The Emily Dickinson Journal, The Journal of Sustainability Education, Green Humanities, Blueline, The Fourth River, About Place Journal, Lime Hawk, Spillway, and The Common Ground Review.
Rachel Eastman is a native of Maine, graduating with honors from Maine College of Art, where she worked with Johnnie Winona Ross, Ed Douglas, and Honour Mack. She later attended Vermont Studio Center, working with Wolf Kahn and Lois Dodd, as well as conducting independent studies in Paris, London, and The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. In recent years, Eastman’s interest in Eastern Philosophy,and Romanticism have begun to merge with perennial influences Joseph Mallord William Turner, Frederic Church, and Mark Rothko as her passion for color and light meet the Maine coastline. Currently maintaining studios from the ocean’s edge in Biddeford, Maine,and from the majestic vista views of Evan’s Notch Chatham, in New Hampshire.