Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Exeunt Omnes

Leaving the North Rim was very hard. Packing up, especially after spreading out in expectation of a 6 month stay is hard work. Training our replacements and worrying about them and feeling like we let the place down was hard work. Saying goodbye to people was hard work. Actually, that was the hardest of all.

Cancer might be lying in wait for any one of us, at any moment, but like the even more likely fatal wreck on the highway, we put that fear aside and carry on. Then when it comes close, the fear grabs us, and a tiny voice says that could be me. So it’s not surprising that our leaving made a lot of people sad. Many shared stories about their own cancer survival, or of others close to them, and urged positive thinking, prayer, and sometimes alternative cures. It was as though we had nicked a vein of need and fear. Cancer feels like the wrath of God, and we mortals can only cower together and hope it passes us, like an aimless tornado in the body.

An isolated, ephemeral community like the North Rim produces a quick intimacy, so that we become a sort of instant group of clans, divided by our daily work area, but still together in isolation and with the difficulties of dealing with the general public. So, on many levels, it was hard for us to go and hard for others to see us go. And besides, it is ravishingly beautiful there.

We had dinner in the Lodge the last night, and were treated like royalty, the best table right by the window, watching the last sun on the canyon pick out rocks and pinnacles and then the sky faded peach to gold to green. The new cook has upped the quality of the food, and it was superb. I wore my heavy silver dollar necklace, and felt like a queen for that hour.

So down off the mountain for the last time, the tall ponderosas left behind for junipers and then just sage brush, the grand staircase of red, tan and white cliffs ahead of us. The night we drove into St. George, the sunset was magnificent, and as we drove west, the light lingered on the red rocks, and glowed in the sky. Today, though, it is hot, the Vermillion Cliffs shimmer, and then a series of thunderstorms roll through, lighting zagging in the distance, and then a downpour, so we stopped for lunch at a small place tucked under the cliffs where friends work, and bought lunch for a pair of young men with car trouble.

We drove by Tsege, where sandstone is swirled and piled up like whipped pumpkin pie filling, and turned at Kenyata, red bluffs all around, and into Monument Valley for the night.

We love this wild architecture of erosion, the great buttes and fingers of red sandstone loom in the sky, full of portent, ageless and even their iconic role in so many cowboy movies doesn’t change their power. They are as aloof from the tourists bumping around on the dirt roads as they are from the Navaho homes scattered at their feet.

In the morningI drive Darth Vader out into Monument Valley so Don can get his fill, and on the way out, the sun breaks through and highlights certain towers, we are soaking up this wild western magic for the bad times ahead in the dense, humid, over grown and crowded east.

Then we are headed out of the red rocks for the high country of CO. The red cliffs are swirled with grey, like someone’s fimo clay project, and Mexican Hat where the red cliffs have ruffles. We climb and climb and the ground becomes tan and grey, the air smells like Montana, a kind of dusty floury smell. We stop in Cortez for the night, at the casino campground, but not for the gambling. Neither of us has any suspension of disbelief about the odds, and besides the tobacco smoke is horrible. I find it hard to watch people smoke these days, although Don quit 25 years ago and we don’t know the cause anyway, but it looks a lot like playing stickball on the freeway.

In the distance, we can see the San Juan Mountains, that’s where we are headed, to Yankee Boy Basin where we met. We stop at the Anasazi Heritage Museum in Dolores, and find an extraordinary collection of the artifacts of the Old Ones. I wondered at Mesa Verde where the stuff they found was hiding, and I think it’s all here. Archeology and archeologists is the theme, with lots of hands on stuff to do, and probably a good film although we didn’t stay for it.

I climbed up to the ruins of the Escalante Pueblo at the top of the hill, over looking the McPhee Lake. There is a kiva and the knee knocker doorways I first saw at Chaco Canyon. The impetus for this museum was the archeological survey done before they put the dam in and drowned the valley, but it has grown to include other areas of the region too. A great place if you love the ruins as we do, but not for those who are on a bus tour, counting coups of the places they visit as quickly at possible.

As we move along, Don calls more and more people to let them know, hard for him to say it, and hard for them to hear it. I lean against him for support, and worry about what lies ahead.

Today we are at the campground in Montrose CO where Don spent many summers as workamper, and drove the tour jeeps up on the terrifying old mine roads, and where he stopped to give a ride up to the high up campground to the lady who was supposed to clean it. We are going to rent a Jeep and go up there and play.


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