For three days it rained and everything he carried except for matches wrapped in oilcloth and tinned coffee got wet. His hat. Pack. Clothes. His boots. He ate cold beans and raw trout. When he looked up he saw the rim of the canyon far above. An unreachable border between worlds. What wilderness lay beyond and what civilization far beyond that had no relation to his presence inside the magnificent greatdeep fissure that split the demanding earth. He had entered the canyon weeks before at its wide and shallow sloped entrance where desert ended and mountains began their ascent. Now enclosed within its transcendent walls and alone with his past he hiked forever upriver. Impelled by a severe and nameless purpose.
Escape or excursion he couldn’t say. Or wouldn’t. Either way, only the canyon knew him. Only the canyon received him and it spoke a tongue he had yet to master. At night the river current revealed stories that had no ending. Only constant shifting. Flowing. A direction of epochs carved.
The rain stopped. He laid his clothes on rocks and in thrall of midmorning light sat naked while damp yielded to sunlight. He dressed, make a small fire and heated coffee. Strained through a washcloth as his father had taught him.
They had been here many years before. When he was a boy and his father for a brief time a protector. They hadn’t penetrated this far into the canyon but they had entered at night with rain and mud and lightning. And a story of a man who had been boltstruck and died.
He still wondered what that would be like. To be sudden pierced by god’s brilliant wrath in the darkness and transported at once to another realm. A rare encounter. Divine.
For weeks he hiked deeper into the motherhood of the mountains. A willing prisoner inside the great walls that led ever closer to the river’s birthpools. Secreted in far tributaries and snowpacks.
Ancient granite slabs rose from the riverbed and steep climbed to the sky. In some narrow places vertical and emerging from the constrained and enraged current itself. No path along a bank at all. He entered the water and waded chest deep upriver clinging to crevices in the drenched wallrock. Each step a careful calculation. A blind reckoning with his forward boot in the hurtling water to find a submerged foothold. After came drying and a thanking that the canyon had granted him passage.
One day he came to an easing, a widening of meadow and trees. The water relaxed and rippled. He made camp and at night allowed stars in the canyon gap above him to bless their light down onto his face. At times he cried alone in the canyon’s well for even the rationed view of the sky showed the expansive promise of the world. Made more glorious by its boundaries.
He rested for two days, fished. Drank his coffee. Received riversong into his need to let go his past. Honored in silence a sanctuary of solitude deep in the mountains. His body as soul in flight.
On the third morning he awoke in faint dawnlight to the rough odor of primitive breath. A large black bear sniffed his face. His hands at his side he exhaled softly and trusted the bear would sense that no threat stemmed from his prone figure. He held only wonder that beast and man should meet at the bottom of the world and share a sunrise.
Afternoons came early in the deep. When the sun dropped over the western rim, shadows crawled up the walls to meet the embrace of night. Still time to tramp the canyon and climb over rock but conditions could quick change dangerous. Once in late afternoon he had tried to cross to the other side of the river in leaps from rock to rock but darkness caught him in the middle on a large slab unable to see the next leap and he slept that night with rivermist and rumble of swift current.
An assortment of slowpass days. At times rough going. The river vigorous and rapid. His other life far behind.
One night he dreamed he stood near the canyon rim and heard a deep voice call out from the abyss. The youth will war me, it said. He shivered and moved closer to the edge. Barefoot on sharp rocks. He cried a single tear and the canyon filled with sadness. A second tear and it filled with joy. He awoke. A soft heaven light burned in the air.
Next day midmorning a jumbled slide of large granite blocks choked the riverside. A wallslab had fallen and shattered ages before. It extended upriver about three hundred meters. An unstable hazardous passage made more perilous by the uncountable number of rattlesnakes that crowded the rocks to warm their coldblood in the morning sun.
He tucked his pants in his boots, laced them tight, found a stick and began the crossing. His route anfractuous and precarious as rocks tipped and threatened his balance. Snakebite maybe survivable, but to break a leg certainly fatal. Two hundred impossible miles back and an unknown distance forward. He edged ahead. Cautious. Fully alive. Aware of his choice. The snakes hissed and rattled. The sun ascended, an hour crept. Once past he laid down his stick, walked a ways, sat on a rock and breathed. Asked himself in silence why he hadn’t waded the river and in silence answered trial. And trust.
He entered the current and knelt, lifted his eyes to the rim. The water marked his chest and for a moment he felt himself purified, cleansed. Maybe now named. He heard meaning in the canyon sounds and within the river’s urgent rush. He spoke his first words. We all submit to loss, he said to the walls. Man or god. But we go on. He rose and dripped. Took a long breath. Looked ahead. The cradle of the canyon’s birthplace yet upward.
Dear Reader Reader
Once more we find ourselves at the crossroads of fiction and reality from where this piece springs. Thanks much for reading.
This is a new piece in response to a prompt over at The Storyletter, which is conducted and symphonized by Winston Malone. The theme is: Exploring The Unknown.
For those of you who are new to Dynamic Creed, a big welcome hug. Here’s a couple of wonderful pieces you might want to take a look at:
Once again, thanks for stopping by. And don’t be shy, leave a comment, let me know what you think about bears licking your face.
All the best,