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Back to Grand Canyon’s North Rim

October 13, 2016

[All photos in this blog post are by Lorrie Baumann. Thanks, Lorrie!]


Here I am soaking in the view from Cape Final on the North Rim.

I feel like I could float right over the canyon: I just received confirmation of the dates for my next “Writing on the Edge” workshop at Grand Canyon: June 16-18,2017.

This will be my third Grand Canyon Association Field Institute (GCAFI) creative writing workshop at the North Rim, and I’m really looking forward to another great time with writers as we wander the canyon rim trails through forests perfumed with rivers of lupine in bloom.


A lupine river meanders near the trail to Cape Final; the sun’s heat intensifies and mingles the spicy ponderosa and sweet lupine odors. Mmmmm.

This afternoon, after I revised the outline of activities for next summer’s workshop to send to the GCAFI so they could prepare the new web pages, I revisited some of the words Johanna L. and Lorrie B. had sent me after our time together this past June.

Lorrie’s photo, below, displays the view from one of our hike-and-write vantage points along the Transept Trail; her story that follows was composed in this delectable place.



Parable of the Squirrel and the Mountain (by Lorrie Baumann)

[Exercise: Choose two nonhuman creatures/things and let them talk to each other.]

“I am a monolith of rock. I have always been here and know my place on the Earth, which is eternal,” said the mountain.

“I also know my place on this Earth. And here is where I belong,” announced the squirrel.

“It cannot be with the knowing that I have, little squirrel. Your life if fleeting. I will watch your generations come and go while I am here and live on.”

The squirrel dug a casual hole and buried a pine nut for the future. “You might think you know everything about your place on the Earth, and it’s true that you can know it in a grand way, but next winter, I will remember precisely where I left this nut, while you will clearly only be thinking deep and majestic thoughts. I’ll be the one who’s eating while the snowmelt will come into the hole I leave when I dig up my nut, and it will weather your rock until it cracks, just a small crack, and then a bit of you will fall away. What do you say to that?”

“I can spare a pebble or two,” the mountain answered. “That doesn’t change my sense of where I am in this world.”

“Well, I’ll tell you who can change your sense of where you are in a big, fat hurry, and that’s a human being. They have guys with explosives and machinery to take a mountain from here and move the rocks over there. They can do it.”

“I have heard of this,” the mountain intoned contemptuously. “But it’s not going to happen to me. I belong here, for now and for all time.”

“Or for exactly as long as those guys agree with you on that,” the squirrel said. “And I don’t think they necessarily share your sense that you’re as essential to the place as you do. Hell, I don’t even think very many of them know where they belong, let alone where you belong. An awful lot of them show up here and drift away again with nothing that makes them fit into this place other than their selfies. I watch them and laugh, because they’ll go and I’ll be here taking care of my own business, because I belong here and they don’t. You, on the other hand, could, let me remind you, be replaced.”

In response, the mountain shrugged and dispatched a boulder that squashed that impudent rodent flat. The mountain chuckled to itself in a long, deep rumbling laugh. “That’s a way to teach a squirrel its place on the Earth,” it said. “Just make it one with it.”

And then the mountain slept.

Moral: Don’t be a smartass with the mountain. It may not be invincible, but it’s still a lot bigger than you.

Short timed writing (by Lorrie Baumann)

The wind can’t decide if it’s going to blow or be still.

Our little group came a short way along the Transept Trail from our campsite and sat down to write at a quiet outcropping of boulders that offered shade and enough fallen leaves to make a softish place to sit as well as a clear view across the canyon.

It required only the most minimal imagination to picture other people there before us, brown-skinned and at home here, choosing this place to look out over the canyon for any signs of interlopers.

We named it “Inspiration Fort,” all of us a little surprised, I think, that Thea’s invitation to be a little silly and imagine voices for the nonhuman had sparked something from within us that we hadn’t expected. I have written a parable, surprised to find out that what I had to say came out as a story, with a plot of sorts and everything.

There is no place on Earth I’d rather be right now.

The North Rim in June is bloomin’ with wildflowers.


Here a Northern Flicker sips near our writing group at Cliff Spring.


Jo wades into the lupine river for a photo.

Another one of my favorite writing prompts–which I learned from Kim Stafford during a Summer Fishtrap workshop–is called “Leaving . . . “. Through it writers are inspired to imagine what a place means to them when it’s time to move on. The vivid piece below was composed by Jo during the last hour of our writing time at the end of a productive last day hiking a little–and writing a lot–along the North Rim’s Widforss Trail.

Leaving the North Rim  (By Johanna Lombard, June 18, 2016, edited August 26, 2016)

I don’t think I ever really leave the North Rim. I may go away. For weeks or months and sometimes many years. But I never really leave.

Other cultures have words to describe sense of place.

“Tenalach,” an Irish word, describes a relationship one has with lands, air, and water–a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the Earth sing.

Or my favorite, “querencia,” a metaphysical concept in the Spanish language, which means a place where one feels safe; a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn; a place where one feels at home.

I think about the idea of sense of place. That which is in us. A part of us. Woven into the fabric of our souls. Something that time and distance and new sights and smells cannot remove–that innate feeling that this place is a part of you and you of it, just as its dirt gets under your fingernails, its sand in between your toes, and the smell of sunblock and sweat ingrains in your pores.

It gives fodder for daydreams when you’re stuck in traffic or walking through the box store—the rich sweet scent of ponderosa just within your grasp of smell.

It offers a place for your mind to wander when you’re stuck in the heat of the day and your brain remembers cool breezes and chilly nights. It forms a foundation of memories through time of extended family cooking mega-breakfasts on multiple Coleman stoves, serving up potatoes and onions, bacon, scrambled eggs, and cowboy coffee to go with the joyous laughter coming from beneath the tall ponderosas in site #12.

Of a park ranger who has what appears to be the coolest job in the world to this 16-year-old girl, as he greets visitors at the entrance station and checks on campers in the campground.

Of numerous backpack trips filled with stories now deeply entrenched as part of our family lore: the two, muscled Marines with their giant machetes and boom boxes hiking past Cottonwood Campground. The two young German men carrying their bicycles as they hiked across the canyon because a park ranger had busted them for trying to ride them across. The animal that ate our butter out of the creek where we had stored it to keep it cool for our macaroni and cheese with tuna dinner after hiking to Ribbon Falls. The colossal midnight monsoon thunderstorm that drenched us in our rainfly-less tent. “It never rains in the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” my dad had said. (Note: this writer has been rained on in the bottom of Grand Canyon dozens of times since then.)

And even when the time for family vacations had passed, I still found myself on the North Rim: starting a rim to rim solo hike at 20 years old during my first summer working in the park; trips to explore the area with new friends; trips to visit “one last time” before moving away from Arizona; and now multiple trips yearly because I am fortunate to get to work on media projects for this beautiful place.

Leave. Return. Leave. Return. Leave. Return. Leave.

Today I will leave the North Rim as I have many times before, but tomorrow I will look across to it from my home on the South Rim and know that it is always here and I am just a short hike (or half-day drive) away. Until I return.


Angel’s Window at Cape Royal (this and all the  other photos in this post by Lorrie Baumann)

Thanks, Jo and Lorrie, for sharing your words! May our paths cross again!

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