12 October 2010

With heaviness of heart

This has been a most difficult of days. Something of a surprise, given the beauty and memorability of yesterday. And, one would think that a day long cruise on Lake Powell would be a highlight rather than a challenge. Too much reading, perhaps.

We were up incredibly early. Breakfast at a great little diner, the Glen Canyon Steak House, across the street from the hotel before 6:00 and on the bus by 7:00 in order to be at Wahweap Marina before 7:30 to board our boat. Getting there from Page required crossing the Glen Canyon Bridge and a good view of the Glen Canyon Dam, a long-time controversial project. (Go to the link for a really great photograph.)

The marina is beautiful and so is Lake Powell. For most of the morning I listened to the on-board commentary through my headset, but could not bring myself to venture outside the cabin, not wanting to find the 186-mile-long reservoir alluring.

As I have written before, through this trip I have been reading "Desert Solitaire," by Edward Abbey -- an outspoken, abrasive misanthrope who loved and advocated passionately for the environment. Following is a paragraph from the essay in "Desert Solitude" about Abbey and a friend traveling the through Glen Canyon on the Colorado River before the dam was finished.

Once it was different there. I know, for I was one of the lucky few (there could have been thousands more) who saw Glen Canyon before it was drowned. In fact I saw only a part of it but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth's original paradise. To grasp the nature of the crime that was committed imagine the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral buried in mud until only the spires remain visible. With this difference: those man-made celebrations of human aspiration could conceivably be reconstructed while Glen Canyon was a living thing, irreplaceable, which can never be recovered through any human agency.(152)

All I could think about as we moved up the lake was all history, the art over which we were moving.

We were headed to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the largest natural bridge in the world -- 290-feet tall, spanning nearly 275 feet across, a spot long-sacred to the Navajo people, accessible only by water or a long, difficult hike. I realized that refusing to see Lake Powell, hiding from it, couldn't make it not exist, wouldn't lower the water. My heaviness of heart is something of a gift, requiring engagement, inviting introspection. I certainly didn't want to miss Rainbow Bridge, a treasure that because of its elevation survived the rising water.

On our trip back to Page we stopped at the dam for a turn through the desplays in the visitor center. It's quite an impressive structure, that dam (check the first link above). Five million cubic yards of concrete which took 24-hours a day, 7-days a week for three years to pour. Enough for a four-lane highway from Phoenix to Chicago. It was a subdued location today, law enforcement chief for the Glen Canyon Recreation Area and another National Park Service ranger having died in a small plane crash over the weekend.

Subdued. A good descriptor for the day.

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