Shantih

Posted on July 11, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Shantih:  The peace which surpasses understanding.

You must remember this, I told myself on day five, the final day of our rafting trip on the Colorado River through the upper half of the Grand Canyon. We paddled the last three or so miles from our campsite to the drop-off point at Garden Creek, just west of the Bright Angel Bridge, where we’d hike the eight miles up, out of the canyon and onto the south rim.

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

The last couple of rapids were tame but we paddled as we were taught to, leaning in from the hips, pulling back not with the arms but with the  core. A light breeze rippled the water, our hats. Birds spun and skimmed the surface in search of breakfast. Deer played on the opposite shore as we prepared to beach.

It was beautiful. Serene. But that’s not all I wanted to remember. It was the way I felt that seemed more important to recall, to mark in my brain and body this profound sense of peace.

That was day five. But that’s not how the trip started.

River guides are smart. They dole out information a little at a time. Just what you need when you need it. Otherwise, you’re overwhelmed. The pre-trip meeting, for instance: Here’s how you pack your dry bag. The pre-launch meeting: Safety first–what happens to you effects everyone. Do this with your paddle; never do that.

Just a trickle of information. Always the right amount at the right time.

So when we set out on day one, which felt like the hottest day in the history of days, and I followed all of their instructions–drink at least one gallon of water by lunch (I drank two), another gallon by dinner (I drank two more); wear cotton and a hat and sunglasses; lather up with sunblock–I was disturbed by the fact that I was so miserable. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, after all. I’ve been camping and hiking, canoeing and kayaking, snorkeling and diving and sailing, running and biking and swimming. I’m no stranger to sweat and dirt and discomfort, yet here I was, hot and irked.

And it was only mid-day.

That’s when we got the bathroom talk, part one. The instruction: Everyone pees in the river. Not on the shore. Not in the bushes or on the trees or behind the rocks. In the river. Pants down–not through your bathing suit.

When you drink two gallons of water before lunch, pit stops happen early and often.  You paddle to the shore, hop off the raft, men upstream, women down, and everyone turns their head away, men from women, women from men.

But this was day one. With twenty-two guests and seven guides on six rafts. We barely knew each other. We were all civilized, proper, coming straight from a world of comfort and technology and suits, where most of us are uptight about such things. And you want us to do what?

Five women and two men slid off my raft onto a stretch of shore barely wide enough for the boat. Men walked a couple of steps upstream while the women waded waist-deep into the water, attempting to spread out far enough that we didn’t have to see each other, yet not far enough into the river to get swept away. No one made eye contact. Everyone hurried, embarrassed, not talking, until we saw the other rafts coming our way and scurried to get back into the boat.

We sat quietly for a while afterward, taking in the sights. A condor, some bighorn sheep, swallows that flash iridescence on their wings, and more. We’d have been sweating profusely if the humidity wasn’t in the single digits. (Now I understand what people mean when they say, but it’s a dry heat.) Dipped our feet in the 50º water to keep cool.

Vishnu Schist

Vishnu Schist

 

Slowly, steadily, over the next few days as the canyon walls rose more steeply and majestically and the silence of nature settled in, we let our tensions go. Rather than talking about what we do in the world, we attempted to answer the important questions:  If Vishnu Schist (the deepest, blackest, oldest layer of rock in the Grand Canyon–on the planet, actually–the layer of earth that surrounds molten lava at the planet’s core, the layer we glided through, half expecting dinosaurs to peer over the fallen rocks) was the name of a beer, what kind of beer would it be? A dark stout to match the color of the schist? Or a pale amber, to match the cool, refreshing feel of the river on your skin as you’re passing through?

As the layers of the earth towered above us, our guards went down. On pit stops we waded into the river only ankle deep and chatted as we squatted side by side. We didn’t search for such absolute cover when we selected our place to sleep at camp. We simply gauged the closest spot to the river (four to five gallons of water a day wakes you up frequently at night) under the widest expanse of sky so we could unfurl our bed in the sand under the stars. Before long, even the sand felt like velvet between the toes.

When we unloaded the raft on the bank of the river at the base of the Bright Angel Trail that final day, I noticed an outhouse just up the trail. I looked wistfully down at the river rushing cold and fast past our rafts and then sighed as I looked up at the perfectly fitted brown painted planks enclosing the composting toilets. A hiking party from the rim had almost reached it.

“Do I have to go in there?” I asked our river guide as I looked up toward the trail.

She shrugged as she tied off the boat. “Whatever makes you happy,” she smiled.

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Beautiful! Beautiful!

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