Thursday, May 30, 2013

And Then, Morning

Contemplate this image.  This is not a photograph.  Well, it is a photograph, of course.  A digital representation yes, but of an actual place, an actual moment, remember.  In the world of the flat screen--the magnificence of earth and sky and beyond as entertainment--it can be easy to forget it is an actual place, an
actual moment.

On the morning of April 27, in the three-dimensional world, I had the great privilege of waking up to this breathtaking sight.  How that happened owes to having seen images like this one over the years, and most recently while putting together my trip to Arizona last month.  I love Tucson, the Sonoran Desert, and I keep returning to it.  But this time, having longer to spend, I wanted to explore beyond Saguaro Country. 

I'd visited the Grand Canyon once, briefly, and the inimitable Sedona, land of the vortex, both further north.  But I wondered about the rest of Arizona.  A little bit of research (thank you, Google!) turned up two distinct destinations:  Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley, pictured here.  To reach it involved a long drive north, to the Utah border in fact, across a largely (as compared to the southern part of the state) barren landscape. 

I had made a reservation for a one-night stay within the Valley.  Being pretty much the only accommodations with such proximity to the monuments, one night cost more than all my other nights' stay combined.  So I kept it to one, which gave me only one chance at sunset, once chance at (just after full) moonrise, and one chance at sunrise.  I arrived just before sunset prepared to greet each of them, one by one.

I am a night owl, not a morning person; I rarely see sunrise, but I wasn't going to miss this one for all the tea in China.  I set two alarms--a little tricky since Monument Valley (as with all of the Navajo Nation) observes daylight saving time where the rest of Arizona does not; I had to be certain I was changing the hour in the right direction--and I kept the wall-sized drape parted hoping the first signs of light would help to rouse me.  Then I slept.  A bit.

By the position of the sunset and moonrise, I knew roughly where on the horizon to watch for the sun.  But where exactly it would emerge across the cutout of monuments would be a surprise.  When a glow as of embers simmering just below the horizon began to grow, I was up, wide-eyed, and ready.

What a sight, to witness the dawn paint the black sky--first red and blue then blush then hot orange--and to watch the monuments sharpen in relief.  After a time I noticed one spot growing hotter, yellower than the rest.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  There smack in the middle of this iconic silhouette the sun burning yellow star ever so slowly but steadily emerged, silently, unceremoniously and altogether unforgettably bringing the day.

Later, I would walk among these monuments, apprehend their grand scale and their palpable aura of wisdom, adding dimension to what I was beholding.  It's among the most natural of occurrences, night becoming day.  But this day it felt like a miracle. 

Look past the image to the place, the happening moment now.  Enter the miracle.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I am not much of a tourist. I prefer to meet a place unknown to me on its own terms, to partici-
pate with it and not affront it with demands.  It is thrilling enough for me to just be in the foreign places that I visit; without having to "see the sights." 

True to form, I did very little sight seeing on my journey across Arizona last month, with perhaps two exceptions.  I drove all the way to the Four Corners expressly to experience Monument Valley.  And I returned (the long way, due to a road having been washed out) via Page for the sole purpose of visiting Antelope Canyon.  

I had read that the Navajo pray before entering Antelope Canyon.  It is a sacred site to them--an "earth church" I want to say, now that I've experienced it.  I had also read prior to leaving Boston that 11 people died in that canyon on August 12, 1997.  I even watched a video, a simulation of how a flash flood can overtake the canyon, as it did on that fateful day.  

A bronze memorial near the entrance bears the names of those who perished in that flood. My guide paused there at the start of our tour to say a few words about what happened that day, and why we were safe to enter on this day.  "It has not rained, so no floods today," he assured us and continued forward, leading us down into the slot, into this underground sandstone temple.  Some might have been apprehensive about entering. I was not. My posture was not fearful but reverent. I wanted to show my respect, to meet this sacred place of the Navajo with reverence, so I made a prayer, an offering, in advance. 

Perhaps it was this posture of reverence that caused it, I don't know.  But I felt the canyon showed herself to me.  I snapped and snapped almost without ceasing (a first for me) along the path of about 15 minutes' walk, if you made it uninterrupted.  We spent over an hour down there.  I took about 600 pictures.  I've never had such an experience photographically speaking.  I don't quite know how to describe it, except to say that it was as if the canyon were saying "take this, take this, take this, and take this too," all along the way.  Gift after gift she gave me, without reservation.  I thinks it's fair to say I was in a state of awe throughout.  I was astounded by the beauty I was shown.  And it was thrilling to see my camera was recording it. 

What will become of these photos?  I don't know.  I know that to use them "commercially" requires the permission of the Navajo.  For what purpose were they given to me?  I don't know.  A memorial perhaps?  One panel for each who perished?  This remains to be seen.  In the meantime, I am finding--a first--that I can only view a few of these images at a time, so I have yet to see them all.  There is so much energy, so much power in them, I have to pace myself.  Not unlike chocolate truffles I suppose, they are too rich to absorb in one sitting.

Putting this particular trip together had been stressful.  One asks oneself in such moments:  is it all worth it?!  Still, I pressed on.  Then chaos, tragedy struck Boston.  My flight out was on the Manhunt Friday after Marathon Monday.  That I made my flight out felt nothing short of a miracle, given that the city, for the first time in history, went into a "lockdown" just minutes before I left to catch the train to the airport.  There would be no trains.  No taxis either, I discovered as the whole thing unfolded before me where I stood with my suitcase at hand.  Helicopters overhead, a feeling of terror accumulating.  The distinct air of "go inside and be safe" seeping like a noxious vapor into an exquisite, sun-drenched, electric-blue-skied spring morning.  But a torch of grace lit my way, and has stayed lit... well, through to now. 

It's clear that I was supposed to go.  There were so many "almosts" that might have interfered--two that would've kept me from entering the Canyon, even.  I was there, not here in this injured city during those days of trauma, by Divine appointment.  I made my appointments--appointments I did not know I had until after the fact.  And I am changed, still changing, from the energetic shifts that resulted--at Antelope, and beyond.  I am still absorbing it all.  

That is all I know for now.  That is enough.  The rest will be revealed in its own time.