sands of time

Recently, I’ve had lots of events — strange graphs, crying students, random memories — that should have spurred an entry with some lesson or moral, but no. So I went digging back through a folder on my computer I called “essays”. Some of these became op-ed pieces or a talk, but most of these are just zeroth drafts that existed before this “zeroth draft” space. So I started reading and found this, a narrative that’s just that much more important as 4 more years have passed. It reminds me that this writing thing is a good idea, for no one else more than for myself.
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“I need to go potty.” Anna tells us this with the anxiousness that makes you really pay attention. A four-year-old who needs to go potty is something that you handle efficiently, delicately, quickly.

“What kind of potty?”

“Poop.”

We could have dealt with the other, but “poop” gives us pause. We’re two miles from the trailhead of Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park. The sky is blue. The rocks are red. The trees are green. It’s a beautiful contrast of primaries, nature painting the scenery; and then there’s this juxtaposition.

We go through the typical routine: Can you hold it? Can you squeeze your bum? We’re almost ready to head back, but we can’t go poop until we get back to the trailhead.

It works.

When we first started the trail led us through rock and time. Red walls towered above us, and the contrast of their permanence and color with that of the blue sky and evergreen trees was striking. Anna looked a different direction: at the ground. Earlier, on a hike down Park Avenue, she and Grace showed the same fascination with not the rock walls, but the sand at our feet. It was fine, smooth, pourable, and play-with-able. We talked about how the sand came from the rocks around us, how the walls were wearing away. “How?” Anna asked. Wind, we told her. Water, too. We watched the wind blow the sand one grain at a time. Anna went back to playing with the sculptures at her feet. Later she wanted to feel the water left behind in a pool.

Earlier we had hiked between the walls of stone, over a couple of rises, around a bend and up to Landscape Arch. It’s holding on, but 300 feet of expanse seems to suck at its underbelly. I wonder when it will give. Every living soul who sees the narrow ribbon wonders the same thing. It’s only a matter of time, and frozen in this moment it defies its own future. A chipmunk scrambles on the rock next to us. Small and quick, it’s the antithesis of the rock; but in a funny way, I feel as though the chipmunk is always going to be here, skirting about on whatever rock or grass or sand happens to be there. The arch, once fallen, will leave nothing behind, but there will always be another chipmunk.

We take pictures and we admire the feat. We continue on past Wall Arch, looming directly above our heads and we scramble up the slickrock. We break for lunch. Strawberries and cheese and nuts and crackers and whatever else fits into my bag underneath Grace’s seat in the pack. We sit and eat.

Anna and Grace play in the sand. Surrounding us in every direction are blazing red fins, and something tells you that the slickrock upon which we eat our lunch is slowly but constantly and currently being whittled away, right out from underneath us. Someday, inevitably, it will all change. Slow, but inevitable, and I wondered how miniscule the amount of time between the 4-year-old and the college graduate would compare to the infinitely far off but still inevitable. I put Grace in the pack – strapped in and maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t get away from us as quickly. Maybe there would be something that we could do to get her away from the aging influence of Earth. Let the slickrock slide away and let the sand blow over us and let the ice freeze and thaw. But God please let me keep Grace in my backpack a little longer. Let me hold Anna’s hand as we scramble over the slickrock.

Anna scrambles up a rock face in the narrowness between fins that leads us to Partition Arch. Without a misstep she keeps in front of her mother. I offer my hand, but she doesn’t need it.

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Epilogue:
Late last night I had pulled out this old essay and brushed it off. This morning I was re-reading it and finding that I really liked having this memory preserved, but then I also had this sudden flash of a more recent memory. I did a quick search and confirmed this: Wall Arch is no longer an arch. So the very episode I was writing about and the comparison of the erosion of rock to my girls growing up was particularly poignant.

wpid-WallArch-2008-10-9-05-23.jpg

My girls grow up and geology progresses right before our eyes.