Listen… Listen to the silence. Most people listen to the silence in the canyon and hear nothing. Others hear the grasses rustling in the breeze. Some hear the birds chirping.
I hear everything. I hear the souls of the canyon speaking. The canyon’s souls speak to those who will listen, really listen. Maybe it’s almost more feeling than listening. But, I can sense their presence.
I love to hike in the canyons of the red rock country during the off-seasons when it’s less crowded. It’s certainly nice to have company sometimes on a hike, but I can see people at home. I come to the canyons to heal from the stresses of our modern day life. There is almost no time during a normal day when I am not connected to a computer, a smart phone, or television. Sleeping is the only time of the day when there is silence. I come to the canyons for my soul.
Many times I hike alone, but not to shun others. I simply prefer to experience the canyons when there is more time for solitude. I want to hear what the canyons have to say, and I want to feel their presence without interruption. I say I go to take pictures; I go to work on my photography. That is true, but I really go to work on my soul.
Not everyone can be alone like this. I have a friend who absolutely quivers at the thought of entering nature alone. He looks at the wilderness as his adversary. He’s worried about being eaten by a cat; he’s worried about stepping on a rattlesnake. He’s worried about the cold. He’s worried about the heat. His soul is tormented. How can one be at peace if one views mother Earth as an adversary?
I am not stupid; I come prepared. I have survival skills, and I definitely know my limits. I don’t go into the wilderness to boast or to take chances. Staying alive means being careful and being aware. But that is why I am here in the first place — to be alive.
The canyon lets you enter only by its permission and grace. Walking through the rock walls in total silence gives me peace. Of course the realization hits fairly soon that being totally alone has certain drawbacks. In the canyon, we are not the top of the food chain, and that thought floats around in my head frequently. That huge boulder sitting precariously on a tiny ledge hundreds of feet above could come crashing down any second, and that would be the end of me. Unless someone saw something peeking out from under that boulder, no one would ever know I had ever been here. These thoughts are the beginning of the healing process; I am beginning to get back to my real relationship with this earth. I am beginning to feel alive again.
Walking further in, I can feel the stresses of everyday life begin to melt away. They are replaced by awe and amazement. It’s the colors and the textures of the rocks and the plants. It’s the light playing on the shapes of the canyon walls. It’s the aromas floating in the clean air. It’s the sheer immensity of this place. It’s the harshness. Everything is precious here — water, shade, shelter, food.
I am a visitor to this world. It takes a time to realize that to truly understand this new world I have to just be in it. But soon enough I begin to understand that I am not alone; that there are others here as well. The canyon has seen countless lives come and go over more years than anyone can imagine. How many generations of cougars have hunted and cared for their young in these canyons, and then finally succumbed to some end? How many generations of jackrabbits have lived and died in these walls? That little lizard sitting on that rock watching me snack on my lunch knows no other world but this. His entire existence has been in this canyon, probably within a couple of hundred yards from where he is now. His ancestors have been in this canyon before any humans ever walked this earth.
And then the plants begin to speak. They too tell the stories of the harshness of this world; the only world that they know. Some of the small cacti are dozens of years old. Their existence consists of surviving from rainstorm to rainstorm. Their roots draw up the life giving water from the soil. They bloom after the spring rains, and the seeds from those blooms are the beginnings of a new generation. Those blooms welcome me here with their splendor and vibrant colors. Sometimes however, they’re washed away in a flood, and they’re gone forever. The juniper trees are so small that one would think they were planted here just a few years ago. But they too have stories to tell. The relentless summer heat beats down hour after hour. That heat sucks the water right out of the little juniper. It can be weeks or months before the rains come again. In the winter the cold threatens to literally crack the plant apart from the freezing. That little tree has survived many summers and winters here. With such a tough existence, I would think that it would be quite an unwelcoming soul. And yet if I listen, it welcomes me here with great openness and generosity. It shares its beauty of the deep bluish green’s contrasting so well against the red tones of the rock walls.
In fact, the farther in I go the more at peace I feel. Every soul begins to welcome me, hoping that I will listen to its story. When I can begin to hear their stories, then I know I have arrived at my destination. I can finally really hear the canyon speak. It tells me about everything that’s really important. I can finally truly see the light the way it is supposed to be seen. I can see it playing with the colors of the rocks and the greens of the plants. I can see it painting the sky with pastels of blues and lavenders. The light is telling the story of how things got to look the way that they do. That little pool of water in the shadow of the canyon wall suddenly becomes extremely significant. That pool is the sole life giver for so many of the small plants and animals that surround it. I can hear the thankfulness of all of the life that depends upon that little pool of water.
Yes, there is peace here — true absolute peace. Everything is the way it is supposed to be, and everything is balanced. The dead juniper is slowly degrading and decomposing, but at the same time it is providing the nutrients necessary to support the new junipers nearby. This is a precious place because there are few places left that we can go to listen to the souls of this planet. The little bird is so happy for the things that it has: a nice nest, shelter from the storms, a place where it can raise its young, and a plentiful supply of food. Every soul here is grateful for what it has because every soul here knows the realities of its existence. The jackrabbit is grateful for every day because it knows at any moment it could become a meal for the cat.
There are other souls here they can finally be heard after enough time. The souls are of those who have come before. These are the souls of the ancient ones who inhabited this area hundreds and hundreds of years before the white Europeans ever gazed upon these canyons. These ancient souls have left behind only a few traces of their existence. Here and there are some crumbling remains of ancient buildings and pottery shards that can tell us a little about their lives and their culture. They have left paintings on the walls of the canyons. Some of these paintings tell the stories of the lives of the people. They tell the stories of the hunting, and of the joy of having food and family. There are other symbols that are unknown as to their meaning. These symbols tell of mysteries long left unsolved.
But sitting quietly, taking in all that is in the canyon, I can hear the souls speaking to me about their existence. Their stories are not so different from the stories of the jackrabbit, the little lizard, or that juniper bush. They speak about the joys of life, and of the agonies as well. They speak about the happiness of the families. They also speak about the death of loved ones. They speak about a hope that that is not the end of all things. They speak about the connection that they had with everything else in the canyon. These souls were one with the cat, the jackrabbit, the cactus, the lizard, and the junipers. These rocks were their home and were their shelter from the relentless heat and the brutal winter cold. However, these souls also speak of being torn from their home by changes that they could not comprehend. There is torment and anguish here as well.
I entered this canyon alone, a single soul. However, I am not alone here at all. I am surrounded by the presence of everyone who has been here before and by the presence all of the life that surrounds me. Every one of the souls is now speaking to me and telling me their stories. I came in here seeking solitude from the world, and I will leave here filled with the joys and the sorrows of all of the souls in this canyon. My soul has been healed by the souls of the canyon.