The Whole Works
Five p.m. I don my knapsack and head out on the trail. I'm leaving late in the day to enjoy the last three hours of photographer's light.
A short way out I meet a backpacker speeding along toward the trailhead. He's young, has brush cut hair, and, the stuff of envy, a shirtless turtle belly. He opens with: "Neat place!"
"Yeah, sure is," I reply. "How long have you been out?"
"Three days, long enough to see everything."
"Everything?" The question jumps out of my mouth – as much a challenge as a surprise.
"Yeah, Lost Canyon, Druid Arch, Chesler Park, the Joint Trail, a bunch of petroglyphs, some ruins … the whole works."
"Wow, that's quite a hike in only three days," I say. Inwardly, I'm thinking that in my 25 years of hiking in this labyrinth of sandstone canyons I haven't yet seen 'the whole works.'
As in a mirror, I see myself as him—a young man full of enthusiasm to hike all the trails, see all the places.
"So, where are you headed?" he asks.
"I'm going into that small wash," I say, gesturing towards a non-descript branch of the main canyon.
"Oh, What's in there?"
He's probably hoping that I'll say that the wash contains an Anasazi ruin or an arch. Anything will do, so long as it has a name to designate its importance. How to tell him? There's no great feature in the place I've selected for this evening's journey. It's one of many small places where an occasional rush of water produces a sandy bottom, where sandstone walls are shaped into delicate curves by the slow chiseling of water, wind and ice, where desert plants offer unexpected splashes of color, where water holes contain brine shrimp and tadpoles, where stunted junipers twist and twirl in the dance of life, where there will likely be no footprints besides my own.
"Nothing much, I'm just wandering around."
"Oh," he says. "Well, have a good one!" As he leaves, I imagine him thinking: Poor old bugger probably can't go very far.
I've stepped to the other side of the mirror, see myself through his eyes—sparse hair, graying beard, weathered shirt, scuffed boots, that bulge above my belt ... the whole works.
"You too," I reply, and might have added, You have a good, full life. There's plenty of time for you to learn to walk in the beauty of the small places.
the long shadow cast
by a pebble
This is a revised version of a haibun that first appeared in tinywords, April 25, 2003.