Conserving Silence

As gorgeous as the Grand Canyon is to look upon,
its greatest gifts may not be visual.

“On any given evening in summer, but most notably in late June, there comes a moment just after the sun has disappeared behind the rimrock, and just before the darkness has tumbled down the walls, when the bottom of the Grand Canyon gives itself over to a moment of muted grace that feels something like an act of atonement for the sins of the world. This is the fleeting interregnum between the blast-furnace heat of the day and the star-draped immensity of the night, and when it arrives, the bedrock bathes in a special kind of light, the pink-and-orange blush of a freshly opened nectarine.”

Back when I wrote those words, the opening passage of a book called The Emerald Mile that chronicles the world of whitewater and wooden dories at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I was convinced that every sentence was truer than granite. Now, almost 10 years later, I still believe there is nothing sweeter, nothing more calming for the soul, than standing still and breathing in the wonder of the canyon in its finest hour—but with one qualifier.

“Looking back on that time now, I remember the way the silence descended over the land—and how it descended into me. I was not experiencing the absence of something, but just the opposite.”

In writing that book, I spent the better part of six summers apprenticing for a commercial river outfitter at the bottom of the canyon, floating upon the rapids of the Colorado by day and getting rocked to sleep by its eddies at night. Then in late September 2015, I embarked on a thru-hike of the canyon and realized that as you proceed deeper into the matrix of cliffs and ledges that are suspended between the shoreline and the rims, the charms of the canyon during its golden hour fail to register with the intensity they achieve on the river.