In a Canyon
a Seeker Visits
the Spirit of a Storm.
against the Rain.
By Joey Witt
DATELINE: Saturday, August 10, 2002
Conway, Arkansas, USA
"You never say I hope it doesn't rain today."
The students, acolytes, and teacher hiked in the Grand Canyon. At dawn they left the ranch for a three-hour drive from Hopi-land to the Mesa. ("Out there that's what they call it: Hopi-land — the Hopi Reservation.")
They met Eben and Roger at a trading post about 30 miles from the park. The Green Man sat among them.
"The ceremony was to bring rain. There had been none for the entire year - and today was a Saturday in June."
Roger is an ecologist, working for the Museum of Northern Arizona. He spent several years as a river guide in the Grand Canyon and around the Colorado Plateau. The Green Man liked Roger, but Eben? Eben is the geologist. He studies the Canyon.
Names of Gods.
"Whenever people first named the canyon formations, they named them after Gods, but the names were from India, Persia — the Vishnu Shist, the Zarathustra Plateau."
The drive from the trading post to the watchtower unfolded slowly, almost pedantically under the invasive tones of Eben's monologue. His narrative was laden past the capacity of a sane soul to carry, laden with esoteric polysyllabics.
"The young man ran up the canyon during a thunderstorm. That's what we remembered. Once he would think his actions foolish, or foolhardy. Time passed and the remembrance became one of blessing, realization."
The Green Man noticed the dark clouds behind the group. He saw the quick glow of lightening far in the distance. Thunderstorms in the morning were odd in the desert during summer, except during the two-week monsoon season of early July. Monsoon rains were heavy and fell almost every day.
"The monsoon won't arrive 'till next week," Eben said. "It's a freak storm that will die-out soon."
The hikers arrived at the Horseshoe Mesa trail head about one o'clock. They walked into the woods and ate lunch while Eben and Roger spoke about history.
The Grand Canyon is a fascinating place for Native American history. Let's qualify, explain. By using the term Native American history, the Green Man supposed he was entering into a typical Anglo discourse about North America's indigenous peoples.
It should be understood, however, that our concept of the Native American does not exist beyond imagination and supposition.
"Our?" the elder intervened. "Who is the group you call Our?"
Americans have for 225 years grouped the indigenous peoples of the land into one large ethnic population merely by the virtue of their being here first.
Native Americans (or Indians as some actually prefer to be called in the context of generalization) are not all related.
In fact, the language of the Hopi, related to that of the Mayans, is as different from the Athabascan tongue of the Navajo, the Hopi's ubiquitous neighbors, as English is different from Chinese.
Created, Refined, Codified.
The Green Man's point here — if it was a point — is to raise consciousness about the popular concept of classifying the Native American as an exclusive member of a codified, casually defined, and thoroughly homogeneous group. To see Native Americans in such light is a socially constructed discourse, created and refined by intellectuals and political hacks in the United States and other Western societies - and adopted without question by the unwashed masses.
"One year the monsoon came too early and too wet. The next it didn't come at all."
On the night before the hike, Ray Coin, a Hopi elder, told the band of visitors that the Grand Canyon is where the spirits of the Hopi go to live after death; it is Hopi Heaven, in other words.
A rock formation at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, the Elder said, is the Hopi place of emergence into the Fourth World. The area is off limits to all except certain Hopi elders on special ceremonial occasions.
The small, isolated Hualapai and Havasupai tribes also live traditionally in and around the Grand Canyon.
Defying the Aggressor.
The Hopi are a very traditional people. Because of this, their culture has remained fairly well intact over the years of United States aggression and intrusion.
"Not just the U.S.A., but the Navajo have continued their centuries-old war with the Hopi through mining contracts and mineral rights."
A large body of information exists about Hopi life and culture. Religion and Hopi Life in the Twentieth Century [John D. Loftin, Indiana University Press, 1991] is a short and concise account of modern Hopi life. It also contains a thorough annotated bibliography of Hopi sources. The Pueblo Indians of North America [Edward P. Dozier; Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1970] is another good general source of information about Hopi cosmology. Unfortunately, much less information exists about the Hualapai and Havasupai.
As the hikers finished lunch, Roger took some time to say that, if a storm were to hit on the hike, the safest place would be to crouch down beside the cliff face. The most dangerous aspect of a sudden storm in the desert is lightening. That said, the women and the men began the descent.
Fit, Hardy.... and Pushed.
The altitude of the rim on the canyon is about 8,000 feet. At that height, a person's body must work twice as hard to move at normal speed. The Green Man was an experienced hiker and cyclist, fit and hardy, but he ran short of breath occasionally from the altitude. The thinner air exacerbated the exhaustion, not simply of just hiking, but of hiking the second steepest trail in the entire canyon.
The temperature at the head of the trail was 90 degrees, a fairly comfortable temperature in the desert.
"Once the trail existed for pack mules to serve miners on Horseshoe Mesa. The entrance to the mine is blocked, but we know - surely - the mine remains, silent and empty."
With the lightening and darkness intensifying in the distance, the hikers began their descent. The Horseshoe Mesa Trail is cut into sheer cliff. It descends about 600 vertical feet in switchbacks. The trail itself is about two-feet wide, with a flat rock wall on one side, and a drop of several-hundred-feet on the other. They slowly made their way down to the level area 600-feet below the rim.
They paused on a ledge and listened to Eben talk about geology. The Green Man wondered how deep it might be to the bottom. Four thousand feet? Right.
Bolts, Dark Rain.
From the high sky lightening came in bolts. The Green Man listened to the roaring thunder. He could also see the dark rain falling to the ground instead of evaporating halfway up the sky. The monsoon had come early.
Seeing the condition of the sky, Roger said we might as well stay on the trail near the cliffs and wait it out.
Waiting was the safest course of action. That's what Roger said. However, The Green Man came from far away, from river bottoms in distant Arkansas. There, when a man spied a storm a comin', he ran for cover. He didn't just stay put and hunker down.
The Green Man just up and bolted. He began to run, then jog. He moved up the trail, but at the bottom of the steep switchbacks, the deluge began in earnest.
The rain fell thickly, driving him along with heavy, cold drops. His legs burned as he pushed hard along the trail. The rain and wind tore at him from behind, but then he would come to another switchback, and the wet wind would drive hard into his face.
The lightening bolts were hitting unseen places down in the canyon beneath him.
"They saw shards of boulders down below. The lightening had shattered the great rocks. That's what they said."
Move Ahead, Keep Going.
A bolt struck close enough to stand The Green Man's hair on end. This time he stopped and crouched down next to the rock face. He tried to catch his breath. He drank deeply from his canteen. He knew he must continue up, climb, move ahead, keep going — because the cliff where he paused was just too dangerous.
"On the cliff you'll see a plant called Mormon Tea. Its roots are deep enough to hold a man."
The trail became a swift stream, jeopardizing The Green Man's footing. Gusts of wind burst from the sky so hard against him that he had to cling to shrubs. They were his lifelines. To fall would mean a drop of 600 feet. Death would be gruesome and painful. He just knew it.
The Green Man stood up, breathed deeply. He moved ahead, pushed on up the trail, jogging now at a pace and with an attitude he likened to a death-march. Then he discovered a rhythm with his steps, with his breathing, with his resolve. At each turn in the switchback he remembered to drink.
He looked up. He stood at the top of the trail. He sprinted to one of the vans.
The storm continued for twenty minutes more, but The Green Man was safe. He sat in the van with a few fellow travelers who had chosen not to hike. He ate candy, drank deeply, and sought to regain control of his breathing.
The Cold Comes Quickly.
From 90 degrees the temperature had dropped to 60. Soaking wet, The Green Man began to shiver from the cold. Below on the trail the hikers who had hunkered down were having the same problem with the sudden drop of temperature. But they survived. After the rain abated, they slowly moved back up the trial, some with barely enough energy to make the ascent.
At the campsite, dryer and warmer, The Green Man realized that he may have been foolish with his mad dash upwards. Surely he courted danger. Lightening may have struck him down. He may have fallen hard and far. He may have....
"The Hopi say the Fourth World, the world we now occupy, will end in starvation. Since the rain makes the crops grow and brings life to the land, the Hopi never say, 'I hope it doesn't rain today.' "
In the distance, high in the sky and low on the horizon, The Green Man noticed the sunset. How spectacular! He thought it was the most spectacular sunset he would ever experience. He was alive, whole, uninjured. He was glad he had come to the canyon.
Joey Witt is a senior at Hendrix College in Conway. He is the drummer for The Anonymous C Sharp, a rock' n roll band. He is an apprentice grass cutter for Joe C. and former shop boy at CornDancer Lumber. His undergraduate major is religion and philosophy. He is a frequent volunteer for the Heifer Project. Joey's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
*This is the next step toward THE One World Language.
Step Twenty-Eight: Your tonal range codified!