Early this morning I walked into a red rock canyon where thousands have walked before. Hundreds of them, at least, had left initials or names and dates of their visits scratched arrogantly into the sandstone. Winds and rains have done much to erase hundreds of such carvings, but tons remain—and obviously are added to each summer.
Some purist might call it defacing nature. Maybe so. But the canyon is a good distance from roads more travelled, and there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about it, except, perhaps, the wealth of etchings. The initials create their own kind of historical record, I guess. Most of them were like carved in the stone by kids who wanted to join the throng and thereby immortalize their visit. Here and there you find a familiar equation meant to broadcast some kids’ passions: “Howie and MaryAnn 1983.” Chances are good that what’s scratched into the rock has lasted longer than the relationship. But the winds and rain will return, inevitably.
Somewhere in my memory, an image of this place exists from a visit I made here 35 years ago, as a counselor for a youth group. Back then, I certainly wouldn’t have carved my name or my love into the rock—even though my spouse and I had been only recently married. The only record I have of some earlier visit is one my own memory had to dust off when I stood there before those red walls.
I’m too much a Christian not to read moral lessons into such etchings, but I’ll spare the sermon that comes to mind, simply reference Psalm 90, where Moses sets it all out far more memorably than I could ever do.
It was a gorgeous morning, almost shockingly cool; but the elevation here creates an amazing variance in daily temps—a blazing hot sun in late afternoon (danger for bald men), but cool—even cold—in dawn’s earliest light.
When I arrived and got out of the car, I was surrounded by a council of local dogs, all of whom were anxious to make a friend. To get out to the canyon required maybe fifteen minutes or so, and two of them decided that a constitutional was just what they wanted too, so two of the old guys politely came with, tails wagging.
I probably spent an hour out there altogether, the sun coming up royally and crowning the hogbacks just west.
One of those dogs, one who looked like a crook—a dirty brown mask over both eyes—stayed with me the entire time, a total stranger. He walked along beside me for an hour, as if concerned about some rookie on a hike in the neighborhood.
When I got back in the car, he stood right beside the open door and looked at me, his dark and sorrowful eyes buried in that brown mask, wondering if our dalliance was at end.
No matter. Even if I never see that sweet mutt again, our little hour-long hike was memorable.
I should have carved his name in the rock, but I never got it. Then again, that’s what I’m doing, I guess, these letters marching across the page.
He was a sweet old dog to come along.
Somewhere there’s a sermon there too.