Paul Andersen: The blood on the keyboard | AspenTimes.com
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Paul Andersen: The blood on the keyboard

My fingertips burn with every keystroke. The infected cuts are healing but tender. If a freelance writer could get workman’s comp from an occupational malady I might apply, but the bureaucrats would never believe that my injuries came from poison rocks.

As a freelance writer my various activities fall under the category of “research.” At least that’s what I tell the IRS. Since I use my brain and my fingers to produce work, one or both of them would have to be out of commission for me to file an unemployment claim. At this point, both are suffering.

It all began two weeks ago when Randy and I hiked from the South Rim down the Waldron Trail 13 miles into the Grand Canyon, where we met a river trip at Granite Rapids on the Colorado River. As a novitiate to the Grand, I had a watery baptism in Granite when our 15-foot raft plunged through a maelstrom of roaring whitewater.

There is nothing that can prepare a first-time Grand Canyon river runner for the experience. Something between fear and elation captured and held me for the next five days. I was in the thrall of a wild ride that will be the raw material of vivid dreams for the rest of my life.

Floating through the inner gorge of black polished Vishnu schist while the river boiled and seethed around us was reminiscent of Odysseus facing Scilla and Charibdus. Swept away by currents of whitewater through the murky reaches of geologic infinity was an epiphany worthy of a conversion.

But it wasn’t until leaving the river at Matkatamiba Canyon that I felt the searing gaze of eternity. Randy and I parted from the river trip with backpacks, intent on making our way back up to the South Rim in two days of serious hiking across the Grand Canyon Esplanade.

Four days later, with our food depleted and 50 miles of marching on our battered feet, we emerged from a canyon labyrinth at Supai Indian village, where we promptly wolfed down burgers and fries. Our route had disintegrated from a straightforward ascent of Paya Point to an enduring canyon navigation worthy of the legendary desert nomad Everett Ruess.

What transpired between our farewells at Matkat and the dusty plaza at Supai is a tale to be told many times around campfires. Randy and I had the hike of our lives through a morass of canyons rife with prickly pear, saw grass, yucca spears, clawlike thorn bushes, rattlesnakes and rockfalls.

My bloody fingertips remain the most tactile reminders of our ceaseless perambulations. Oozing scabs mark the places where I touched a white, porous limestone that cut like a Cuisinart and left a residue of infectious poison.

By the time we saw the rattlesnake, these minute lacerations were already throbbing. The snake posed less of a threat than these damnable rocks, though it presented a serpentine omen of things to come as it lay coiled, rattle raised, its tongue tasting our smell. “Don’t pass by here, boys,” it seemed to hiss. “Go back to where you belong.”

In retrospect, the walking seems like a dream where each footfall becomes a hypnotic routine in which the mind wanders and the body goes on autopilot. In an atavistic return to a dim, primitive past, Randy and I did what man did for millions of years; we walked for our survival.

While driving through Tuba City, we had heard a fundamentalist Christian preacher disclaiming evolution as “science so-called.” But he had never walked through the eons like we did; he had never seen the fossils of seashells and invertebrates displayed in the canyon walls; he had never felt his own deep, visceral connection to the stream of life.

After lunch in Supai we hiked another 18 miles and 3,000 vertical feet to the car, wandering the vast mesa top for the last two hours with headlamps, our legs numbly doing the bidding of our wills, our swollen feet dutifully plodding, our bodies amazingly resilient and compliant.

The morning after, at El Tovar, a fancy old log lodge on the South Rim, we staggered in for breakfast. The newspaper rack told us we were at war, but neither of us bothered to read more than the headline. There would be time for that.

Over an enormous breakfast of Sonoran eggs, we sipped coffee and chewed with animal appetites. The media would wait. Our homes and families would wait. Our careers would wait. For now, we were hungry and here was food.

[Paul Andersen is grateful to have survived yet another occupational hazard. His column appears on Mondays.]


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