You know, all the way to California and back last month, in the back of my mind was a niggling worry about having an accident on the highway or byway between California and Texas with Thing the Versa – this is likely why I keep the AAA membership paid up. When we reached home safely by the first of June, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief … never expecting that our poor little Thing would get basically T-boned a month later, barely three blocks from home by a driver in a SUV bombing out of a parking lot and swinging wi-i-i-de into the far lane of a major boulevard. The exact same lane and at the exact time as I was innocently tootling along, returning from the local HEB, having picked up a couple of items with the intent of spending the Glorious 4th of July at Canyon Lake, looking at how low the water level was THIS year, because of the lack of rain.

Anyway, dear readers, there I was, one minute thinking about the left turn into the neighborhood and how I should get another couple of hours work done on one of the current projects for the Teeny Publishing Bidness, and in the space of another – after an awful crunching noise, as  if a baseball bat the size of a telephone pole walloped a tin can the approximate dimension of a full-sized trash dumpster – in the boulevard median with the steering wheel airbag exploded all over me in a cloud of whatever it is they are filled with, the windshield instantly cracked all over.

What the hell – I was thinking – where did THAT come from??!!

Yes, I have been in traffic accidents before. That last collision with another larger vehicle, I saw coming, and almost dodged out of the way. (Other driver found at fault, as it turned out. Yes, witness coming the other way.) I was not nearly as shaken up on that occasion as I was with this one, coming as it did out of the clear blue. The bruises resulting from the seatbelt suddenly clamping are freaking spectacular and quite painful. It also turned out there was also an airbag underneath the steering column, which accounts for the mystery bruise on my left shin.  I have not been this comprehensively battered since falling off and over practically every obstacle in Air Force basic training. Which occurred almost half a century ago. I have racked up considerable milage on the original-issue bod since then, and while in pretty good nick for being 70 on my last birthday … I am no spring chicken. So I am deeply bruised in an interesting pattern, my daughter is murmuring fearful things about traumatic brain injuries – although I didn’t actually strike my head at any point. Some cracked ribs are a distinct possibility, though.

I wasn’t bleeding, or concussed, and I did get out of the car on my own, so the attending EMTs were fairly unconcerned. The  other driver, luckily for me, is insured and did stick around for the PD officer to fill out the accident report, although he couldn’t be arsed to come and see if I was all right. It was a kid from the automotive garage around the corner who did see me to a place in the shade where I could sit down – shaking like a leaf in a gale, and probably would have fainted at one point, save that the sidewalk and the ground were pretty disgusting. A neighbor came and got me, at my daughter’s request, and drove me home, after retrieving my keys and the groceries from Thing.

Everything retrieved from the ex-Thing stinks of exploded airbag, and my daughter was infuriated yet again at seeing how the back seat compartment air bag exploded next to where Wee Jamie’s car set is. If he had been in the car with me at the time, he would have been at the least, badly frightened. And my daughter would, in an insane fury, have ripped the other driver a new bodily orifice.

The accident happened the afternoon before a holiday and a weekend that most places are treating as a holiday, so I don’t expect to hear from the insurance company for another few days. But I’m OK, for now, and back at work, although mourning the loss of Thing the Versa.

(There has been a dreadful accident with one of the wagons in the Kettering company.)

It was a sad camp, on the banks of the Green, that evening, and for the several days following. We had bury Mr. Steitler, of course, and salvage what could be saved from his wagon. Two of his oxen had broken legs or their ribs stove in – they had to be dispatched and butchered on the spot, for the meat left on them. That would leave only a single yoke – bruised and very unhappy with their lot in life, but otherwise whole and fit to work. Mr. Herlihy came and talked to Pa, as Mr. Martindale and the other men took a hand with taking the heavier things from the wreck. Henry, white-faced and silent, was helping too, in a half-hearted way. He still looked stunned, disbelieving, as if he had been walloped over the head himself. He didn’t talk much, but as I didn’t know what I might say to him that would be comforting, that didn’t bother me.

“I can’t repair the wheels,” Mr. Herlihy said, regretfully. “The one is smashed to kindling, and the other is not much better. What I have in mind is to cut the wagon down to a cart – what can’t be carried in it … well, we can all pitch in, put some small things of yours in our wagons. What do you say to that, young Henry?”

Henry nodded wordlessly, his eyes fixed on the ground, and Mr. Herlihy continued, sounding if he were making himself sound cheerful. “It wouldn’t take more than a day or so – a good sound little cart! Two shakes of a lambs’ tail, I promise ye!”

Henry just nodded again, and Pa said. “We’ll look after you, lad – just as your father would have wanted. We’ll get to California, all in a company, I promise you that.”

Henry just nodded again. I felt so sorry for him again that my own throat hurt. Jon and I, with the Herlihy boys and Shiboone were combing the hillside below where the wagon had smashed, picking up small things that might have fallen from the wagon, or been thrown out. A barrel of flour had burst, and scattered the contents over the dirt – no, that was mostly ruined. I was collecting coffee beans one by one from a sack which had burst. Ma thought the coffee might be salvaged. Mrs. Herlihy and Shiboone were shaking dirt out of bedding, a bundle of which had rolled down the hill nearly to the water’s edge. Ma found Mr. Steitler’s flute, still fortunately in the padded case, under a sage bush, and Jon had already found Mr. Steitler’s sketchbook, the cover bent and some of the blank pages creased and dirtied.

Deacon Zollicoffer was going to preach the funeral sermon for burying his father. We would not be able to mark his grave. As Choctaw Joe confessed with deep regret,

“Them Injuns is powerful curious – they spot a place that looks like we cached something in the ground, they’re liable to dig it up, just to see if it was something valuable. Best just settle that poor man in the ground, and then pasture the critters there, so they trample up the ground real good. Now, boy,” he added to Henry. “I’ll make  note  of the bearings, and mark on a map of this place, ezactly where we planted your daddy. Someday, mebbe you can come back here, and mark it proper.”

Pa and Choctaw Joe found a level place, well above flood level of the river. Choctaw Joe took a sighting on a gnarled and weathered half-dead cottonwood tree, and allowed as that would mark the place as best as could be.

I thought that it would be a funeral like for Granny Elizabeth, or for little Cousin Matty – but observances  to bury Mr. Steitler wasn’t anything like that. It was all outside, on the hillside in the bright morning under a wide blue sky freckled with white clouds, birds singing, and the cottonwood leaves whispering secrets to each other in the breeze. The river was at our feet, white where the water rushed around the rocks, and there wasn’t anyone wearing black. Just our ordinary clothes. Deacon Zollicoffer stood up in front of us, his arms clasping his heavy old Bible, and he didn’t say any of the usual funeral words or preach a long service. Instead, he said that he was going to share some comfort from a saint back during medieval times, whom he said was called ‘The Venerable Bead” which brought such a funny picture to my mind that I nearly laughed out loud in spite of it being a funeral.

Deacon Zollicoffer stood there, by the open grave and Mr. Steitler’s coffin already in it. Deacon Zollicoffer held his Bible in his arms, the breeze blowing his white hair and the tails of his clawhammer coat this way and that. He spoke as if he was talking ordinary to us, not preaching from a great height like Grandfather Reverend.

“My dear brothers and sisters! We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them first to us – our dear ones! Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return to the shelter of your arms. Not as the world gives do you give! What you give to us, you do not take away. For what is yours is also ours. We are yours and life is eternal. Love is immortal and lasts forever! Death is only a horizon, and that is a horizon which is only limited by our own sight!” Deacon Zollicoffer paused for a long moment, and I was a bit relieved. I couldn’t see where a long oration would have helped Mr. Steitler, and in any case, everyone had other things to do than sit around listening to a long sermon. Deacon Zollicoffer was done, it seemed. He added, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we commend the body of our brother, Jacob Heinrich Steitler to the ground, but his soul returns to your tender and loving care. Amen!”

The Herlihys and Shiboone all made a sign of the cross at those words, and the German boys sang a gloomy hymn in their language. It sounded like they couldn’t recall most of the words of the last verses. Deacon Zollicoffer nodded – that was it; the signal for Pa and Choctaw Joe to begin filling in the grave. Henry stood by the side as they worked, still looking pole axed. Mr. Herlihy had managed to cobble together a coffin from the broken scraps of the Steitler wagon box, so at least there some decency involved. I was sorry for there not being a proper grave marker. How would anyone ever know where to leave flowers?

At twilight that evening, I saw Henry sitting there, under the half-dead cottonwood – just sitting and looking out to the west, where the sun was setting in a blaze of orange, gold and purple. I also saw Jon walking up to him – Jon had Mr. Steitler’s sketchbook that we had found in his little hand.

I was some little distance from them, so I couldn’t hear what, if anything that my brother said to Henry Steitler. But I could see that Henry took the notebook, reverently smoothing the pages, and smiling at Jon. They sat together, quietly and side by side for a long time, the bigger and the little one, a pair of indistinct shadows against the darkening sky, until Ma called them for supper.

18. June 2024 · Comments Off on A Bit From West Towards the Sunset · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(Wherein Sally writes a letter to a friend, to be carried by a traveler going east – from California to the States…)

The trail turned harder after we left from Fort Laramie; no more the easy travel across the open sea of grass that it had been in the first weeks. But rough hauling over rockier ground slowed us down; the oxen had to pull much harder, and sometimes there was danger for them from pools of bad water – alkali water, Choctaw Joe told us. Warned about this, we tried to keep the oxen from drinking at those springs, because such was pure poison. One of Mr. Herlihy’s oxen got sick from it, but Pa and Mr. Herlihy doctored that ox by forcing it to swallow a big wad of salt pork. I didn’t know why it should be such a cure, but Ma explained that likely the fat bacon coated all it’s stomachs, and let the poison pass all the way through.

Ma also collected up some of the white alkali powder from a poison spring that had dried up – and told us that Choctaw Joe said that it was as good as saleratus for making biscuits, although we were at first in two minds about eating them! But Ma’s biscuits tasted as good as they always did.  Ma gathered up some more of that white dust, saving it in an empty tin against the day when we ran out of soda. Ma and I had also discovered a patch of pea vines growing in abundance near a natural spring of sweet water – we had picked a good apron-full, and when we stopped to make camp for the night, Ma and I would shell them for supper; green garden vegetables was something that we missed very much – gleaning wild fruit and greens from beside  the trail hardly made up for it.

The very day that Ma and I found the wild pea patch, we encountered a small party of travelers coming east. Mr. Glennie and Oscar encountered them first, as they were scouting ahead of the party, looking for a spot with sweet water, plenty of wood and pasturage for the oxen. Jon and I were walking along with Pa – Jon was holding Pa’s ox whip and trying out his command of the team, for all that he barely came up to Star’s nose.

“They’re camped about three miles ahead,” Mr. Glennie reported to Pa. “I know we wanted to make another five miles today … but I believe that we would find it to our advantage to consult with the gentlemen; a Mr. Clyman and Mr. Greenwood – both old hands as regarding the trail. They have come from the Sacramento settlements in California, returning east by way of Fort Hall with a mule pack train and a couple of wagons, to visit kin and friends back in the States. And …” Mr. Glennie added, with a significant look. “They have come from Sacramento in company with Mr. Lansford Hastings, assaying the difficulty of his recommended shortcut from the established trail. Mr. Hastings has come east, expecting to personally guide any companies willing to travel by his new route.”

“Indeed,” Pa replied, “Indeed, I would very much like to hear what these folk have to say … not only about the situation in California, but what advice they have to offer us regarding the trail.”

Mr. Glennie nodded, his expression one of relieved agreement. “I judge it would be worth a couple of miles, listening to what Mr. Clyman has to tell us. Not only has he come across from California just this season, but he has spent many years in the mountains.”

“Joe Bayless may vouch for him, in that case,” Pa’s own expression brightened. “Any friend of Choctaw Joe is a friend of ours.”

“We can spare the time to consult with Mr. Clyman and Mr. Greenwood,” Mr. Glennie agreed. “Mr. Clyman says there are only three companies on the trail in advance of us … less’n they have taken another trail.” Mr. Glennie hesitated, before he added. “He is making a count of all the travelers on the trail this year, as a matter of natural curiosity, I suppose. But Mr. Clyman is also well acquainted with Captain Sutter – a Dutchman long-settled in California. Captain Sutter encourages all men with an urge to prosper, especially if they are of good character and stable trade, to come and settle in the valley of the Sacramento. He has asked Mr. Clyman to encourage any Oregon-bound parties which he might encounter along the way, to come to California instead – and paid him a small retainer to do so.”

“Sounds like a man hoping to be the big man in those parts,” Pa scratched his jaw. I think that he forgot that Jon and I were there and listening to this exchange, as quiet as mice. “Well, I’ll talk with both gentlemen tonight. Thank’ee kindly, Glennie. If I hear anything of substance, you and the other men will know of if it within the hour.”

“Good,” Mr. Glennie saluted Pa with a touch to the brim of his hat and rode off. In the meantime, a thought occurred to me.

“Pa,” I asked, and Pa seemed a bit startled out of his thought. “Do you suppose I could ask Mr. Clyman for a favor? As he is traveling east on the trail?”

“Depends on the favor, Sugar-Plum. What favor would you ask of him?”

“Would he carry a letter for me – to my friend Ginny? She and her family are traveling with a company somewhere behind us on the trail. I’m certain that if Mr. Clyman can take my letter with him, he will encounter Ginny’s family! Their home wagon was biggest that I had ever seen; it took six yokes to draw it, Ginny told me! I do not think anyone could miss that wagon. They intended to travel to California too – they could not be more than two or three weeks behind us.”

“Sure, Sugar-Plum! Write your letter and ask Mr. Clyman. I am certain he will oblige. A letter doesn’t weight very much, and if he is making a count of all the companies along the way.”

I was heartened by the thought of writing to Ginny; we had only been together as friends for those few days at Independence. I really did miss having a friend of my own age in the wagon company; Shiboone McCarty was almost grown and had almost nothing in common with me. All the other children in our party were either boys or very much younger, almost babies, really.

“Of course you should write a letter,” Ma said, warmly, when I asked her, as we set up camp early that day. “It will be excellent penmanship practice for you.” Her writing desk was wrapped in a heavy quilt underneath the wagon set; Ma had written letters at Fort Laramie and intended to write more when we reached Fort Hall, so had kept her paper and ink handy. I would have time to write, since we had stopped so early in the afternoon, Ma would not need my help in fixing supper for some hours.

Dear Ginny; Pa says that Mr. Clyman will carry my letter to you. We are nearly to Independence Rock, which Mr. Bayless, our guide, tells us is a notable monument, where all who pass by write their names. My brother and I will write ours, so Mr. Bayless promises. I hope that this finds you and Patty in good health, just as we are.

There has been much to see along the way. We did part from Major Clayton’s party, just before we crossed the Kansas River. They wished to shoot all the dogs and to travel on Sundays, and of course many in the company objected. So we separated from that company, and our Pa was elected captain. Since when we have gotten on tolerably well. Henry S. and his father are still with us – you will recall Henry from that day of gathering wood by the river.

There are many interesting sights to be seen along the trail. The Chimney Rock is to be seen for many days but do be warned that it is not as close to the trail as you might think. Mr.  Bayless said that it was once much taller. We also saw an enormous gathering of buffalo. They passed among our wagons for many hours, one day – buffalo by the hundreds of thousands. Ma traded with some Sioux women at Laramie Fort for a pair of buffalo robes. They are so comfortable and warm to sleep under, since it is now quite cold at night. Mr. Bayless says this is because we are higher into the mountains, and there it is cold, even at midsummer. There is even snow to be seen on the highest mountains!

I wish that you were with us; I have missed your company all these weeks. I hope that we can meet again in California.

All my best wishes to you and Patty and your family.

Yours in affection,

Sarah Elizabeth Kettering

12. June 2024 · Comments Off on From West Towards the Sunset · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(The Ketterings and their wagon company are at Fort Laramie – the women are relishing a chance to do laundry … and perchance, trade a little with the friendly Indians.)

In a very few minutes, we had spread out all the damp laundry over the grass and the mountain sage bushes; the day was so warm and the mountain air so thin and arid that I thought it would not take very long for even the heaviest flannel to dry thoroughly. Ma and Mrs. Glennie and Mrs. Herlihy had already hurried from our collection of tubs, the fire and kettles – back to our wagon camp, to meet Choctaw Joe and the small party of Sioux women wading through the grass towards us.

There were three of them, the youngest of about Shiboone’s age. She was leading a pony by a bridle, the pony drawing a sort of frame – two long poles crossed over it’s back, with the ends trailing on the ground, and a large bundle tied to a woven panel of cane and leather bands lashed between the trailing ends of those poles. Much later, I learned that the contraption of poles and cane was called a travois, since the Indians knew nothing of making wheels and using carts. The other women were older than the girl – and their leather dresses appeared to be more elaborately trimmed. I envied those Sioux women on account of their hair, which was long and dark, bound up into braids as thick as my wrist. Such long braids, whereas my own hair made a pair of measly little plaits, which barely came to my shoulders.

As we came, panting from the effort of running in the thin mountain air, Choctaw Joe was saying, by way of introduction,

“This is Han-tay-wi, her sister, Kimmi-Mila, and daughter Eh-hawee – they have come to offer goods to trade.”

“Tell the ladies that we are most pleased to make their acquaintance,” That was Mrs. Glennie, most regally formal, as if she were receiving them in her own parlor, and not in the space of trampled grass between our wagon, and the Glennie’s wagons and tent. “I do not know if we have any such goods as might please them, and that we can spare…”

“You’d be surprised,” Choctaw Joe replied. Meanwhile, the younger woman was untying the cords which bound together the big bundle and spreading out the contents; three or four enormous robes of buffalo hide, with the thick wooly brown fur still on, a stack of painted hide boxes full of some crumbly brown stuff – pemmican, and six pair of moccasins, all trimmed with fancy colored stuff, and elaborate fringe. It wasn’t beadwork, I learned, much later – but flattened and dyed porcupine quills. Two of them were large, to fit a man, but the others were smaller. There were some other things – pouches and sheaths for knives, all made of leather, and trimmed with fringe, beadwork, feathers and porcupine quills.

“Oh, my!” Ma whispered, upon seeing the buffalo robes and the moccasins. Although it was only June and at the height of summer – we had felt the cold as we traveled higher into the mountains. “Those things certainly look as if they would be warm at night!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Choctaw Joe looked as if he were hiding a grin, even as he cast an assessing eye over the robes. “Nothing better, softer or warmer to sleep on than a prime buffler robe. These are tanned and softened up real nice, too. You can’t go wrong with one of them, Miz Kettering.”

“Then let me look in the wagon, for what we can spare,” Ma had a determined look on her face. Mrs. Glennie and Mrs. Herlihy were also eyeing the robes, with an acquisitive expression on their faces. I was looking at the next-to-smallest pair of moccasins and thinking that they would just about fit me, and the smallest would be perfect for Jon.

But that was a frivolous thing, and up to Ma to decide, anyway. I think the oldest Indian woman saw me looking at the moccasins, though, with longing for them all over my face. So did Choctaw Joe.

Ma emerged from our wagon, with a bundle in her hand – one of our store-bought blankets that came from the east, and some other things – a campfire turning fork with a busted tine, her needlework basket and a small iron kettle which we had hardly ever used on the journey so far.

“These,” she announced calmly. “And three good steel needles and a paper of new pins. For two of those robes.”

“I want one of those robes, too,” Mrs. Glennie looked enviously on Ma, as Choctaw Joe relayed Ma’s offer to the three Sioux women in their language.

Choctaw Joe listened to the response that the oldest woman made to him, and grinned. “A generous bid indeed, Miz Kettering. Very generous. For that, Han-tay-wi will add in a parfleche of good pemmican, and two pair of moccasins – she is an honorable woman and does not want the white folks to think she is taking unfair advantage.”

“I appreciate Mrs. Han-tay-wi’s sense of honor and generosity,” Ma replied, as Choctaw Joe looked in my direction and winked. I was thrilled beyond words – my own pair of moccasins, and another for Jon, too!

Although the pemmican looked perfectly disgusting. Choctaw Joe later explained how it had been made from buffalo meat, dried and then pounded to powder, and mixed with dried berries and made into bricks with the addition of melted bear fat. It was what sustained the wild Indians during winters, when they couldn’t hunt. I don’t know how anyone could relish eating it. I said so to Pa, later on, and Pa laughed, and told us about scrapple that the Dutch folk made, back in the east.

“If you’re hungry enough, Sugar-Plum, just about anything that won’t bite you back tastes good.”

Mrs. Glennie emerged from the Glennie’s tent with a blanket and a shawl hanging over her arm – the shawl was a pretty printed challis one, with a long silk fringe. She  wanted a buffalo robe in exchange for the shawl and the blanket, and two pair of the moccasins, and one of the fancy leather pouches with beadwork on it. I could see Han-tay-wi’s eyes light up, when Mrs. Glennie spread it out for them to examine closer. The three Indian women bent over the shawl, talking to each other as they stroked the fringe.

“Yessirree bob, you’ve got them something rare, there,” Choctaw Joe murmured, and Mrs. Glennie came close to laughing. “I have never favored that shawl – it was a gift from Mr. Glennie’s sister Althea Murchison, and dear Althea deliberately chose it in colors which I find to be quite ugly – and she knew that very well! But it was so very expensive that I had to thank her for her generosity and exquisite taste every time we encountered her …”

“You don’t care for your sister-in-law then,” Mrs. Herlihy ventured, knowingly.

“She is a woman of many extremely dislikable virtues,” Mrs. Glennie replied, and I could see that Ma was trying to hold back laughter.

Mrs. Glennie did get her buffalo robe, and some other interesting Sioux pretties. I wondered if the Sioux women spent their parlor hours, knitting and crocheting, making embroidered and Berlin wool-work and tatted lace, just as Ma and Aunt Rachael and their other woman friends back in Ohio, to keep their hands busy and to show off to their friends. Mrs. Herlihy had nothing much to offer, but some fine steel needles, and a box of odd bits of scrap metal from Mr. Herlihy’s forge works, but she got the last buffalo robe in exchange for it, as well as three or four of the hide boxes of pemmican.

“They’ll make arrow heads from it,” Choctaw Joe commented, knowledgeably. “Better than from obsidian – don’t break and shatter so bad. And you’ll be right glad of that there pemmican, Miz Herlihy, if we come to camping cold in the mountains with our supplies running low.”

“Oh, it won’t come to that, I’m certain,” Mrs. Herlihy chuckled comfortably. “Himself says that we’re moving briskly enough that we should be well over the mountains and into California before the first snow falls. As for the pemmy-whatever, the lads eat as if starving at every single meal. I could stand by the fire and put food into them with Himself’s forge shovel, they eat so much and never bother to taste before swallowing it … the great hungry lumps that they are!”

The three Sioux women seemed very pleased with their takings from the session of trade, but not half as pleased as Jon and I were, that night, with that heavy buffalo robe drawn over us, against the chill of the night … or I was, later on when I grew out of my shoes, and they rubbed such blisters on my feet that Ma said I could wear my Indian moccasins.

But all that came later, when we were crossing the great barren desert.

 

My daughter and I, with Wee Jamie in tow, had to make a road trip to California earlier this month to pay a final visit to my mother. We knew that it would be a difficult visit, saying goodbye to her. We also knew that we couldn’t stay long as my sister’s house is small, and her life is complicated enough. And that we have clients, projects and pets at home, so that we ought to keep the visit brief. My daughter suggested that we come home to Texas by way of I-40, which follows the old transcontinental Route 66, famed in song, story, TV series and all. At any rate, my daughter insisted – it would be more interesting a journey than the 20-plus hour drive through desert, desert and more desert on IH-10. She was very tired of driving or riding the train along the same route and seeing the same old ugly desert for miles and miles. Good enough reason to drive along another route, enlivened every fifty or so miles with another small town, or interesting city … and then she suggested that we make a side trip to see the Grand Canyon, arguing that it would be a while before we were in that part of the country again, we would only be an hour drive out of our way to see the Grand Canyon … so why not? It had been a long time since we had a road trip adventure, she argued.

Why, yes – it had been a long time … and after I thought about it, I agreed. And it would be a chance to check out the splendid Fred Harvey establishment – the hotel that the company built at the edge of the Grand Canyon – El Tovar, which hosted kings and presidents and celebrities of every kind since being built more than a century ago. Maybe, if the lunch menu wasn’t that excessive and they didn’t require reservations, we could have a meal in the restaurant … just like my daughter and I had tea at the Brenner’s Park Hotel  in Baden-Baden, when she was only a year and a bit older than Wee Jamie. My only worries concerned how Wee Jamie would handle hours in a car, and the usual road hazards when it comes to long hours on the highways.

So – that’s how we came to be driving away from Flagstaff very early on a Saturday morning; it was cool among the pines at such a high altitude. We had nearly forgotten what pine trees and tall jagged mountains even look like. There was still snow on some of the highest crags – but in the space of half an hour  we dropped out of the pine forests and back into high desert. There were two or three cars in line at the front gates to the South Rim. My daughter flashed her ID and her veteran’s national park pass, and there we were in the park, following the directions on her phone’s GPS program to the visitor venter in Grand Canyon Village. It was still so early in the day that there were empty places in the visitor center parking lot. Got out the lightweight umbrella stroller that we keep in the car (because the regular stroller takes up too much room in Thing the Versa’s trunk) and walked up to the wall by the path which leads along the rim …oh, my.

I think it was a bit like walking into a holy place – vast and hushed. So deep. Banded with color, tones of rust red, dark pink, sand, dark grey. Fringed with dark grey-green vegetation, cracked and creviced, jagged peaks and crevices, and away down, down at the very bottom, a little patch of glass-green water. We walked along the paved trail, pushing Jamie in the stroller; a different vista around every bend. My daughter laughed – here we were, with our cheap Cocomelon stroller, walking among all those hikers with serious boots, packs, staffs and water bottles. Jamie stayed strapped into his stroller all the way; it made us a trifle nervous, as there were no barriers along the cliff edge, nothing to block the incredible view around every turn. And nothing much to stop anyone falling for about half a mile, too. Wild horses would not have moved either of us off that path, or onto the Bright Angel trail, which zig-zags all the way down to the bottom of the Canyon, not even to take a heart-stopping picture. This did not stop other people from doing so, which made my skin crawl to see. No, I so do not do heights. Not so much the heights – but the likelihood of falling from them which distresses. We did encounter a park ranger there, and I asked him straight-out how many times they had to peel idiot tourists off the cliffs, to which he sighed and replied, “Too many times!”

At the Yavapai Point vista there is a tiny stone structure with windows all along the front aspect – it was agreed by experts a hundred years ago that the very best view of the Canyon was at that place. There were exhibits along the opposite wall, outlining how the land evolved – millions of years of sediment, a vast lake, upthrust of the continent and finally how the Colorado River carved the canyon. The river is no larger now than it ever was, so the exhibit informed us. But the Canyon itself … it was so vast, and the way down so rough that it was a barrier to travelers and explorers crossing the American desert for decades. I’d be willing to bet that the unofficial and unrecorded reaction of the first non-native travelers to the Canyon were something along the lines of “Oh, f**k, no, we’ll never be able to cross THAT!”

We checked out the Hopi House, now a gift shop and art gallery, wishing that we could have afforded some of the genuine black-on-black Santa Clara pottery. That would have done us as a souvenir; my daughter has noted how many cheaper souvenirs of a vacation or a visit have turned up at yard sales or in thrift stores. We also wondered how often visitors taller than ourselves near-to-concussed themselves on low doorways within that very authentic building.  Alas, reservations were necessary for lunch at El Tovar, and the sample lunch menu was pretty pricy, although I am certain that the elkburger was awesomely tasty. We left the park, noting that the line of cars waiting at the gates was now at least  half a mile long, suggesting to us that we were leaving at a good time. We snagged lunch at a sandwich place on our way back to IH-40 and didn’t get to Albuquerque until nearly seven that evening. But Jamie was a magnificent traveler for all that – I assume that he derived a great deal of amusement and distraction at watching the scenery flash past at 70 MPH.

I still want to go back to Grand Canyon, though – my dream now is to spend a few days at El Tovar, and see the Canyon at sunset and under a moonlit sky.