sands of time

Recently, in the last few days at least, I’ve felt mostly tapped out in the writing department. I badly want to say something important or facetious about a imaginary graph Stacy showed me, or add something to a discussion about the significance of 31 August 2009. But I can’t. Oh, there’s even the fuel of a student asking me about course requirements for his major, but he didn’t even know where the department was physically located. Usually I’d have some lesson or moral, but no. I even had a student crying in my office today, but still no inspiration yet.

So I went digging back through a folder on my computer I called “essays”. Some of these became op-ed pieces or a talk, but most of these are just zeroth drafts that existed before this “zeroth draft” space. So I started reading and found this, a narrative that’s just that much more important as 4 more years have passed. It reminds me that this writing thing is a good idea, for no one else more than for myself.


“I need to go potty.” Anna tells us this with the anxiousness that makes you really pay attention. A four-year-old who needs to go potty is something that you handle efficiently, delicately, quickly.

“What kind of potty?”


We could have dealt with the other, but “poop” gives us pause. We’re two miles from the trailhead of Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park. The sky is blue. The rocks are red. The trees are green. It’s a beautiful contrast of primaries, nature painting the scenery; and then there’s this juxtaposition.

We go through the typical routine: Can you hold it? Can you squeeze your bum? We’re almost ready to head back, but we can’t go poop until we get back to the trailhead.

It works.

When we first started the trail led us through rock and time. Red walls towered above us, and the contrast of their permanence and color with that of the blue sky and evergreen trees was striking. Anna looked a different direction: at the ground. Earlier, on a hike down Park Avenue, she and Grace showed the same fascination with not the rock walls, but the sand at our feet. It was fine, smooth, pourable, and play-with-able. We talked about how the sand came from the rocks around us, how the walls were wearing away. “How?” Anna asked. Wind, we told her. Water, too. We watched the wind blow the sand one grain at a time. Anna went back to playing with the sculptures at her feet. Later she wanted to feel the water left behind in a pool.

Earlier we had hiked between the walls of stone, over a couple of rises, around a bend and up to Landscape Arch. It’s holding on, but 300 feet of expanse seems to suck at its underbelly. I wonder when it will give. Every living soul who sees the narrow ribbon wonders the same thing. It’s only a matter of time, and frozen in this moment it defies its own future. A chipmunk scrambles on the rock next to us. Small and quick, it’s the antithesis of the rock; but in a funny way, I feel as though the chipmunk is always going to be here, skirting about on whatever rock or grass or sand happens to be there. The arch, once fallen, will leave nothing behind, but there will always be another chipmunk.

We take pictures and we admire the feat. We continue on past Wall Arch, looming directly above our heads and we scramble up the slickrock. We break for lunch. Strawberries and cheese and nuts and crackers and whatever else fits into my bag underneath Grace’s seat in the pack. We sit and eat.

Anna and Grace play in the sand. Surrounding us in every direction are blazing red fins, and something tells you that the slickrock upon which we eat our lunch is slowly but constantly and currently being whittled away, right out from underneath us. Someday, inevitably, it will all change. Slow, but inevitable, and I wondered how miniscule the amount of time between the 4-year-old and the college graduate would compare to the infinitely far off but still inevitable. I put Grace in the pack – strapped in and maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t get away from us as quickly. Maybe there would be something that we could do to get her away from the aging influence of Earth. Let the slickrock slide away and let the sand blow over us and let the ice freeze and thaw. But God please let me keep Grace in my backpack a little longer. Let me hold Anna’s hand as we scramble over the slickrock.

Anna scrambles up a rock face in the narrowness between fins that leads us to Partition Arch. Without a misstep she keeps in front of her mother. I offer my hand, but she doesn’t need it.

4 thoughts on “sands of time

  1. Whatever writing drought you’re experiencing has to be temporary. I’m astonished by what you created out of a simple family trip. Truly, there was a John McPhee eloquence to this piece. Chipmunks and sand and trail mix and hand-holding: amazing! Let things settle and stew for awhile. Remember that you’ve been spinning some large and delicate plates as of late.

  2. oof, that makes me cry. i remember this trip so well and never knew you preserved it so well. me with my pictures, but you with this wonderful piece. please, please put this somewhere we can read it again. and again. and again. it already feels so touching and the girls are still relatively little; i cannot imagine how it will be to read when the girls have moved on…

  3. […] also stored in photos, and recently when I was scrambling over desert slabs I was thrown back into geological time — this never ceases to entrance me — but also my own lifetime. I pass Wall Arch and […]

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