When we got to the top of the rise in the car park, the Grand Canyon appeared – sudden and immovable. Huge. Hilarious in its immensity. My eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden abundance of depth and distance. Immense. Haha. What. the. fuck. My boyfriend and I walked along a pathway for about half an hour, stopping to take photos. I gave up on the photos quickly, not seeing the point in trying to do this landmark justice in a frame. The path veered away from the rim occasionally, and each time it came back I felt newly affronted by just how massive a piece of the Earth this is. I laughed. What even *are* my problems?!, I joked. I felt insignificant, and this was comforting.
Small metal markers set into the path represented a ‘geological timeline’ – each large step I took corresponded to a million years of the Canyon’s existence. I thought of the act of flying forwards in time, as we’d done to reach the US. Here I walked backwards in time, and my mind similarly struggled to make it a reasonable act. Pieces of rock placed periodically alongside the timeline displayed the changing colours and patterns that we might see if we were actually further down, in the Canyon. These rocks looked foreign to one another – as though they were from different parts of the planet. Or perhaps from different planets entirely. After half an hour of long, million-year steps, I didn’t reach the end of the Canyon’s formation story.
We sat on white rocks and stared out into this negative-space wonder. We held hands. I looked at the rock around us and thought of Hanging Rock – there, people had etched their names into the surrounding trees and boulders. In response to the Australian landscape, this gesture seems to be some kind of feeble protest against the intense discomfort that particular experience can provoke; against the fragility of our tiny lives. At the Canyon, there are no etched names. Along the path on the way back to our starting point, I saw names carved into a bench – so many names that they crowded and took up every inch of the man-made objects. Perhaps these small-time vandals could deal (existentially, I mean) with carving their initials into something they could comprehend the creation of. On the other side of the path, the sheer force and might of the Canyon screamed silence. Why bother trying to leave a mark on that?
Its expanse is terrifyingly beautiful. It is also comforting. It is the hole I feel open inside me at times, and the place I want to disappear into when the shame of existence gets overwhelming. It is a place where I could get truly lost, despite all the visitors to this site, and never, ever be found. I want this. This is my nightmare. I am pulled toward the edge, a scream in my chest; the knowledge of that self-destruction on this site would mean nothing, would be forgotten in a breath. Not even half a step.
Periodically, American flags dot the rim. As if this site could be claimed.
This trip was kindly supported by the UNESCO Melbourne City of Literature travel fund.