Wild Places Charge our Imagination
Grand Canyon, Southwest wild lands charge our imagination. Stars become prominent on big horizons as ancestor skywatchers would have known intimately. Terry Tempest Williams quotes.
Perceptions of the Southwest canyon horizons by Sandra Cosentino
With quotes from Terry Tempest Williams– talented writer, naturalist, conservationist
Vivid imprints of times exploring in wilderness places such as remote Alaska and the canyon country of the Southwest are indelibly etched on the fabric of my being. A certain kind of quiet knowing, inner courage and ecstatic joy of connection was forged within me on those many sojourns.
At the Grand Canyon this May, I had the joy of listening to Terry Tempest Williams read with informed passion from her book Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert as we sat in an outdoor theatre.
Please see related Grand Canyon Dawn – The Magic Time new video with a Hopi sunrise song (we welcome to subscribe to our Youtube site).
She speaks of finding your own equilibrium in the harshness of the desert. “What you come to see on the surface is not what you come to know. Emptiness in the desert is the fullness of space, that eliminates time. The desert is time, exposed time, geologic time. One needs time in the desert to see.”
Here on the rim of the Grand Canyon in the dark watching the stars move overhead I am newly aware of how expansive the view of horizon is — in stark contrast to dark abyss below.
Just as the first deep golden dawn light showed on the east rim, Venus appeared bright white and slowly rising. I stared spellbound. Venus is twenty times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. No wonder the ancestral peoples of the Southwest were skywatchers.
At high altitude with dry air there is less atmospheric distortion. Big canyon rim and plateau vistas are capped with a luminous dome of stars. Awestruck, I am drawn spellbound into silent communion.
Pre-western cultures were “deeply attuned to the motion of the sun, moon, and planets, and they used their naked-eye observations to create not only intricate astrologies and mythologies – in particular, those revolving around Venus – but also extremely accurate records and projections of meteorological phenomena,” according to Anthony F. Aveni in Conversing With the Planets: How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos. You may want to ponder these questions he asks: “What have we moderns lost by turning our attention to the cold eye of the telescope, away from the natural harmonies of planet and sky? Why have we silenced the dialogue between observers and the sky?”
These canyons and cliffs evoke a visceral level response in us.
Our very smallness relative to the landscape is humbling.
Yet you sense expanded horizons of who you really are.
Terry characterizes vividly the expansive effects of desert sojourns on the psyche:
“this is Coyote’s country—a landscape of the imagination, where nothing is as it appears. The buttes, mesas, and redrock spires beckon you to see them as something other: a cathedral, a tabletop, bear’s ears or nuns. Windows and arches ask you to recall what is no longer there, to taste the wind for the sandstone it carries. These astonishing formations invite a new mythology for desert goers, one that acknowledges the power of story and ritual yet lies within the integrity of our own cultures. The stories rooted in experience become beads to trade. It is the story, always the story, that precedes and follows the journey.”
She says “that our capacity to face the harsh measure of a life, comes from the deep quiet of listening to the land, the river, the rocks. There is a resonance of humility that has evolved with the earth. It is best retrieved in solitude amidst the stillness of days in the desert.”
“If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide and so we are found.”
So that when you return back to the urban, domesticated world, you find your perception has sharpened. After all, Terry says, “Coyote knows it is the proportion of days spent in wildness that counts in urbane savvy.” When I spoke with Terry, I recognized Coyote’s penetrating eyes honed by her days and nights out on the land and sensed the kindred spirit we carry in our shared passion for this land.
Many times have I locked gaze with those wild yellow eyes of coyote, quickened by the flash of bold self-confidence staring back. The change bringer is his reputation here in the Southwest–but no matter what, he lands on his feet and keeps on trotting.
Summer is here–may the natural world call you out and about on the land. Who knows what new story you are creating or the mystery of why certain places call us to come out. But our heart knows.
For Southwest earth connections, mythology old and new Crossing Worlds Mystical Nature and Earth and Sky Speak to Us Seminar in Nature
For more Terry Tempest Williams articles and info, you may want to go to her website: http://www.coyoteclan.com/
I highly recommend joining the Grand Canyon Association and take one of their excellent field classes—they support education, science, visitor services, and the arts at the Grand Canyon in association with the National Park Service. http://www.grandcanyonassociation.or