Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The lodge balcony is apparently entirely boring once the sun sets. Everyone, tight haired woman and the Moi Generation included, was off to the saloon faster than I can run down a dirt road in Nebraska. Meanwhile Shawn and I, just as quickly, were all over the suddenly empty lounge chairs like starving dogs after crumbs. If only we could take up more space and claim the whole deck as our own as we stretched ourselves out.

In the last glow of the sunset we could see two planets, Venus toward the west and Jupiter hanging over the South Rim, and we relaxed into the gathering dark and near silence on the starboard deck. Meanwhile, over to the port side beyond the Sun Room, a small crowd gathered to join those permanently camped around the fireplace.

The fireplace and hearth are large enough to stage a play. Like the famous shot of Citizen Kane dwarfed in the gaping maw of his Xanadu fireplace, the Grand Canyon Lodge’s outdoor fireplace is large enough to house, oh, maybe a family of four. There would be a meeting later tonight out on the port side deck featuring a Telescope and a man known only as “George.” Kinda like Peabody and his pet boy Sherman, only it turns out that people actually spoke of George like they would any other one-named celeb. Like he was the Cher or the Bono of the North Rim. This was an act I couldn’t resist…

This particular evening began with pizza from the Deli (Gwyneth was right about the pizza) and a Park Service presentation on “Women of the North Rim.” I’ve always enjoyed the rangers’ presentations whenever I’ve been to a National Park. One year in Boston we met a particularly engaging ranger on the Freedom Trail. The next day we saw him at Bunker Hill where he did a solo re-enactment of the whole battle right there in the model room. The following day we met on the deck of the Cassin Young, a World War II destroyer. By then we were tight friends and he gave us a personalized tour of the ship.

Of all the presentations on the program in the coming days (on life changing topics like, “101 Ways to Die in the Canyon”) I thought this one would interest Shawn the most. So I was really surprised when she begged out and fell asleep before 8pm. I decided to go it alone but then wondered if I’d made a mistake when I walked in the auditorium and discovered I was the only male. Maybe I missed the “For Women Only Tonight” sign. I could imagine the evening starting with some testosterone jokes and a little friendly man bashing followed by a succession of scowls (directed at me) and finally escalating to where they’d light the torches and pitch me over the edge (the 102nd way to die in the canyon …). I almost went back to the cabin but changed my mind when another male came in with the Bandana Woman I'd seen earlier in the dining room.

The presentation may have been interesting but it turns out I was as tired as Shawn and with the lights out for the slide show it didn’t take too long for me to fall asleep.

This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen asleep at an inappropriate moment. In fact, it happens frequently enough that I’m quite good at it now and thanks to some very relaxing sermons a couple of decades ago I even mastered sleeping sitting up on a stool. But perhaps the best part of it is that I can remember what they talk about …

… Marguerite Henry (author of Brighty of the Grand Canyon). I think everyone my age has heard of Bright Angel, the little burro who lived in the Grand Canyon but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone (until tonight) who actually read the book. For those who don’t know, Brighty was real and most everything at the Grand Canyon is named after him…

… and Sharlot Hall. She was kind of a strange bird: part poet and part politician. She’s credited with influencing Congress to make Arizona a separate state from New Mexico. There was also a time when Utah coveted the Arizona Strip – that’s everything north of the Colorado River and not to be confused with the Vegas Strip or the Sunset Strip or any other strip for that matter. Other than the fact that it makes sense geographically, I’m not sure why Utah wanted this piece of land. Perhaps it was a first small step in Utah’s grand designs to someday rule the world. But Sharlot helped foil Utah’s plans and the Strip is now forever part of Arizona.

So I had a nice nap, learned some Grand Canyon and Arizona history, and felt plenty refreshed when I headed down the stairs to the balcony to meet George.