It hit me like a smack in the soft spot of the chest. The human body has those strange, vulnerable places that cause the senses to go haywire. The funny bone is one, the sternum is another. When you get hit in the chest right under the sternum you can't breath. "You got the wind knocked out of you," people will tell you. Indeed. Lack of oxygen gets your attention.
I was in Grand Canyon on the first day of our four-day hike, walking briskly on the Tonto Platform and smack, I couldn't breath. What I saw and felt was just too powerful. The view around me was too big, too alien, too damn much. Later, when I recovered my composure I had a lot of time to ponder my reaction. Save the occasional big-ass rattlesnake, there aren't many distractions in the canyon. I was able to savor my reaction and allow it to mellow.
On the third day of the journey it came to me. It wasn't really the canyon at all. It was the space that the canyon holds that overwhelmed me. Certainly, as containers go, Grand Canyon is exquisite. But it was the scale of the space that was revealed by the canyon that caused my reaction. We all know that the universe is big. Stars and galaxies are billions of miles apart. However, there is no way a human can comprehend such distance. It's unfathomable. Conversely, the canyon never, ultimately, loses its scale. One can watch a speck of a pebble grow into a boulder the size of an office building as it one draws closer to it. There are constant reminders of billions of years and hundreds of miles. Tiny fossils that are 30 million years old are juxtaposed by two-thousand foot cliffs.
The Tonto Platform is the perfect place to see it all. It is there that the frame of the entire canyon, or at least a good section of it, can be appreciated. To all sides the cliffs rise to heaven. At your feet the abyss is only several feet away. The crumbly Bright Angel Shale is treacherous and slippery. "One false move..." you admonish yourself. So, you look up, you look down. You look around. The crunching metronome of footsteps lulls you into a trance. And then, it all converges on the senses. You are in a place of endless space and time. That's when simple things like breathing can't be taken for granted.