Indian Gardens is an oasis on the Bright Angel Trail. Deep in Grand Canyon, it has water, shade, bathrooms, and benches. On the way back up to the rim, it's the last flat (relatively speaking) area before one encounters the tortuous switchbacks. On the way out of Indian Gardens, the ground is still of reasonable incline. It's seductive. You know you're already halfway up to the rim from the river (in terms of distance) so you say to yourself, "This isn't so bad, we're halfway home." Of course, one isn't halfway home in terms of exertion. The party has just begun.
Last year, on this part of the trail we felt spirited and fresh. We'd left Phantom Ranch well before sunrise and the air was still cool, the sun low and benign. We were talking nonsense the way men love to do, jabbering about the same jokes, pranks, and past adventures we'd discussed a thousand times. Then we skidded to a stop.
About twenty deer were having breakfast. They were across the trail and to both sides. It was the kind of reminder that hits you hard in a very soft way. You are a long way from home but also very much at the source of all things. You feel a kind of comfort that belies the misery of carrying a forty-pound pack (and yourself) up the largest canyon on earth. It's hard to be still when your heart is pounding in your mouth, but still you must be. This spectacle won't last long and you don't want to miss it.
It's one of those moments in photography when you must choose between being present and being a photographer. "I gotta get this!" screams the photographer in your head. "Get what? Be still" answers the spiritual guide within. The photographer in me won the argument and I made some memorable images.
There is a way that a photographer can do his work and still be present. It requires making enough images that the work becomes second nature. With time and practice, the camera no longer really exists but is an extension of the eye and creative spirit. It is no longer about capturing anything, just being at one with experience. This takes some practice and experience and self-reminding.
In the end, I remember the experience and also the photo opportunity with great fondness. The moment passed quickly. The deer stayed and we went on to meet our appointed encounter with the switchbacks. Several hours later we were at the South Rim eating onion rings and drinking a beer, reminding each other, yet again, of the same jokes, pranks, and past adventures. A new adventure had now been triumphantly added to the list. In that moment, at the time, life was just about as perfect as it could get.