With lots of time and open space, my imagination expands. The North Kaibab Trail has led me here. I started the morning seeing my frosty breath and now, after descending into the belly of the earth, it's nearly 100 degrees. Ponderosa pines have given way to gnarly little cacti that are nipping at my ankles.
The bone-dry rock is relieved by the sound of an adjacent creek. Bright Angel Creek is like a faithful dog. At our side for the remainder of the hike, it guides us, its companionship soothing and assuring.
Lulled into a hot hypnosis, we trudge along. We suddenly enter a flood plain of the creek. The flora make no sense here—a tiny patch of wetlands within a vast canyon of rock and dust. Having been here before, I'm prepared for the shocking change. The sound of the creek is amplified among the tall grass, turning my world into a fantasy. My imagination churns with the creek.
A hiker approaches, nods, and passes onward. I wonder who he his, where he's from, and what brings him to this place at this time. I'll never know. I make a photo of him to record the event. He disappears forever among the grass. His photo remains.
Like this man, most hikers mind their own business, mentally lost in the immenseness of the canyon. We exchange hushed greetings as we pass one another—brief encounters along the trail of life. Oddly, I keenly remember the faces of many of them. They are like flash-bulb snapshots in my mind, forever frozen in that moment of encounter.
Other hikers are less enigmatic. They exchange information with us—some even hike along if they are going in the same direction. They tell us abridged versions of their life. It's like reading one of those Reader's Digest condensed books I knew as a kid. Yet another snapshot of a life, these short stories feed my imagination even more as we ultimately part and move on our own way, at our own speed.
The trail is a collection of these brief encounters of being together in the greatness of this place. Each hiker approaches. Each one unique. Each one with a presence. Each one with a story. And then we all go on our way, ultimately shrouded in the mystery of life.