Long Shadows, Grand Canyon | Mark Lindsay

An artist knows how quickly light changes. Landscape painters are keenly aware of shadow movement. Painting outdoors is a humbling experience. Nothing stands still. The universe speeds up and becomes elusive, as if it were aware that someone was trying to capture it.

I walk in the canyon early to avoid the searing midday heat. Each step lulls me into the same kind of hypnotic effect that painting en plein air would have on me. Time dissolves into a metronome beat. I look down to make sure of where I walk. Snakes, rocks, cacti and mule poop are all to be avoided. When I look up I see the changes. The light morphs gently yet relentlessly. The canyon shadow shifts, changes color, shrinks. My own shadow looks alien in the craggy geometry of crumbling rock. I am an interloper here.

I come bundled into this alien landscape equipped like a moonwalker. My liquid life support is strapped to my back. Once the water is gone I have about an hour or two to survive, something that I never forget as the shadow shrinks toward noon. The shadow tells me everything as does the color of light. A camera grabs the moment more quickly than a paintbrush, so I keep clicking with fascination.

The golden morning shifts toward a clean whiteness of high noon. All shadow disappears into flatness. My own shadow shrinks to insignificance. White hot. I lose my interest in art. I'm more worried about cactus stings as my legs become leaden and clumsy. The heat starts to press down on me. I make a mental calculation about my water supply.

High noon comes and goes. There is nothing to mark its passage except an imperceptible return of shadow growth. Soon the canyon shadow lengthens again, this time in the opposing direction. Light turns to gold. A slight breeze softens the air. I think about art again as the aching beauty blooms in my presence. Cactus stings be damned, I look up to watch my shadow as it flows across the canyon plateau.