Excerpts from Field Notes from the Grand Canyon


From the Introduction: “A new term has come into our language: polyphasia, the act of doing more than one thing at a time, as in talking to your travel agent while you drive the kids to work, or reading the paper while you peddle the exercise bike, or practicing Berlitz while you chop onions for spaghetti. On the river we did only one thing: we went down the river. It was as if each plunge through the 48-degree water of a rapid washed another layer of film off our eyes.”

From “Sustenance,” the concluding essay: “I had climbed the steep hillside above our camp to paint, and when I finished I hiked down to join the easy conversation around hors d’oeuvres that had become the nightly habit of our group. That night, we talked about Princess Diana; her death had been the last news to reach us before we put in. The event had accompanied us these days on the river, a partner to the extraordinary beauty and power that swept us downstream, and now we wondered about the insatiable fascination that had hounded her literally to death, and our own part in it. Many of us were grateful for the remove the canyon gave us from the media orgy that we knew had erupted around the tragedy, and the titillated addiction we would have given into if we had access to the news. What did we – the world at large, and our own small selves – need from her, what hunger did we think she could satisfy? How full must we be before we cease to grab what glitters, just because it’s there?

“I asked myself this last question again a few days later when a small king snake crawled along a half-inch crag in the limestone behind our camp. We gathered to watch him and he grew perfectly still, aware of us but not, apparently, much disturbed. He was a beautiful thing, only two feet long, striped black and white with the precision of fine painted porcelain. I made a move for my camera and startled him. He jerked perceptively and then slithered away. I still wonder what I thought a photograph could capture that a longer moment of stillness would have failed to reveal.”

* Listen to The Open Road radio piece, “Rafting the Grand Canyon,” with Hal Cannon and Teresa Jordan.
* Read a description of Field Notes from the Grand Canyon.
* Preview sketchbook pages from Field Notes from the Grand Canyon.