The Grand Canyon.
In late February and early March of this year, I spent some time in Arizona and southern Utah, along with good friend and fellow photographer Charlie Scrofano. It was just before the Great Quarantine got into swing. Charlie and I had attended college together 4 or 5 hundred years ago, and later, he and his wife settled in Arizona. Since then, he felt it his duty to convince me that I should visit and see how awesome AZ was. Never for a moment did I think AZ was anything but as cool as he said it was, but as you all know, adulthood has a way of… getting in the way… but finally the stars lined up, and I was off!
The journey started just a few hours after arriving in state. We arrived at Charlie’s house around 9pm, and took off in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon, our first stop.
At 4:30am we pulled into the parking lot along the south rim. I was surprised at the cool temperature. No, cool is the wrong word. It was cold! Haha. We loaded up our gear and set out to find a good location to catch the sunrise. Now, keep in mind that I had never been here before, and was relying on 1) Charlie’s knowledge, which I completely trusted, and 2) the imagery I have seen in my life of the Canyon. Charlie led me to an outcrop viewing area that he knew, fenced, safe, and with some relatively flat rock to set up on.
We were completely alone, freezing our butts off, staring up at a HUGE sky of stars. All around us the ground outside the fence fell away into the abyss. So much blackness it made the universe above seem bright with the thousands and thousands of twinkling stars. There was not much to do, we had timed it well: Time to find a location. Time to set up. There was no rush. The downside being that we had to wait a while…. and did I mention that it was cold? SO cold. Well ok, not arctic cold, but certainly much colder than I had prepped for!
Slowly, the eastern sky started to glow with the pending dawn, giving us plenty of time to lock in the exact location of the impending sunrise. The giant chasm below started to show an outline of its scale, but without sufficient light, this did not mean much at the moment. Slowly the predawn light started to expose the outline of a few distant mesas among a fairly flat topography above the canyon. When there was enough light to see, we set up our gear.
The slow process of dawn moved along as we chatted. Charlie and I were starting to catch up on things, like old friends do. Often this was broken up by each one of us squinting into our viewfinders or checking settings in the middle of a sentence about what part of our houses were falling apart since we last talked…With each moment there was a transition… no, a “reveal” is a better word. As it became lighter I found my attention being drawn to the outcropping rocks around us slowly coming into being. Oh! There is a huge boulder just to our right that I did not realize was there in the dark! Ok, back to the sunrise… we had camera-ready cloud cover around us, and the light Sol sent was working its magic on them. My trusted Canon and I went into action.
Being a connoisseur of the sunrise, I actually found myself a bit disappointed. Now, don’t take this wrong, it was exciting, there were things happening. This was a completely new environment to me, the light was changing with each moment around me, revealing this and revealing that… stay focused I thought, this is a once in a vacation sunrise, stay focused for that magic shot. As I returned to the camera my eyes were enlightened by... brighter back lit mesas…
I was suddenly aware that there were more people around us. The lookout was, after all… a lookout. From seemingly nowhere, the area was filling up with people arriving here for the same reason. This confused me because, of course, we arrived in the dark of night and I never noticed or assumed there was much here, or that the park would attract (in late February) any number of people for a sunrise… in this cold. Also, keep in mind that I was a bit excited myself. I had arrived in AZ just 12 hours earlier in Phoenix, had driven almost all night, and I had seemingly forgot all about the idea that there were other people in the world. How silly of them!
Focus on your work! A moment later I backed my eye from the viewfinder (this is a perpetual thing) and… that is when it hit me. Unlike my New England quest to experience the sun coming up beyond the sea, lighting up the water in front of me and catching the glitter of waves below me, the magic was actually happening all around me. Again, I am greatly aware of the fact that light reflects – that is how we see of course! But in the excitement of this vast world unfolding before me, for a brief time, I was not paying attention to my surroundings. In this case, the magic of sunrise was actually behind me! I immediately brought my camera around to see this incredibly fantastic world coming to life below. All around me, full of specific and precise colors that I had never been privy to in all my years, awaking long dormant rods and cones in the doorway to my soul. For a brief time, the vastness, the splendor and the wonder of this world developing right in front of me removed the blemishes of my imperfect eyes and offered me, in scale and detail, the most fantastic truth of nature I have ever witnessed. I swear I heard music in this earthly moment! Could a sunrise have a symphony to accompany it? My trusty friend, the Canon 6D, master of low light, seemed to be having the same experience and thoughts that I was having, and did not disappoint. The growing population of our outlook was quickly forgotten.
Of course, all one has to do to experience this is arrive on time. And know why you are there. The vast canyon merely revealed the wonders it has always had, for thousands and thousands of years, with each sunrise. The lesson I was given this day, was merely one of remembering, that in the midst of excitement, one must keep an eye on the big picture (I think there is a pun here somewhere), and pay attention to their surroundings.
Now, I have heard all this before. I am not saying anything new. Except that, from time to time, I have to remember that lesson. I have to keep it in closer to the front of my mind. With all this world throws at us each day, I need to walk slower and pay attention to the world around me. I have to put a higher priority on that. Super focusing on a task may sometimes cause you to miss the obvious. The subtle. The non-details of splendor. Look behind you once in a while, it might surprise you.
My good friend Charlie was right. AZ blew my mind. Right then and there. Less than 12 hours into the trip.
What have you missed by focusing too harshly on something?