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A Grand Canyon Farewell

by Bryan on March 30th, 2012

Blogger’s Note: Here’s a revised version of an annual post.

Our superlatives for beauty and scale are rendered feeble beneath the walls of the Grand Canyon. Poets and philosophers are no match for eons of rock, penetrating light, and a river of unassuming power.

So I’ll turn instead to one of the world’s smallest butterflies – the Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exilis), which I have found flying in the Grand Canyon from time to time. When it spreads its wings, marked in bronze with blue gems, this butterfly is 1.5 cm across. A speck, like the rest of us, in this big place.

From my home in Vermont, I began a journey west with a backpacking trip here in late February. Today I end my canyon adventure in the good company of 11 people who joined me for natural history outing to the Grand Canyon and environs. (More on these amazing folks and our experiences will come Sunday.) Leaving makes me wistful.

Along this journey were turquoise waters, drifting condors, wandering mountain goats, and almond sandstones. Lizards flashed blue throats. Mistletoe perched awkwardly on Utah Juniper. The sun set flames onto distant buttes. And the Western Pygmy-Blues flew unnoticed, elusive.

Time is also elusive here. While exploring side canyons, I often find a particular caddisfly larvae hidden in its tiny stone hut, the insect’s self-made, rock-solid protection from predators. It is a home spanning a good portion of the earth’s history, a sampling of the canyon’s layers: a grain of Hermit Shale (formed from mud 280 million years ago), a spec of Tapeats Sandstone (deposited at an ocean shoreline 525 million years ago), and perhaps a granule of Vishnu Schist (formed from tectonic place collisions 1.8 billion years ago).

But soon the caddisfly will pupate and become a flying adult for an ephemeral spring fling. How ephemeral? The caddisfly  uses as its armor bits of rock spanning hundreds of millions of years in order to mature and then fly and have sex for only a day or two.

The immensity of rock, the birds and lizards, the sun and snow, have been constant companions for much my month just past. Yet they are but microns in the life of this canyon. I’ve seen storms come and go, rocks crashing to earth, thousands of people. Yet on the canyon’s sense of scale and time, we all go unnoticed. We receive our gift of humility. We are no more in this place than a passing caddisfly or a tiny butterfly.

Onward to Texas.


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From → Birds, Grand Canyon

One Comment
  1. Joan Thompson permalink

    Your descriptive skills at their best. It’s a pleasure to read of distant beauty in quite poetic fashion.

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