April 9, 2017

Under the Shadow of This Red Rock: Along the Colorado from Moab to Castle Valley | April 2011


There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

                                 - - The Waste Land

The river gouges its way down into the rock as the stoneland around it surges upwards. The cracked stacks of strata rise towards the vault of sky at a pace that makes the growth of glaciers seem a sprint. When the river's downward adze works through the strata's lift the walls of the chasm soar thousands of feet up until all they frame is a slim ribbon of blue slashed with contrails.

The road -- smooth two lane blacktop on top of an amalgam of granite, grit, arrowheads and dinosaur bones -- runs beside the roiling green muck of the Colorado whose banks are fringed with the sharp slate branches of tamarisk ringing patches of lime green cottonwood groves. Along this road mostly carved out of the cliff and still studded at times with sandstone boulders the size of a large house cars and semis scuttle like bronzed beetles catching glints of sun on their carapaces as they slide in and out of the chasm's shadow.

Across the river or beside the road the vast slabs of rust tinted sandstone tower and, towards dark, close in above you like hands beneath the sky closing in prayer. The red rock marches for miles along the river, unpurposed cathedrals of stone for titans long gone down into earth.

Along the face of the red stone acre upon acre of slick black vertical pools of desert varnish expand at a pace outside of time. Their blank black panels spread like blotches of the space between the stars. Red lines scratch their surface and sketch designs of random shapes that only emphasize the black sheen that frames these indecipherable notes; notes written in the alphabet of stone and time; notes you can learn to limn but never decipher.

As on other roads in the southwest your first response is "how beautiful." Your second response is "how spectacular." And then, after a time, your last and lasting impression is of how monumentally indifferent the land is and shall remain. It's then that you see how the long, long life of this land has and shall endure; how all that we are, all that we have been, all that we hope or fear to become, is only -- added all together and recalculated for its sum -- equal to at most an inch of time.

Along this river run you've come to the place where the bones of the earth are bare and where you know, in your own birdlike bones, the vast, the eternal, the extreme and the utter blank indifference of the land to the plans of man.

Steeped as we are in our idle affluence and a cultural boredom that seems to be relieved only by a ceaseless celebration of the most base of us, our fully indoctrinated and colonized minds of the "intellectual" class are prone to many cheap and loosely laminated intellectual fads. One fad popular now for a few decades is that humans should somehow "care" for and about the Earth. The attitude of "caring about the Earth" must be accompanied by a ceaseless preening and pursuit of the expression of that care in word, deed, policy, and even prayer to some imaginary spirit of the planet. The reward is the "Good Person" medal of Caring. Alas, in the reality of the universe that lies outside of time and outside of our Institutions of Higher Mind Colonization such posturing is all mere bosh and piffle.

Along the river road, under the bones of the rock, where the Earth is seen stripped bare there is no caring to be had and no caring that is needed. The stones hold no intent or emotion that man can fathom; he is not that strong and not that wise and not that deep. All he can do is hear, if he listens long and closely, the fading bass note of the Earth's eternal indifference in a land that, like the God of the oldest testaments. is formed of stones utterly silent and forever outside of time.

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

Even among these rocks....

-- Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Posted by Vanderleun at April 9, 2017 2:38 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Gerard: are you here in Utah?

Posted by: MOTUS at April 13, 2011 11:23 AM

Ah synchronicity. Was just today communicating with a geology professor on some fossils I'd found. Ancient, of course. And yet young when placed on the great scale of geologic time.

My husband and I sat, fossils in hand, atop an old hill of glacial moraine - feeling very, very finite.

Perfect piece.

Perfectly bracketed.

Posted by: Catherine Wilson at April 13, 2011 1:31 PM

Yes - we drove up that canyon a couple of weeks ago - it was quite amazing, much more up close and in our faces. especially after hours of passing by the more laid-back and faraway-seeming Nevada mountains,

Posted by: pfsm at April 13, 2011 2:06 PM

Better than a post card. Thank you, Gerard!

Posted by: Jewel at April 13, 2011 3:32 PM

You brought a computer? On vacation!?

Posted by: westsoundmodern at April 13, 2011 3:42 PM

Maybe he's blogging from an iPhone or a Kindle.

Posted by: Jewel at April 13, 2011 3:59 PM

And the bittersweet irony is that there's some teenager in Castle Valley who can't wait to get out, and I'm looking at the map wishing I could live there.

Posted by: Deborah at April 13, 2011 5:13 PM

Gerard, if you are in the Moab area make sure to catch the waterfalls off the mesas after tonight's rain.

Awesome nature moment; one of my all time favorite things to see after the rain or at high spring time.

Posted by: TmjUtah at April 13, 2011 5:32 PM

You brought an iPhone or a Kindle? On vacation!?

Posted by: westsoundmodern at April 13, 2011 7:20 PM

Not at all. I'm doing this with Crayola.

Posted by: vanderleun at April 13, 2011 7:26 PM

I hope you are using the approved multicultural skin tone box with eight diverse colors for your illustrations.

Posted by: westsoundmodern at April 13, 2011 7:53 PM

The perfect time to be there and gaze on the wonders.

Been there in August heat. The difficulty of survival and lack of concern for the needs of humans is more acutely felt and understood.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at April 13, 2011 8:52 PM

Try driving down the Dolores River valley in Western Colorado, south of Grand Junction.

Unexpected beauty.

Posted by: David at April 30, 2012 8:25 PM

You have to get out of that car. Drive to the end of a dirt road. Walk away from it, until you can hear once again just water and wind, the calls of birds, the skittering of lizards and mice, the symphony of insects. Be completely immersed in the riot of natural color, light, and sound. Have a seat. Stay a while. Get up and walk to somewhere else. Stay a while. Now go find some fossils or petroglyphs or evidence that somebody was once there. Don't have a deadline. Eventually, it'll sneak up on you. You'll be out of time, and you'll feel each moment as a million years. You'll finally start to feel Deep Time, the endless cycle of the seasons, the slow change that underlies everything.

If you're lucky, and so inclined, you'll sense the spirits inhabiting everything.

Stay there until dark, then walk back to the car in the moonlight, without a flashlight. Doesn't matter whether it's cold or hot,

Once made, the connection lasts a lifetime. All you have to do is walk back out there, anywhere, And you're back in it.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at May 1, 2012 2:00 AM

Just be careful out there. When you are out in the far away wilderness of the desert, you can still wander away, get lost, and die. You will probably be found, but out there, it may be too late. People go off road in Northern Washoe county up here in Nevada. Sometimes they break down, and find out that they are far enough away from civilization to actually die before they can walk out.

Posted by: Duncan at May 3, 2012 1:47 PM

Especially that section on hwy 128 between Moab and hwy 70. The Delores river valley is awesome too especially in the spring.

Posted by: GoneWithTheWind at April 9, 2017 11:26 AM

Try this - stand barefoot on the dirt and wait -
you'll get a message up from the ground that says,

"Sorry, can't help you - no water, grass, shade or comfort to be found here. Good to see you, glad you're here but you are on your own."

Posted by: Beth, safe in PA at April 10, 2017 5:48 AM

Just as beautiful now as it was the first time around. Lovely work, Mr Vanderluen.

I've spent a few months surveying down there over the years.

Not quite sure which moved me more, the first crack of sunlight catching us getting started on our day's work, or the hundred shades of gold in the sunset while we drank cool water, sitting there on the tailgate.

Posted by: TmjUtah at April 10, 2017 5:56 PM