Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to live to be 103 years old, because I’ve always wanted to see what will be going on in 2050. As a result, I had to figure out a way to divide up the years of my life. I finally came up with the following.
0-25 years … Childhood
25-50 years … Youth
50-75 years … Middle Youth
75-103 years … Late Youth
When I was a youth, I once had the good fortune to be the first mate on a sailboat that stopped in Hong Kong. I met a lovely young woman there named Lai Fan, and we had lots of good times. But of course, sooner or later the ship had to sail. And amidst our goodbyes, I told her what I truly believed, that I would be back in a year or so, no question.
And again when I was a youth, I once went to the Grand Canyon, and spent about a week there. We weren’t planning to spend a week, but our car broke down in a parking lot right by the rim of the canyon. If you ever want a great place to do some what we used to call “shade-tree” mechanic work, that was the location. We’d work on the car for a while, then stand and stare over the canyon rim, then work on the car some more. And when I left, I knew that I would be back again in the future, no question.
Now, in my middle youth, I find myself once again traveling the roads of America. We finally made it to the Grand Canyon, and while I’m a different man these days, curiously the Grand Canyon hasn’t changed much at all …
I took pictures, but there’s no way that a camera can encompass the whole. When you stand out at a point on the canyon rim, you are looking at a view that extends from horizon to horizon, and from the sky down a mile into the bowels of the earth.
See those tiny dots on top of the rock in the middle distance … those are people. Here’s the problem
Spread your arms out side to side, and see how much space they encompass … then hold up your cell phone at arm’s length, and consider how much of that immensity your camera can capture. So my pictures are only the faint echo of the reality.
We rented bikes, and rode along the Rim Trail. The rental bikes all have stickers on them saying “DO NOT RIDE ON THE RIM TRAIL”, but all the other bikers were riding rental bikes there, so I figured it was forbidden for that most American of reasons … to avoid legal liability when some idjit takes his rental bike for that final plunge. And it’s a loooong ways down, a mile (1.6 km) vertically from the rim down to the Colorado River at the bottom …
It is surreal to ride along the Rim Trail, because it winds in and out of the low brushy trees that grow along the rim. We’d be riding along with nothing but trees in view, then maybe looking off to the right side for a bit. And when I looked back to the left, suddenly there was a magical symphony in ochres and reds falling away forever into the depths … stunning.
There is wildlife along the rim, including some very tame and blasé elk who wander around the visitors center like they were just some tourists from a different planet enjoying the views. Here’s a bull elk with horns that scratch the sky …
They warn you against touching the squirrels and small rodents because they often carry the Black Death, bubonic plague … yikes! And the Black Death is no joke. In my youth I saw a case of it not far from the Grand Canyon. A friend’s kids had found a dead mouse and played with it, and one of them took sick, bad sick. Luckily the mother had seen a case before, she tossed him in the pickup truck and shot off to the hospital at about two-thirds of the speed of light. The boy was fine, gotta love the wonders of modern medicine, but I’ve never been totally relaxed around small rodents ever since …
But soon, all too soon, our five hours of bike hire were up, and it was time to go.
So I did what I do these days when I leave such a spot. I faced each of the four directions in turn, and I spread my arms as wide as they would go, and I breathed in all of the sights and sounds and smells of that wonderful place. And in the sure and certain knowledge that I might never see it again, I inhaled it all as completely and fully as I know how …
Because to this day, I’ve never made it back to Hong Kong. And if I have learned anything in my middle youth, it is that death is always behind my left shoulder, watching, patiently biding his time. And while someday I may get back to either Hong Kong or to the Grand Canyon, I’d be a fool to live as if that were guaranteed.
So I do my best to remember that there are hidden trap doors everywhere that open up unexpectedly to swallow people whole, and that one day I’ll put my foot on the wrong spot and I’ll be gone … ah, dear friends, all I can say is, spread your arms wide and drink in this marvelous life and this wondrous planet while you can. The day is far too short, the night is long, and the darkness is an unknown distance ahead.
My best wishes to everyone, and my thanks to you all,