Thursday, November 9

Grand man of Grand canyon

I am reading a book, Grand Canyon: Early Impressions. These are writings of intrepid explorers who saw Grand Canyon, the mile deep furrow in Arizona, carved out by Colorado, literally, the 'red river'. Col. John Wesley Powell made the first river run of Grand Canyon in 1869. Without the buffers of dams, Colorado ran way too fast & turbid than it does now, making its river run almost impossible task. But Powell & his ragtag friends ventured into this great unknown river, and penned his travelogue.
The funny thing about this piece is that, it has all the seeds of great novel; heroism, drama, nail biting tension & anticipation, conflicts of egos, judgment as well as trust & steadfast fraternity. But the very fact that it was a nonfiction, and written not as an afterthought but as a daily journal, makes it a dry, barebones, matter of fact document sans verbal embellishments :-) This makes each word & sentence carry its weight in gold, sinking down the mind with tremendous gravity. 2/3rd way in the journey, Powell's crew had lost 80% of rations to the water, just when Colorado entered into granites. Granite is hard to erode, leading to a very uneven river bed, hence a dangerous & turbulent ride. It scared three people so much, they decide to climb the canyon walls, and somehow survive through vast dessert. When they decide to leave, Powell writes
As last daylight comes, and we have breakfast, without a word being said about future. The meal is as solemn as a funeral. After breakfast, I ask three men if they still think it is best to leave us. They think it is. Two rifles & shotguns are given to the men who are going out. I ask them to help themselves with ration, and take what they think to be a fair share. This they refuse to do. The last thing before leaving, I write a letter to my wife, and give it to Howland. Sumner gives him his watch directing that it be sent to his sister, should he not be heard from again. The records of the expedition have been kept in duplicate. One set is given to Howland. For the last time, they entreat us not to go on, and tell us that it is madness to run a boat in this place. Few miles of these rapids will exhaust our entire stock of rations, and then it will be too late to climb out. Some tears are shed; it is rather a solemn parting; each party thinks the other is taking the dangerous course.

They make it through the worst rapids. On 13th day, with rations exhausted, everybody is near starvation and are staying alive just on coffee, when they finally reach a Mormon settlement! and for the first time, Powell feels free to express his emotions, which are so powerful, that they almost ridicule the the verbiage they are expressed through. Listen to this
The relief from danger, and the joy of success, are great. When he who has been chained by wounds to a hospital cot, until his canvas tent seems like a dungeon cell, until the groans of those who lie about, tortured with probe & knife, are piled up, a weight of horror on his ears that he can not throw off, cannot forget and until the stench of festering wounds and anesthetic drugs has filled the air with its loathsome burden, at last goes out in the open field, what a world he sees! How beautiful the sky; how bright the sunshine; what "floods of delirious music" pour from the throats of birds; how sweet the fragrance of earth, and tree, and blossom! The first hour of convalescent freedom seems rich recompense for all - pain, gloom, terror. Something like this are the feelings we experience tonight.

One more funny incident was when Powell was climbing nearby mountains to scout the course of river, when he looses his footing and is hanging in air by the rope. When he writes,
Finding I am caught here, suspended 400 feet above the river, into which I should fall if my footing fails, I call for help. The men come, and pass me a line, but i cannot let go off the rock long enough to take hold of it*
and the * in above statement was explained in the shortnote at the bottom:
* It should be remembered that Major Powell had only one arm. (Ed.)
My deep respecks :-) for this man!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, we donn know eachother - true. I love trekking and such outdoor stuff. And I can identify myself very much with all the stuff you put in this post.
Keep writing :-)
-Jani