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Fall 2013

Paradise in Purgatory

The schist rock found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is over 2 billion years old.
The van felt swelteringly hot as we traveled. I tried putting my head against the glass, hoping for a brief respite, but found it burning hot as well. I pulled my head away and stared out at the red dust, barrel cacti, and saguaro that stretched into the distance. Two weeks of travel from Oregon through Idaho, Montana, Utah, and finally Arizona in the desolate summer months had finally broken my spirits.

I slumped in the back bench of the van, trying not to succumb to the heat. Reaching under the bench to find my Game Boy, I flipped the switch back and forth, willing the green screen to flare to life, hoping in that way only a child can that the batteries would somehow suddenly come back to life.

I wanted to be home. Home, where 60 was swimsuit weather, not a midnight breeze. Home, where there was more to see out the window than crimson and cacti. Home, where there were always more batteries.

I didn’t dare mention this to my father, who had made it quite clear that he didn’t care where I wanted to be. His flip shades were down to keep the sun out of his eyes, and the sweat beaded on his bald head as if the water in his body wanted to be as far away from the dour look on his face as I did.

Eternities later, the van lurched to a stop like a dying beast, which perked up my head as my brothers and sisters all came to attention. Had we run out of gas?

“We’re here,” he said. I wasn’t sure where here was—I never knew where we were going—so I looked out the window on my side of the van, trying to find the rest stop or, potentially, the house of yet another relative. But I still saw just desert. The van’s suspension creaked as my father hefted himself out his door. I queued up, waiting for what seemed to be an hour for my place in the pecking order before I could disembark: sisters came first, then brothers, then me, the last of the pack. I stepped out of the van sullenly, wondering what lame diversion had delayed my homecoming this time. I rounded the van, a breeze rolled over me, and I stopped as I saw it. The Grand Canyon.

The wind kicked dust into my eyes, but I just let them water as I gazed as far as I could into the distance, barely making out the other side of the canyon from where I stood. I ran to the nearest railing, trying to crane my neck over the edge to look into the Colorado River down below. To my left and my right, the canyon extended farther than I could see. The railings were a safe distance from the edge, but still I felt like the canyon would swallow me up if I wasn’t careful. It seemed like you could fit the whole world in there.

An instant later, the sun was going down, and my father was herding us back towards the parking lot. As we reassembled at the van, my mother came up behind me.

“Pretty neat, huh?” she asked.

“It was awesome!” I said.

“You know, I bet they sell batteries at the gift shop.”

“Batteries for what?”

—Edwin Eschler