It has been so long that I no longer remember whose sadness weighed so heavily that night. But something flavored the darkness as we drove, through desert empty without sun to warm it, over mountains made bare by the raw eye of the moon, past trees who shed their skirts and raised bare arms to the sky.
I didn’t know where we were going, but the night insects flashed their wings, illuminated in the headlights, and the desert seemed to swallow us, coaxing my eyes open with the light of its stars to watch the rhythm of stones and trees swimming past the window. Now and then the sky opened, revealing a thread of color, and filling me with a longing for spring, for trees, for my home in soft green hills, and for me, this was enough.
When I was hungry and needed to pee I asked my dad to stop the car, but he wouldn’t stop, and I began to think of my mother, of the light that shone through the gingham curtains in our kitchen, of the hours I spent there doing my math homework or talking to my friend on the telephone, each of us unable to say goodbye but throwing the word back and forth until one of us gave in. I thought of that warm kitchen and I drank it into my body like milk. I asked my dad again if we could stop but he didn’t answer.
The silence in the car was so thick that it filled my throat, and it was into this silence that we flew, gathering speed on the empty highway, my father bent over the steering wheel, serious and heavy in his red flannel shirt.
I didn’t ask where we were going, only “What makes them so dark?”
“What?” He asked. “The trees, the mountains, the earth, the sky?”
I realized then my father was weeping, quietly, and without knowing why I watched the darkness grow wings, expanding to fill the silence in the car. I was alone, maybe for the first time, with this broken man my father who had helped me build rockets and sandcastles, and I was afraid. In the darkness he suddenly seemed small.
It was several minutes later, after we had climbed the road that wove like a black snake through the mountains and entered the national park, that my father explained how canyons are formed.
“It’s from the erosion of rivers,” he said, “the rock on either side tends to be stronger, while the rock inside the canyon is softer and more easily weathered over the years by wind and water. Here, for example, the rain falls in torrents, and the soil is so hard that when it rains the water has nowhere to go but to flow down into the river, the Colorado River, down and down and sometimes overflow its banks.”
We pulled into the parking lot then, maybe it was four o’clock in the morning, and my dad walked to the edge and looked down, into the empty canyon. I stayed in the car at first, afraid of the cold and the dark and of my father, but soon I opened the door and stepped out into the moonlight. I didn’t take his hand, but stood beside him, looking down into the depths.
— Rebecca Olson, BFR Staff