An altered state of mind |

An altered state of mind

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

The memories return in cold, soaking splashes.

I still feel the smack of giant river waves falling over me in my kayak; the fine, fairy dust sand of moonlit beaches between my toes and all over my skin.

Just as quickly, I snap out of it. I’m back at my job. Did it happen? Am I the same? Yes. No.

Two weeks after paddling the top half of the Grand Canyon, I’m still rubbing my eyes.

In a blink, I’m back on a flat, smooth block of Precambrian schist, fully surrounded by the moving water of the Colorado River. The moon is full. It’s so warm at 2 a.m., I sit in only swim trunks. The calm water flows around the boulder, between lit-and-shadowed walls of rock, which loom a vertical mile above. I stare into silver reflections.

The sounds are as soft as the beach. I might hear a scorpion crawling across the sand. There are only a few snores in the distance from the slumbering camp. Just a quarter-mile around the bend is the muffled roar of Grapevine Rapid.

Is it really my last night here? How can I be plucked out so fast when I’m in so deep?

My eyes open and I’m home. The dog is excited. She wags her tail and drops squeaky toys in my lap. My girlfriend puts her arms around me.

As vibrant as the solitude is on a trip like the Grand Canyon, the truth is that the entire affair is more about the people you’re with than where you are.

Before putting on the river, our group of 16 stopped at Navajo Bridge. The bridge is the only place where a road crosses the Grand Canyon for hundreds of miles downstream. A new one was built for vehicles a while back and the old one is now a pedestrian crossing.

Navajos were selling jewelry at homemade stands, as they do everywhere in that country. The jewelry features turquoise stones and sterling silver but starts to look the same after a while. One necklace stood out, however, as I passed by on foot.

There was no stashing the necklace in the car while on the trip. That wasn’t even a possibility. We were on a bus and all the cars we drove to Flagstaff, Ariz., were parked far away. Anything I wanted to come home with me when I hiked out at Phantom Ranch would have to be packed along.

A book and journal were kept in a large Ziploc. I put the coiled necklace there. Every night, the bag lived next to my bedroll under the stars. The necklace shone brightly at the moon through the clear plastic. It gleamed in such a way, I still see the halo as Mandi wears it around her neck.

How can a price ever be attached to any relationship? How does a $12 necklace become priceless?

In the necklace, I also see the grinning faces of new family members. They were basically strangers only weeks ago and now we are related to each other through an experience shared only among us. We might return to the Grand, but never to the same place in our lives.

At home I close my eyes, drifting to sleep, and the bed floats. It rocks and sways like a raft. I feel it pull me along, taking me somewhere I can only dream about.

On the river rock, I contemplate the stone’s radiant warmth with the palm of my hand. I contemplate the air on my body, the touch of the canyon, how it cradles me and all else. It feels like I never left nor even arrived, like I have always been there, deep down.

At last I stand. I fill my lungs once more, like buckets dipping into water. I step off the rock, tip-toe up the beach to my bedroll, and fall asleep.

Sometimes dreams are real.

How can life be the same when I know that?

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at

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