Thursday, 14 June 2012
By Jackie Harrison
Trace, holding onto my left hand with my right hand tucked around his back guiding his small hip, carefully crept from one jagged rock to another down the steep incline of the canyon behind Josie and their father. This descent on the rim, though short, was tedious and tiring. Trace soon stopped his outbursts of "I can do it" and gave up.
We waved goodbye to our family as we stared past them down a seemingly endless slope. This was early dawn.
Six o'clock in the evening arrived without a word from Josie and William. Trying not to show my concern, I told Trace we would take a little walk to see if his dad and sister were returning. We stood looking over the rim, me with high hopes to see them struggling up to the rim of the canyon. No one was in sight.
I forced myself to wait until dusk had almost faded before I said to Trace, "I'll bet they are back now. Let's go and meet them."
This time we greeted two familiar but haggard-looking figures in the semi-darkness. Before I could say how worried I was, Will said, "You could never have made this trip." I knew I could have but I had to stay behind with our five-year-old son.
Josie told me in private that she became very worried about her dad and the reason they were so late was because they had to stop frequently for him to rest.
Listening to her details about the trip made me wish I could have walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I doubted I would ever have another chance to do it.
Several years later while I was attending a meeting in Las Vegas, I saw a posting for a helicopter ride from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. It said the helicopter would land on a flat plateau in the canyon where we would be served wine and cheese. I thought, "Well, if I can't walk down the canyon, I can at least fly over it and probably see more than Josie and William saw."
The helicopter could only seat three adults not counting the pilot. Unbeknown to me, a friend from my hometown had signed up. I wanted to sit in front with the pilot but since she wanted the same seat, I sat in the back.
I was relaxing as we flew over the flat desert when suddenly I spotted tall mountains looming in front of us with only a narrow passage between them. The pilot, a handsome, young, blonde man who appeared to be in his twenties, seemed unconcerned as he started at this moment to comb his hair.
I couldn't control myself so I nervously said, "You're not going to comb your hair now, are you!"
He thought this was funny, replying, "On our way back I want you to sit in front."
As we flew through the opening, America The Beautiful rang out in the helicopter and the breath-taking panorama of multiple shades of yellow, brown, orange and red and the massive grandeur of mountains surrounding an enormous, sunken, vast land of trees, river and desert accompanied by the beautiful words and music about America, almost brought me to tears.
On our way back, the music changed to Star Wars as we zoomed in and out of rocky points sometimes so close to the river that I could see the fishes.
Sitting in the front seat was more than I bargained for. I was getting more nauseated by the minute from all the twisting and turning. I took deep breaths to keep from throwing up and concentrated on the wild horses below, the beauty of the canyon and the stories about the canyon's history.
Before ending our trip, the pilot flew over his house telling us that he had recently married. He said his father owned the helicopter he was piloting. When we landed, he asked if I enjoyed the trip and I said, "Yes, especially flying back over the canyon," never mentioning my air-sickness. He smiled as if he knew.
I remembered that smile when my friend called me about one month later and told me to read our newspaper about the terrible helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon where an entire family - except for their small son whom officials were searching for in the canyon - and a pilot were killed. It was my pilot.
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