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A hole in the ground

Why, I asked. Why would you want to see the Grand Canyon – it’s just a massive hole in the ground. That said, I did take that detour to see meteor crater, so that in itself makes me a bit of a hypocrite. And I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon since the early 1990s and back then, when I looked over the edge it was impressive, yes. But I’ve been more impressed by smaller stuff.

IMG_6300 (800x600)On the website, the tour looked amazing. Ah the power of advertising and advertorials. Collected from hotel in Vegas, bussed to airport to catch a plane, then a helicopter, then rafting down the Colorado River, then lunch with the Indians and then back to the hotel via plane and bus. A little over seven hours in total. What wasn’t to like? If you’re going to do something, I say, do it in style.

IMG_6336 (800x600)That I was on the wrong side of the plane going out and didn’t see the Hoover Dam was a tad upsetting and no one’s fault but my own. We were weighed and seated according to weight. That the helicopter ride took all of ten minutes (at a stretch) was a little disappointing. That the rafting was more like a sedate float down the river without shade in 117 degree weather was a trifle discomfiting. That the lunch was bagged salad, frozen veg, packet mash, and a piece of chicken was torturous. All in all, having been picked up at 6.30 am, we’d done it all by 10.30 and didn’t get back to the hotel until after 3. Tired, cranky, and feeling more than a little cheated.

IMG_6334 (800x599)On reflection – was the tour worth it? Absolutely not. Next time (and I’d go again to this huge hole in the ground) I’d drive. And take my time. And pack my own lunch. I’d do the helicopter thing again – but for longer – and only that. Mind you, there were so many choppers in the sky it is a wonder more accidents don’t happen. Apparently someone falls into it every 2-3 months and in a country where Health and Safety are king and queen, there wasn’t a railing in sight. Great for the natural look, I say. Not so great for human stupidity. But the view the from air was magnificent.

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IMG_6339 (800x600)The canyon is 4 to 18 miles wide (6 – 28km) and is 277 river miles long (445km). In places it’s half a kilometre deep. It’s tilted – the northern rim is 1200 ft higher than the southern rim. It took the Colorado River 3-6 million years to carve it out (there’s patience for you!) Over 800 million gallons of water flow through it each day.

IMG_6343 (800x600)I listened to the facts being recited, by rote, both on the recorded spiel on the plane and by the boat guy, and then looked at those walls and wondered at the power of nature. How could we ever think, as mere mortals, that we could tame her?

I’ve spent many an afternoon on the flat of my back on the grass looking up at the clouds in the sky, fancying that I see a pig or a boat or a slice of pizza. I like to do the same with rocks and boulders, and when in South Africa a couple of years ago, I became all too familiar with the Lion Rock  and how deceptive nature’s shapes and shadows can be. So the highlight for me was Eagle Point and the fantastic natural shape of the rock.  That made it all worth while.

IMG_6367 (800x598)The outdoor exhibition of various Indian huts was interesting enough. But my heart went out to the trio who were dancing a tribal dance to an empty amphitheatre. Somewhere along the line, the lines between tourism and taste were crossed. There’s a lot to be said for knowing your audience. And while I would like very much to take part in a real Indian dance night, this was just a tad too twee, even for me.

IMG_6377 (800x600)IMG_6384 (800x600)IMG_6382 (800x600)And yet, had I been there sans the masses, and had I the quiet and the solitude all to myself and a few crows, it would have been quite special. But that’s the Catch 22, isn’t it. Discover and share – or keep to yourself and enjoy.

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From the Danube to the desert – a church on the move

Before the aura reader told me that I should visit the solar plexus vortex, I’d already been. I can’t say I was strangely drawn to it for any reason out of the ordinary. It’s at the site of a church and I’m drawn to churches. Solar plexus or no solar plexus. And this church is a little more unusual than most in that the plans were drawn up long before the site was found and it was originally meant to be built in Budapest. Small world.

IMG_6077 (600x800)Way back in 1932,  a woman by the name of  Marguerite Brunswig Staude was looking at the Empire State Building in New York. Somewhere, in this edifice, she saw a cross. And from this got the idea of building a church that would also have a cross as its core. She showed her design to Llyod Wright and he worked on it with her to further develop it. In 1937, they were ready, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross was to be built in Budapest, Hungary, overlooking the Danube.

IMG_6078 (800x566)But the war came and the dream shattered. But she got to thinking… why not built such a shrine in the USA? Why should Europe have a monopoly on shrines? It would take 24 years for her dream to come true but finally, on a spur 250 feet high that sticks out of a 1000 foot rock wall, Marguerite built her church in Oak Creek, Sedona. Her wish? That the Church might come to light in the souls of men. And so it did, in 1956, the year of the Hungarian revolution.

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Saddened by Sedona

Shop after shop. Mall after mall. Even the outskirts, 20 minutes from the main drag, were joined to the centre by an arterial ribbon of mini-malls, fast-food joints, and gas stations. Yes, it’s all tastefully done. The planners have kept a firm hold on what can and can’t be built in the city of Sedona, but for me it’s lost a lot of its magic.

IMG_6052 (800x590)You can barely see the houses nestling in the foothills, so well do they blend in with their surrounds. Hardware shops in this part of the world don’t do much trade in pastel paints, unlike the West of Ireland or the Venetian island of Burano or the Spanish city of Las Palmas. Here, it’s all muted tones and autumnal palettes. And for that one has to give thanks.

IMG_6091 (800x599)IMG_6096 (800x523)Downtown, once you escape from the main drag, the Tlaquepaque shopping village, originally conceived as an artists’ community, appears to have been around a lot longer than it actually has. A child of the 1970s, these 40 or so shops and galleries look like they’ve taken residence in a hundred-year-old village. There are many European planners who could learn a lesson or two in Sedona.

IMG_6100 (800x600)The main street itself though, leaves a lot to be desired. Overpriced food, half-assed cocktails passing themselves off as Margueritas (beware the newborn expert), and shelf after shelf of sameness was a far cry from what I remembered.

IMG_6103 (800x600)Sedona is famous for its vortexes… and yes, I have that pluralisation correct… in Sedona one vortex, two vortexes. We’d passed a few dust devils as we’d travelled across the Sonora desert, and knew vaguely that a vortex ‘is created from spiraling motion of air or liquid around a center of rotation’. Usually, that is. In Sedona, they’re created from ‘spiralling spiritual energy’. So it’s little wonder that the place is a magnet for new age therapists, mediums, aura readers, and such like. And yes, there was a time I’d have been right there in the midst of it all. But that was then.

I no longer feel the need to know the future – why live through the disappointment twice. But I did have my aura read (and photographed) just to see if my chakras were all open and in good working order. I got a clean bill of health. Lots of white and blue light. Am relatively sane and have a bevvy of spirits working in the wings guarding me night and day. What’s not to like about that?

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A gaping big hole in my education

What happens when a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour crashes into planet Earth? It leaves a big hole. A very big hole. A hole that is  2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep.

IMG_6011 (800x599)That all this happened approximately 50,000 years ago is neither here nor there. It’s all been scientifically validated and proven beyond doubt that Meteor Crater, in Arizona, is ‘the most well known, best preserved meteor crater on Earth’. That I’d never heard of it is neither here nor there either. Put that down to me not paying attention in Geography class. But like the millions of other tourists that can’t resist the signage off the I40, I had to go have a look.

IMG_6017 (800x600)Now, I suppose if you’re a space fanatic, a mineralogist, or a geologist, you might get a kick out of it. I’m firmly in the ‘oh, it’s a hole in the ground’ category. Yes it’s impressive, in its own way but it just didn’t do it for me.

I have trouble dealing with time in such great numbers. Anything BC is beyond my limited imagination. Fifty thousand years ago is way too far back to have any impact on my life, at all. It’s a little like temperature. Anything over 25 degrees Celsius is hot. Anyone over 5.10 is tall. My sense of scale leaves a lot to be desired.

IMG_6001 (800x600) (800x600)Until I got to thinking what would happen if some similar piece of stuff hit the Earth tomorrow. What devastation would result from a collision that had the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT? Is there any part of the world so remote that the damage to human lives wouldn’t be off the charts? And would we see it coming? Or would it be all over before we knew what had hit us?

The mind boggles. Science is boggling. And for the 30 minutes of ‘what ifs’ that ensued, coupled with a repeated resolve to leave nothing unsaid in this lift lest a little piece of rock is already hurtling on its way,  it was worth the detour.

2013 Grateful 25

Bleak. Barren. Beautiful. It’s hard to describe the scenery in New Mexico, especially as you drive towards the Arizona border and the competing beauty of the neighbouring state encroaches. Mile after mile of hills and canyons that should be alive with cowboys and Indians and homesteaders yet when we passed a ‘For Sale’ sign,we were left wondering what in God’s name anyone would do for a living out here.

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But people live here, in this heat, in this desert, and somehow manage to survive. It beggars belief. I wouldn’t last a week. Not even if James Garner, in his heyday, was the one issuing the invitation to come hither. Nor even Sam Waterston as he is right now. I can’t for the life of me imagine living a life so remote. Alaska was different. Alaska was cold.

IMG_5976 (800x598)And yet, far from the sameness of Nebraska, around every corner there’s a new palate of colour and a new something to marvel at. And marvelling done, my mind inevitably went back to wondering why people chose to live here? Or perhaps, the better question might be why they’ve chosen not to leave?

IMG_5988 (800x600)I used to think that choosing where I lived was a given – a choice that was a divine right. But I’ve come to realise that I’m one of the fortunate ones that get to make that choice, unbridled by family ties, career ambitions, or financial constraints. That’s not to say that had I all the money in the world, I wouldn’t up sticks and head for the west coast of Ireland in a heartbeat. But usually when I move, I have a pull factor that is as great as the push factor. Driving these barren miles through the New Mexico desert and crossing over into Arizona, I had plenty of time to think about where next. And you know, while the push grows stronger with each political development in Hungary, the pull is staying remarkably silent.

IMG_5992 (800x584)Our concept of home varies. For some it’s transient, merely an address. For others it’s a gallery of collected treasures. For more it’s about people. For me, it’s a state of mind. Eight states into our eleven-state trip, I couldn’t help but marvel at the diversity of the U S of A: its scenery, its people, and its frames of mind. Heat aside, the reminder just how much control I have over my life, and where I go, and what I do, was worth every bead of sweat. And for this opportunity to reflect, I’m truly grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 51

Earlier this week, I sent out an e-mail to my North American friends, those living within the USA and those living without. I included a link to American author Jake Lamar’s video on why he’s not disappointed with President Obama. I was quite taken with it as a piece of rhetoric, even if his eye contact leaves a lot to be desired. It’s also just a tad on the lengthy side. Semantically, it was pleasing, convincing, and passionate. But I wanted to know about the content. And, as I’m not in a position to judge, not living in the States myself, and being a trifle more concerned about what’s been going on here of late, I asked my friends, each of whom I trust and whose opinion I value, to comment.

Predictably, some really liked it, thought it made sense. They voted for Obama and will vote for him again. Others had mixed feelings – Lamar got some issues right, and others wrong – they’d voted for Obama and would consider voting for him again but their vote isn’t in the bag. And then there were those who didn’t vote for him and won’t vote for him and think he’s the worst thing ever to happen to America.

The whys and the wherefores are neither here not there. I don’t intend this to be a discussion on whether Obama is the man or not. What I’m grateful for is that I have a diversity of friends who are educated, passionate, and up to date with what’s going on in their world. They shared their opinions and experiences with me, pointed me in new directions (e.g. what’s happening with SB1070 in Arizona;  and is it really 1963 in America again), and gave valid arguments for their reasoning.

The net result is that I now know more than I did on Monday and am a lot clearer about what I’d do were I in the USA and voting. Consensus is not important. I don’t have to agree with my friends for them to be my friends. In being able to challenge their opinions and likewise to have to stand beside my own, is a very valuable exercise. Diversity is key… diversity of opinion, of taste, of reasoning. Surrounding ourselves by like-minded people while wallowing in the same type of information will simply serve to narrow our perspectives and make us more insular.

So, at the end of this, the second week of 2012, I am truly grateful for my friends and their continuous edification; for opening new doors and beckoning me through.