Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, January 10, 2008

That Sinking Feeling

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune- without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

-Emily Dickinson

It has been two years, and I have a mighty task to grasp that it has been so long, since Spouse, Mater and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon during one of her visits to see us. It pains me to even think of how exultant we all were as we stood on the rim gazing out at a humbling vastness, feeling like mere little humans on a planet we scarcely understood. The Grand Canyon will do that: shake a person to the core despite all the photographs one might have viewed or all the tales heard. It cannot be described, only seen and experienced.
To be there was awe-inspiring, hair-raising, staggering.
The entire trip had been magnificent. Just the previous evening we had attended an IMAX film about the Grand Canyon; a semi-fictionalised account of some men canoeing their way into history and scrambling over rocks to explore that incredible world.
One scene in particular stands out: a rugged pioneer standing on some jagged stone as a gigantic cat leaps from nowhere and prepares to savage him. The man was able to fire his gun with moments to spare; but when the cat pounced, my dear Mater forgot it was a film and she screamed shrilly for the sake of that poor man. She was the only one to scream and it was of course perfectly noticeable. I considered exiting discreetly but bore the shame with valour.
I like to recall that scene with pleasure because the following day it all turned upside down and my embarrassment was a drop in the ocean. We were cruising slowly through the park, stopping our car at all points beautiful which of course was every few feet. At some point toward the end, we paused for one last or second last longing look- Spouse and I through the car windows and Mater at the edge in the biting fresh air. We were ready to exit soon and we had seen what we had travelled for.
We drove for another twenty minutes after that scenic point. I was in the back seat, Spouse was driving, Mater was taking it all in. And then she muttered something under her breath, reached out her hand and clutched somebody's knee with a frightening fierceness. It is peculiar that I cannot now recall whose knee, yet I can still today see her expression vividly.
"My bag," she gasped, her face the very picture of horror. Forget mountain lions leaping on unsuspecting old men: she looked quite ill. Her eyes searched frantically around the car before she could utter another word. Her bag had been left on the ground at our last vista point, some half an hour and endless winding roads behind us. Which vista point? We did not know. There were so many and suddenly we were furious at the Grand Canyon for being so sweeping and far-reaching.
As we circled back and drove while trying to retrace our journey, the issue became a grave one. We found out what her bag contained and our hearts just broke.
Passport. Medicine. Glasses. Camera. Video Camera. Cigarettes. Airline tickets back to Ireland. 600 dollars in cash. Gifts. Other precious things that were given less priority due to the monetary and mental value of the initial items.
We hurried as quickly as we could. My Spouse drove so carefully and logically asked questions about where it might have been but in the end it was hopeless: hardly twenty minutes had passed but the bag was already gone by the time we reached the fateful spot.
It was the most dreadful six or seven hours we could imagine. The park rangers were very kind and assured her they would do their best but it was a blow of the worst sort.
We were due to fly back to Texas the following day and Mater had no passport to do so. That needed to be dealt with but leaving the park was so hard to do for we felt that we were abandoning all chance of finding the precious bag. It was silly, really: we thought that staying in the park would keep us closer to it.
Eventually we had to go. We did sort out the flight issue and got back to Texas after explaining the situation to the airline staff. That was a domestic flight, however. We were not sure how an international flight would work with the same circumstances, assuming that her passport and airline tickets would not be found. Days later Mater received a telephone call from the Grand Canyon rangers to say that somebody had found and handed in the bag. We asked them to post it to the house in Texas; there was, mercifully, ample time before her flight home. We fearfully tore through the bag which was bumped, dusty and bruised and had been on such an adventure it could not tell us about.
Passport. Medicine. Glasses. Camera. Video Camera. Cigarettes. Airline tickets back to Ireland. Gifts.
Mater explored every pocket for the money but the 600 dollars in cash had vanished. It was creepy, it was dirty and it was the worst of human nature. The rotten scoundrels carefully extracted the money and left everything else untouched, which I imagine we were supposed to be grateful for. We were of course glad for what was returned to us but when it is taken from you wrongly that gladness is a bitter pill.
Mater went back home as planned and we got on with our lives. She never wanted to use that bag again, she insisted, and instead gave it to me. Every few months, I pull the bag out and use it for a brief period. Whenever I do this, I examine the pockets and every inch of that bag. Just in case.
Of course I have not found the money. Logic says that I never will. But I search all the same, because some part of me cannot comprehend. Perhaps that is to say that I possess hope. I would rather think we had not looked properly, and emerge looking foolish for my naive nature, than to think such ill of human beings. I will probably search for as long as I own the bag because it helps to go through the pockets for the thousandth time and have a speck of expectation and a grain of hope.


Beth said...

I screamed at the same part of that IMAX movie and was there with Molly who was 15 at the time and MORTIFIED!!! She hardly spoke to me for the rest of the day.

Beth said...

This is really sad--kind of a moment I describe as "then the music stopped" probably because I always have a sound track going in my mind that I don't pay that much attention to until something bad happens and there is silence. Did you ever make it to the rim and the big view point?

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

I can't believe it! The same film, same part! I can understand poor Molly's anguish ;) But in fairness to you and to Mater, it was a startling moment. And of course IMAX is, by its very nature, very realistic...
We were almost finished touring the Canyon; we did get to the rim and all the popular spots.
We were on our way out, with maybe one more random stop ahead of us. My blood still runs cold when I think of that moment... 'the music stopped' is a perfect way to describe it.

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