Revelations and lessons learnt. Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA 1979

I first posted this article back in July 2007 but since I used to get so few visitors to my blog back then, I don’t think many people read it; so here it is again.

Back in the middle of summer in 1979, at the age of 23, I had some time off from my job as a laser light show operator in the carnival, so I visited the Grand Canyon by myself.

I literally had my breath taken away, when I first saw the Grand Canyon.  As I stood at Bright Angel point and looked over the edge, I was so awestruck that I could hardly breathe.  I was also overcome by a feeling that I would be sucked into the chasm, and I had to push myself from the barrier and turn my head away from the vista, just so I could breathe and stop myself from fainting. I always thought such things were the stuff of purple prose, and never in my wildest dreams did I think, that one could have their breath taken away by natural beauty.  I was gobsmacked.

When I got my breath back I turned around and drank in the view for at least an hour.  It was my intention to hike to the bottom of the canyon the next day, so I went to the National Parks office to put myself on the permit list, only to be told that I would have to wait three days, because only 75 people are allowed to stay in the canyon overnight to preserve the fragile desert environment.  I had a week off from work, so I didn’t mind that much.  I just was a bit concerned about how I was going to spend my time, in the interim.

Back in those days I used to think that sleeping on camping mats was for softies, and I also thought that staying at hotels was a total waste of money.  So I used to just camp out in the bush in my sleeping bag without a tent or mat and that’s just what I did at the Grand Canyon.  In the morning I would just pack up all my stuff, put it into my backpack and leave it with the concierge at the Bright Angel Lodge for a small fee.

As I waited the three days for my hiking permit, I sat at the cliff edge and boggled on what I saw. 

 While I was staring into the chasm for hours on end, I couldn’t help but think about how much time had passed as the multitude of geological strata had built up.  The bottom layers of the Grand Canyon were so much older than the beginning of life on Earth.  I found myself thinking about entropy, while contemplating the erosion.  It seemed to me that solidity was a manifestation of time and given enough time, everything was basically liquid as entropy caused matter to succumb to gravity and flow to the lowest point.

As I had this revelation I reached out my hand to get the attention of whoever was next to me and tell them about what I’d thought.  But I was alone, and as my arm swung through the vacant air, I realised that there was no one there.  I felt bereft.  It occurred to me that all my life, up until that moment, I had never really felt lonely, in the sense of needing to have the company of other people for company’s sake.  The reason why I felt bereft was because I had wanted to share the moment and my thoughts with someone who mattered to me.  It came to me in a flash that this was the first time in my life I realised why people formed relationships for other reasons besides money or amusement.  Up until that point I thought that couples were in relationships just because they found each other attractive and wanted to have sex with each other rather than share their lives.  No wonder I wasn’t in any long-term relationship at that time. I was too young anyway.

The three days eventually passed and I got my permit to hike to the bottom of the canyon, and stay overnight at Phantom Ranch.  At the beginning of the hike I met two other travellers, and we hiked down to the bottom and stayed at Phantom Ranch overnight.

myself with two other travelers

The next morning we left fairly early and started on the long hike back up out of the canyon.  We left early, because in the morning, it was still a bit cool and at the bottom of the canyon temperatures can get up to about 50°C (about 120°F) as the day wears on.  At the same time that we left, a little old lady from Austria, who was about 70 years old, also set off. 

Being a couple of young guys, we tore off up the track, until the going got steep, and we had to stop and rest at frequent intervals.  As we were standing around in the shade getting back our breath, the little old lady from Austria would catch up to us and we would take off again.  This tortoise and hare race happened about 4 or 5 times, until the little old lady said to us “boys, boys, boys, you’re doing it all wrong!” Then she said to us, “ walk with me and I’ll show you how to walk up steep hills”.  So off we started again, and before we knew it, we almost left her in the dust again, but as we noticed we were leaving her behind we slowed down, until she caught up with us again.  Our Austrian hiking coach explained to us that if we walked in very slowly we wouldn’t get tired.  So for the rest of the day we walked with her at her slow pace.  Sure enough, we didn’t take a break for the rest of the day and made it up to the top without a stop. 

Jeans were a bad choice to hike in

Thanks to what that little old lady from Austria taught me on that day, I have been able to enjoy walking up long steep hills without being constantly out of breath.

Red Mesa, Arizona, USA. 2005

The south western states of the U.S. is one of my favourite areas in the world. There’s something about the wide open spaces and big skies there, that I can’t put words to, that resonates so deeply within me. It’s not a landscape that provides an easy living to people born there, let alone someone like me who is genetically more suited to cooler and wetter places and for that reason it puzzles me that I’m so attracted to it.

My attraction to such landscapes reminds me of some dialogue from the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia”. Feisal says to Lawrence;

“I think you are another of these desert-loving English.
No Arab loves the desert.
We love water and green trees, there is nothing in the desert.
No man needs nothing.”

The triumph of the philistines. Seven Hills, NSW Australia. 2009

As I was filling my car up with petrol at the end of the day on Friday, I looked up and saw one of the most intensely coloured rainbows that I’ve ever seen in all my life. Then it occurred to me that the Mc Donald’s sign was in the way and it instantly angered me. 

A quote of Ogden Nash came to my mind.

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.

In this economically rational capitalist world I live in, there seems to be no place for the naturally beautiful. Big garish plastic signs have taken the place of natural vistas. Even something as magical as a rainbow is lost in the ubiquitous visual cacophony imposed on us by philistine corporations. I just hate the idea (and the people who spread such ideas) that nothing should exist in society unless it makes money. A pox on Ayn Rand and people like her!

Whatever happened to the idea of towns and cities being beautiful places to live?

What is it with the people who decorate their homes with advertising materials from a bygone era? Why is it so “collectable”? It was visual pollution back then and it’s just old crap now! When we have so many people who are completely brain-washed by the advertising industry, what hope is there for nature and beauty? As Joseph de Maistre once said, “Every country has the government it deserves“; and I suspect that’s why we, as a society don’t legislate against such ugliness.

Playing around with light painting. Sawpit Creek, NSW, Australia. 2008

Last year my wife, Engogirl and I went down to the snow country to do some camping and skiing. We camped at Sawpit Creek and since there wasn’t all that much to do at night we played around with some light painting.

Engogirl gets painted with light

The picture was taken at 1600 ISO at f5.6 for 30 seconds. During the exposure I “painted” in the trees and my wife with a small AA torch (that’s a “flashlight” to you Americans out there). I had Engogirl move her arms to give the shot a little more interest.

What you looking at? Bangkok, Thailand. 2007

Many people travel to see foreign places and people. Which of course means that foreign people get to see them and therefore the observer becomes the observed.

On a side note, it was instructional to be in a country that didn’t use Roman script on road signs (or just about anywhere else). The situation helped me understand what it’s like to be completely illiterate. I’ve been to plenty of places that don’t speak English but they tended to use Roman script (even in places like Japan and Morocco) so I still found it easy to get around using maps. What wake up call I got in Bangkok, when I was trying to use a map that was in English to give a address to a Thai cab driver by pointing to the map and he couldn’t read Roman script and I couldn’t make sense of his map in Thai script. From that situation onward, I’d ask hotel staff to write out my destinations in Thai script.

So you think you’re good at puzzles eh? Hanoi, Vietnam 2007

Every time I looked up in Hanoi at the power lines, I’d find myself thinking about what kind of mind it would take to sort out any problems that came up in them.

The product of slack arses

I know it only took a very slack inconsiderate mind to make such a mess. Which of course means that who ever came afterwards to fix anything in such a rat’s nest, had the mental equivalent of a labour of Hercules. I can imagine the poor guy who has to sort through the chaos of wires would feel like Sisyphus as he went through his life cleaning up after people who have either no pride in their work or just no pride at all.

Macadamia nut tart

Sorry for not posting much stuff lately. I’ve been pretty busy with real life and the socializing that it involves. Yesterday I had some friends over for a churrasco (Brazilian barbeque) and I made a macadamia nut tart for dessert.

Macadamia nut tart

 So in the hope that you will forgive me for my tardiness, here’s the recipe.

 Ingredients

Pastry

225gr (1 and half cups) of plain flour
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
125gr (1/4lb) unsalted butter
2 egg yolks

Filling

5 egg yolks
200gr (7oz) caster sugar
2 tablespoons of corn flour or you can use custard powder
600ml (2 and a half cups) of light sour cream (it has half the fat of normal sour cream and there is enough fat in this thing)
2 teaspoons of vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
200gr (7oz) of macadamia nuts. Toasted and roughly crushed.

Method

Pastry

Combine the flour, sugar, and butter in a food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add one egg yolk and process until it turns into a ball of dough. Roll out in so it will fill the bottom and side of a 25cm (about 9 and a half inches) greased flan tin.  Line in pastry dough with baking paper and fill with weight (like rice or dried beans) and blind bake for about 30 minutes at 200C (390F).  When the pastry is cooked, take out the weight and paper and brush the pastry with the other egg yolk  and bake for another 5 minutes (this water proofs the pastry and stops it getting soggy when the filling is put in).

Filling

Heat the sour cream until hot but not boiling. In the meantime mix up the egg yolks and corn flour with the sugar in a bowl. Pour the hot sour cream over the egg yolk mixture and when it is combined return it the saucepan and heat over low heat, continually stirring until it thickens. Take care that you don’t boil the mixture.  Just before you pour the filling out, mix in the vanilla paste.

Place half the nuts in the pastry and pour the filling over them. Sprinkle the rest of the nuts over the top of the filling. Chill the tart in the fridge and serve cold. The tart goes well with frozen yoghurt and a berry coulis (I made blueberry one yesterday).