birthday cake and humble pie

Some days I like to leave my camera behind, so I can look at things without feeling the responsibility to record it all. It's a different kind of seeing when I know it's only for that moment. But yesterday we came across a free photography workshop offered by Canon, and that was just too cool to pass up. We walked the Canyon rim with our young instructor, Chuck, and our fabulous borrowed Canon cameras. I learned a lot, I think. Maybe some things I can use with my own, more humble Sony. I tested my new skills later in the afternoon, as we took the shuttle all the way to Hermit's Rest for some different views without too much hiking. My right ankle is kind of tweaked. Over-did it the first two days...

This is my favorite picture of the day, although I shouldn't have been able to take it. Much of the wildlife here isn't all that wild anymore. Too many people feed the animals despite large signs prominently reminding us not to, and even threatening fines and prosecution. People are stupid sometimes. They'd rather feed the squirrels so they can get cute pictures to take home. This raven was sitting on a branch just over Rick's shoulder. He was hoping for a handout of course, and was completely unafraid of the dozens of people milling around. We didn't share our peanut butter sandwiches with him, and I think he somehow respected that.

Back at the village, we stopped to rest on the wall, and do some meditative canyon gazing. It's important to take all the time you can get there, to just stare off into the hugeness of it all. It's impossible to ever finish seeing the Canyon. It changes with ever moment. There's always something new to notice. I fancy myself to be something of an amateur condor expert, and was watching for the big birds, hoping to share them with passersby who might otherwise miss them, or think they were eagles, or worse, think turkey vultures were condors. After a while, I spotted what I thought were three California Condors in a shady tree, far below the canyon rim. I watched them with binoculars for a long time, and found two more there with them. Giant black birds with red heads. It was so exciting to be seeing what nobody else had spotted yet. Rick and I took turns spying on them, hoping they'd fly so we could see their markings and numbered tags. Finally, I pointed them out to a woman from Pennsylvania, who was traveling with her teenaged kids. It was the best gift I could give to anyone, showing them the condors. Most people will never see them, since there are so few in the world - just over 300 now, back from a low world population of only 22 birds in the 1980's. I think it's just wrong for someone to visit the Grand Canyon and not see a condor.

A little later, a parks service guy with a spotting scope came by and asked what we were looking at. When I proudly told him we were looking at condors, he quickly put me in my place, telling me those were actually turkey vultures, that that was their favorite tree to roost in, and that radio signals had only picked up two condors in the area that afternoon, not five. As he said this, condor number 87 flew below us, landing in a dead tree. As thrilled as I was to see the condor, I was totally humiliated and deflated to learn that I'd mistaken turkey vultures for condors. It was a useful smack down, but a painful one that had me in a funk for the rest of the evening. How horrible to become just another stupid tourist story for that Parks Guy to tell over the years... the smarty-pants woman out there spreading misinformation, all haughty and sure of herself...

Today is my birthday. At the awkward age of 52, I only know that I don't know anything. Go ahead, ask me something. I'll tell you I don't know. How can we ever know anything? Got me. I don't know that either. I think today we'll load up the dogs and drive to the lookout tower at the east end of this side of the canyon. I think it's east. I don't know for sure. It's another beautiful clear day, a most wonderful birthday gift. Maybe we'll go out for dinner tonight. Maybe we'll cook here. Maybe there will be some birthday cake at some point. I don't know. I do hope I don't have to eat any more humble pie... The best way to avoid that not-so-tasty dish is to just keep my mouth shut. I think it's going to be a quiet birthday, followed by more quiet days. I'm just going to listen and try to pay attention. At 52 I'm only a tiny baby compared to this canyon. I have much more to learn than to teach.


  1. I'm glad you brought your camera with you - the photos are wonderful!

    Happy birthday!! :)

  2. Have a very happy birthday my gypsy friend :).


  3. A big bird is a big bird. Not a big deal!

    My Mother and I were at Old Faithful many years ago and there were lots of folks just waiting for the big blast. All of a sudden my Mother said outloud, "Well, wasn't that impressive!" (it haden't spewed forth yet) People believed they had seen something, and walked away.

    I don't know the moral of this story, only NO WORRIES, HAPPY BIRTHDAY and eat a big piece of that cake for me too! My B-day was 7/3.

  4. Happy Birthday Kim. Just remember, if we know it all, we might be dead!

  5. Happy Birthday. I share yourpassion for the Colorado Plateau. I feel a tremendous peace and presence of the great mother there. I am, however, writing from Disneyland. Is there a place less spiritual than this? I do love the bonding time with Aidan. Priceless...


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