When I joined the National Park Service at Grand Canyon I was naïve. I fully expected a diverse, underfunded workforce with a “can do” attitude like I’d experienced working for Peace Corps.
However, as with work in any large bureaucracy, what I really experienced were hours of mind-numbing data entry, turf battles and “good old boy” clubs, even some hazing. Some days it can be frustrating, even demoralizing.
But every time I spend time actually in Grand Canyon, there is a renewal. Typically it takes about a day into a multi-day backpacking trip or day three of a river patrol to forget about the bureaucratic garbage, and leave it behind on the canyon rim.
Something about connecting to the true resource helps put everything into perspective and reminds me that that office junk doesn’t matter. I’m sure it’s the combination of clean air, intense physical exertion and mind-bogglingly beautiful scenery that cleans out my central nervous system.
This last river patrol over Easter, after ten years at Grand Canyon, I think will be my last. This time it took me six days to “leave it all behind.” This time I wasn’t so focused on interacting with the public, or taking data points, or drafting reports.
I was present. . . in Horn Rapid and Blacktail Canyon and Kanab Creek. I was present at Whispering Falls and Olo campsite. I just wanted to see, smell, feel, hear, experience Grand Canyon.
The last day of the patrol, we rowed the last five miles in silence. No one said a word. The sounds instead came from the water dripping from the oars, the canyon wren’s down-scale song. The sights came from the black-as-night schist, the granite, the sun’s reflection on the water. The smells came from the wetness, the creosote, the sage.
And then I was spoken to. Not in my ears. In my chest. The birds, the sun, the rocks, and thus their Creator, let me know. I felt gratitude as present and real as the canyon walls. I was being thanked for a job well done. Somehow this place knew that I am a very ephemeral being and appreciated the fact that I have committed so much of my life to its protection. It was the most profound thank you gift I had ever received. And then the sound of the water and the wren was joined by the sound of my tears.
I realized that I’m not working for the system, not for the office. Whom I am really working for, is grateful.
Although I would never compare myself to Jesus, I do feel as though I was given a task, completed it to my best ability, and was acknowledged. Matthew 12:18 – “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased.”
— Elysha Iversen, Easter, 2014
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