I had some responsibilities at the Canyon. It wasn't a scott-free deal, but it was a pretty sweet one. The AIR program gave me an astonishing place to live for 3 weeks. I was about as far from the sheer drop of the South Rim as a pitcher is from home plate. And I was on the second floor, with access to a rooftop deck (really just the flat rooftop of Verkamp's Visitors Center porch), so I could overlook the earth's innards. I loved it when tourists would pose in front of the Canyon, which meant they'd be facing Verkamp's, and muse to the wind, "How'd that woman get up there?"
In return for all this I provided the AIR program with 3 public services. I gave the 8th graders at the Grand Canyon School a creative writing lesson; I gave a talk on how petrographs came to be; and most memorably, I judged a children's art contest.
The class went pretty well. Halfway through I realized I'd forgotten to wear a bra in front of a group of 8th graders, and lost my concentration. To make up for it I became even more energetic than usual, until a girl sitting cross-legged at my feet asked me to stop waving my arms around. "Whenever you do that," she said, "the ashes fly up in the fireplace behind you and rain down on our heads."
Sure enough, the kids were covered in ash.
I gave the class the sentence, "I was making pancakes when the monster came, and..." The assignment was to complete it.
One kid said, "...cut eye, mouth, and nose holes out of the pancakes and wore them as a mask." But this was my favorite: "...said, "Hi honey, what's for breakfast?"
Judging the art show sounded like fun, but proved to be a real conscience-tickler. How do you choose between a kindergardener's masterwork and a high school student's pretty good assignment? Technique or inspiration? A young woman named Celina--my co-judge--and I nearly pulled out our hair.