Medium/Processes, in sequence: Traditional photography; Liquid Light on Beach Pebbles; Digital Photography
“At what hour do they fill the Canyon—in the morning?
“Fill it with what?”
“With water. What time do they fill it with water?”
“Uh, no one fills the Canyon with water. That’s not possible.”
“Is there a problem today? We’ve come a very long way to see the Grand Canyon, and it would be a shame not to see it filled up.”
“Listen. There’s a river down there. The Colorado River. If you go over to that viewer—see? That’s the one, right there—it’s focused on the river at the bottom of the Canyon, about a mile more or less straight down. From up here it looks like a silver rivulet, like you see on the beach. That’s the only water in here, except when it rains. And it doesn’t do that much. No other water. No water. Understand?”
“No. Once a day they fill it with water, to clean it out and to make the hole deeper. Everyone knows when they drain it the water rushes down the drain and takes some of the earth with it. That’s called erosion. Everyone knows that.”
“Yes. But eros…”
“So you know the Canyon was made by erosion?”
“The Grand Canyon was created by erosion. Yes. That’s true. But it took six million years for the river to do it.”
“That’s why they’re doing it faster now, by flooding it. ”
“They’re not flooding it! And who the hell is ‘they,’ anyway?
“The people who flood it. I don’t know, sir. The rangers, maybe?”
“No, not the rangers. No one floods the Canyon. Get it? It’s not possible.
“We put a man on the moon. Nothing is impossible.”
“Are you telling me that the National Park Service pours 4.17 cubic trillion meters of water into this Canyon once a day, and then drains it? Where’s it go?”
“I imagine they recycle it to use again. Like in a fishtank.”
“And what happens to the animals and people in the Canyon when it floods?”
“They come out first, of course. It would be criminal to drown them.”
“OK. Have it your way: they flood the Canyon. What’s the point?”
“If you wash away enough dirt you get to the beginning. I thought everyone knew that.”
“Altitude,” 1:30 pm, La Paz
“Artesanias! Alpaca scarves-shawls-sweaters-gloves-hats! Best prices in La Paz! Look, lady! Lady, look here! Pretty lady—look! I have the best alpaca prices in town!”
Alright, don’t look. Your eyes show you hear but they don’t look. Your friend, she looks but she doesn’t see. She looks with the eyes of a dead dog. I have as much right to make a living in this birdcage of a bus station as you do to walk through it ignoring me. Perras.
Would you ignore me if you knew what I had in my pocket? No, lady, I don’t mean that—get your mind out of the gutter, lady. I mean these. You ever see anything so beautiful? I didn’t think so.
Four beach pebbles. I’ve had them since I was a kid. I can tell each one without looking. They have different feels, different temperatures. You think that’s crazy? It’s not. The brown one is warmer than the green one, always warmer. And the grey one is colder than them both. It’s up to you not to believe.
I’m not a simple man, lady. You think I care for baubles? I’m a businessman who cares for value. You know what each of these pebbles means? It means 3650 meters—to you that’s 11,975 feet. I give it to you that it sounds better in feet. That’s where sea level is: 11,975 feet straight down. Together that makes 47,900 feet—I’ve done the math. And each foot makes me a bigger man, you know? Each foot down to the sea is like a flight in space. Around here it’s like speaking Russian or riding a giraffe or life eternal. It’s like eating a star.
Without these pebbles, lady, I wouldn’t be a married man or a father. I wouldn’t drink beer on Saturday or have the priest bring communion to me on Sunday. You know? These pebbles have more weight in thin air, but I don’t expect you to understand.
Catch your bus, lady. The 1:30 to Santa Cruz is leaving. You’ll pay more for alpaca there.
“Pipaluk Considers Quitting,” 3:30 pm, Tasiilaq
“There aren’t many places in this world you can get cut on a towel.”
“Excuse?” Pipaluk’s English isn’t so great, and neither is the guest’s.
“Only in Greenland can you get cut on a towel. See?” He points to a red welt along his jaw that Pipaluk had thought was a birthmark.
“Damn thing was frozen stiff on the clothing-line. I thought I’d duck under it because, you know, cloth is…cloth. Here it’s like something fossilized, yeah?”
Pipaluk murmurs noises that sound like agreement and waits for her tip. Housekeeping has screwed up again and sent her to change over a room that’s still occupied. Only this time the guy is just leaving.
She glances past him to obvious places in the room: dresser corner, desk corner, back again. There aren’t any other options. She doesn’t shift her weight from the doorway.
He catches her glance and understands, pulls a few bills from his pocket.
Enough for a smoke, she thinks. After work she walks down to the harbor, feeling the steepness of the hill in the balls of her feet, and buys the cheap pack so she’ll get some change. Pipaluk ducks around a corner to light up, out of the wind, and there’s the guy from the hotel again. A word enters her mind in English: shit.
“Waiting for the helicopter,” he says cheerfully, as if his presence 65 miles south of the Arctic Circle requires explanation. He gestures toward her cigarette. “There are 224 places in the world where those are more expensive, and 725 where they’re less. Keep that up, you should move.”
She says nothing, but her brows draw closer together.
“I’m an economist,” he adds, explaining again.
Later that day, midafternoon, Pipaluk watches an unseen, interior heat source transform her last white cancer stick into ash. Heat changes everything, she thinks. And she wonders if in the 226th most expensive place on earth to buy cigarettes, wherever that might be, she’d take a deep breath, exhale, and find the ash as beautiful and delicate as a web of snowflakes.
“You Can Call a Moment Anything ,” 4:30 pm, Aberystwyth
Especially at the sea. When you’re where water meets sky, and the light’s disappearing, it’s hard to tell things apart. Water becomes air and air becomes earth.
A few months ago I was standing here on the promenade watching the waves. I’d just checked my watch and it was 4:28—you weren’t late yet—when a young man ran past. I watched him. A young woman was waiting, farther down the promenade. They met and embraced just like in the pictures, they were so happy to see each other. Then they walked quickly to the end of the promenade and across the beach. Then out into the waves.
They wore all their clothes into the water. But that wasn’t the strange thing. The young man turned at the sea’s edge and shouted, “Yn yr eiliad!”
In a second.
I wondered if he thought I was waiting for them. I don’t know why—I don’t even speak Welsh. All the Welsh I know I’ve learned from you. But he couldn’t have been calling to anyone else, I was the only one there.
I must’ve blinked or looked away, because I don’t remember seeing them vanish. But I do recall that moment of surprise when they weren’t there anymore. Or they were, but they’d become the sea and sky. That’s probably more like it.
When they sent the paper work from Arizona it listed your time of death as 9:30:01 am. How very specific, I thought—how very American, to balance loss with an extra second of data.
Nine-thirty. I counted ahead: We’d call that four-thirty here.
Did I mention the young couple’s feet never touched the ground? They hovered about six inches off the pavement, and when they stopped at the sea’s edge, their toes pointed straight down, the way people’s feet do in medieval effigies.
I’ve waited for the couple most days since. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t. Whenever they do, he always promises me, “in a second.” I don’t know if he’s lying or just gullible.