Brand building through storytelling

Just another tourist in search of transcendence

Grand Canyon New ResizeI’m not sure what I expected to find at the Grand Canyon. Beauty, certainly, but that’s the wrong word for a chasm so vast and stark, you can fly over it and see no end. Everyone talks about awe, which is just as inadequate. I’ve been awed by the view from the top of the Empire State Building, that jagged, brawny panorama created by human striving. What I felt at the canyon’s south rim, looking down at nearly two billion years of the earth’s exposed history, was a primal, almost shattering awareness of human insignificance.

Japanese tourists took this shot of my husband and me, posed well behind the guard rail like the rule-abiding pair we’ve always been. All around us, bolder types clambered out onto ledges, flashing V-for-victory signs. Their shots, unlike ours, have no backdrop except rocks and sky. If they were my kids, I’d have yanked them back and screamed, “Is that shot worth risking your life for?”

I could have learned the grisly details on the people who have fallen to their deaths here while mugging for cameras, They’re for sale at the gift shop in Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, a 408-page tome that covers floods, dehydration, drowning, murders, suicides, plane crashes…and some 50 falls. It was just the sort of book I’d have devoured at age 10 while working on a school project. I was drawn to lurid topics then, to plagues and suppurating wounds, but now I get enough catastrophe in the news. I don’t read to learn that bad things happen; I want to understand why things happen. So I returned to an disturbingly powerful short story, “Abyss,” by Richard Ford (from his collection A Multitude of Sins).

Like the other stories, “Abyss” deals with adultery and its condequences. This time the illicit lovers are two randy, driven real estate agents who on impulse duck out of a convention and drive to the Grand Canyon. The first time I read this story, I could hardly stand to think about this pair, whose misadventures are propelled as much by greed and resentment as by lust. They’re so appallingly petty, so vapidly intent on satisfying their desires of the moment. Yet Ford makes them larger than themselves, ill-fated stand-ins for the American Dream. Nature, to them, is something to master and sell. It’s also charged with a power they can’t resist.

And so, in search of something they cannot name, they leave the convention for the Grand Canyon. They’ve begun to loathe each other by the time they arrive, but the real revelation to them both is not the mistake they have made. Ford writes, “…there was no way really not to be surprised by it—the whole Grand Canyon just all right there at once, opened out and down and wide in front of you, enormous and bottomless, with a great invisible silence inhabiting it and a column of cool air pushing up out of it like a giant well.”

There’s a camera. There’s a photo. The outing builds to a harrowing conclusion that left me thinking about what it is we really want when we chase after deals and conquests. A good part of the time, it’s transcendence.

Posted by Rona

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