I am writing this note from a hotel room in Philadelphia, the night before my grandmother's funeral.
She was 90 years old and we had been anticipating her death. The news finally came the day after I returned home from a river trip through the Canyon of Lodore in Northwestern Colorado. Over five days and 50 miles, four friends and I had lived out of our boats along the Green River, camping each night amid junipers and large, unidentifiable animal tracks.
"I could do this forever," I had thought.
Alas, the river's nature is to flow. And before I could shake the desert sand from my overnight bag, I was on an airplane to Philadelphia to be with my family.
"It goes so fast," my mother said when she picked me up at the airport. "When you're older, the years pass with little effort."
But time had seemed boundless in the canyon. There, all the ages were on display like an open casket, surreal and absolute at once. The red walls, a quarter mile high, a reflection of ancient seas. The golden eagles and herds of elk, immortalized in rock paintings by prehistoric people.
At camp, we cracked beers and devised games of bocce, substituting plastic balls with smooth rocks imprinted with seashells. In the frosty mornings, we would climb back into our boats and wait for the sun to crack the canyon rim. And when it finally did, life appeared so vast that we had to squint at its brilliance.
Then the river would bend. The sun would slide behind a wall and cast a shadow so black it would appear, for a moment, we were floating toward nothingness. Light to dark in an instant.
"Someday you'll see," my mother said as we drove to the hotel.
Back in the canyon, the stark contrast of that shadow had caused me to pull my paddle from the water — a brief delay to the inevitable, for the current would carry me forward regardless.
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