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jeffmores: White Tank Mountains, Ford Canyon Trail, Arizona, USA - 2004-01-23


A seamless world, lit by dirt paths and stationary healers - the dust of drum beats opening pores - each breath an entrance to the opposite side of my eyes - flutes out of the canopy of blue - reverence - I am everywhere - here is there - there is here - an echoing cathedral - breeze in the dust of the setting sun - sunlit tapestries following the infinite shadow - breathing.
As we packed our tent, smothered our morning campfire and picked up our packs to start back toward the Ford Canyon trailhead, it was obvious the word "breathing" had taken on a new significance. Twenty-four hours prior, we headed into the depths of White Tank Mountains Regional Park with uncontrollable energy. And, within an hour, life was captured in the magic of a single breath.
Over the past couple of years, I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to explore several of the outdoor wonders of the United States. I've explored Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, enjoyed the simplicity of Wyoming and the Badlands of South Dakota. Last summer, I traveled east through 12 states and Ontario, Canada, admiring Midwestern prairies, Niagara Falls and the amazingly diverse world of the Adirondak Mountains in upstate New York, one of this country's best-kept secrets. We explored the beaches of Cape Cod and viewed the seemingly infinite Atlantic Ocean from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Mount Desert Island's Acadia National Park on the easternmost tip of Maine. All the while, I've been carrying a pen and paper with me, pausing every so often to record the poetry of these wonderful places.
If there's one thing I've learned from these travels, it's that there's something about the raw power of the earth that allows the human mind to slip into a more passive role. I've become aware of that power through the writing I've done during these travels, as traditional structure has given way to experience. Periods have somehow given way to spontaneity. Words just come out without hesitation and there's an indescribable reverence for how they land on paper. They're not even really words, so much as one entire composition existing within the infinite breath of everything.
I never understood this better than after 24 hours on the Ford Canyon Trail in White Tank Mountains Regional Park in Maricopa County, about an hour northwest of Phoenix. I had hiked a couple miles of the trail with my best friend on my first visit to Arizona in November of 2002, and we immediately started planning an overnight camping trip. Months passed, the calendar rolled past 2003 and, finally, in January of 2004, we had our hiking boots on, packs loaded and headed out.
There's something about the desert that commands reverence. Someone such as I who did not grow up in this climate automatically recognizes that. But I assume it's the same for someone who has spent their entire life hiking beneath the towering rock formations, saguaros and sun-fed earth of the Arizona wilderness.
Minutes after starting our hike into the mountains on the Ford Canyon Trail, the magic of the desert and, for me, this trail in particular, was in our bloodstream. I was in absolute awe of the mountains, but not the slightest bit intimidated. The trail is relatively flat for the first mile or two and eventually climbs upward through the canyon, higher into the mountains. We were called to the edge of various rock ledges and shadowy hallows along the way. At about four miles in, there was a rock hanging out over the lowlands that provided a view into what seemed like eternity. And the silence I experienced while standing on that rock, looking over the expanse of saguaros below was deafening. There was absolutely no sound, but it was as if the heavens had opened and began screaming with unimaginable beauty. A fly buzzing around behind us seemed louder than an Air Force jet and my own breath seemed to be amplified 100 times its normal volume.
The silence made for intense meditation and - within a short period - meditation just was. Everything just was. Everything was breathing. The entire canyon was one infinite breath, even the wind. It was as if the spirit of the canyon and everything in it was one, drawing the energy of the earth up through itself and exhaling into the wind. In my veins. In the saguaro cacti. In the mountains, wildlife and paloverde.
With that, the hike became an abstract journey through oneness. All the way back to an amazing display of bleach white rock which, on that day, featured several pools of standing water from a couple of recent rainfalls. There was another ledge that overlooked the entire canyon and beyond. Everything was breathing. As one. Even I. And the breathing joined the silence in its deafening beauty. It was everything just the same as it was nothing.
At our campsite, the breathing continued. Life drawing energy from the earth, as the sun painted the mountains black under the light of a crescent moon. Saguaro silhouettes like soldiers standing in reverence, tasting the night and opening to the coming sun. The howls of coyotes, grunts of javolina and hoots of owls. The echoing calls of birds, soft steps of deer and the wind announcing its presence, then striking a soothing blow.
Everything was breathing.
Afterward, I thought about why the Ford Canyon Trail struck me the way it did? Nothing had happened that I was not already aware of, but for some reason everything just made sense. My body felt no hunger. Time had disappeared. Everything had vanished and, at the same time, appeared. Everything was breathing. I could hear harmony through the silence.
Maybe it was the ancient Hohokam petroglyphs still visible on the stone wall that shielded our campfire from the wind. That certainly intensified my reverence for the land.
It no doubt had something to do with the timing of our trip into the White Tanks, as my mother had just passed away a couple of weeks earlier after a long battle with cancer. I had watched her breathing fade and disappear into a peaceful silence. The woman who had brought me into the world had returned to dust and been reunited with the wind. That certainly instilled in me a deeper awareness of energy and life.
The very location of White Tank Mountains Regional Park even had a significant impact on our experience. From the top of the first hill we climbed before heading deep into the Ford Canyon, we could see a yellow streak of pollution resting horizontally over Phoenix on the horizon to the southeast. We could see the separation between the White Tanks and the mass of humanity. Time had been left behind and we were walking into oneness. Breathing.
Everything was breathing.

The following are a few excerpts from the spontaneous journal I kept while hiking and camping along the Ford Canyon Trail:

Legs dangling over everlasting silence - stillness beneath - distance, a perception of my being - majesty is red in the call of circling hawks - a meditating earth - acceptance - death is soaking in pools of life - green and growing - white and spreading without movement - forever is - staring through the sun.

Silence is awake and I am sleeping - sounds in the breeze become a feeling - hovering low above rocky ground - descending into clouds - backward is forward again and never seen - experiences through the juice of paloverde - step by step - the light divided - I am the eyes above - my breath touching distant saguaros - the rocks beneath me, breathing upward - it is me and I am everything - I tap the sky - breathing - breathing - breathing ...

The Ford Canyon and its solitude - the absence of everything surrounded by infinity - feet drawing in love - whistling magic around corners of stone and native wisdom - turning pages through books with lost hands quietly fading - boots and packs - through the pools and canyon - to the ledge - everything is singing in silence - reverence - looking out - the world is gone - my veins are mountains.

Standing among the silhouettes - soldiers of imperfection - blasted in black - saguaro silence - breathing - slightly bending - walking through a dreamy photograph - waves of black standing in rows - leaving doors for the sky.

A seamless world, lit by dirt paths and stationary healers - the dust of drum beats opening pores - each breath an entrance to the opposite side of my eyes - flutes out of the canopy of blue - reverence - I am everywhere - here is there - there is here - an echoing cathedral - breeze in the dust of the setting sun - sunlit tapestries following the infinite shadow - breathing.

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