The cavernous heart of Arizona.
My parents and I, mittened and capped and bundled against the Arizona night, our boots crunch-crunching down the lofty and marshmallow-snow-bound switchbacks of the Bright Angel trail, found ourselves in the blazing luminosity of the last few hours of Christmas Eve, filling our eyes with starlight and our lungs with the Ponderosa-fragrant and bitter-cold air of the Colorado plateau.
We reflected upon our sojourn, now a year past, into the coniferous cathedral of the Grant Grove on an equally luminous but moonless evening. In the Sierras, we stood upon the floor of a great temple and looked up towards where the nettle-crowned buttresses were joined to the heavens; here we stood amongst the clouds and looked down a billion years to the very basement of the Earth, we stood upon a winding ribbon of trail that has since time immemorial ferried humans from the alpine heights of the Kaibob Limestone to the cavernous and twisted heart of Arizona, to where the Vishnu Schist cradles the arterial waters of the Colorado.
And snow grows on that trail, in the cold and in the pale yellow moonlight it sprouts from the limestones and sandstones as an icy garden of paperwhites. It grows from the very roots of the Coconino Forest like dust from bookshelves until the baking heat of the Arizona sun returns to water the high desert and to carve the canyon once again, if only by an imperceptible margin.
Then the winds came. They came falling from the slopes of the southern mountains, they came falling from the muffling, white-washing snowstorm downdrafts of a Christmas Future; they came rushing north across the frozen landscape for miles and miles, hissing through the pines like breath through gritted teeth toward the yawning, stony scar. And then, with a cacophonous howl and with biting cold, they slipped from the rim like careless hikers pulling with them the drifting snow.
The dog-star and Betelgeuse exploded beyond the palette-smudge and wind-whipped cotton candy clouds in an azure vault ceiling even Michelangelo could not have dreamt, winking at me from behind bonsai pines caught atop crumbling minarets of sugar sandstone.
We stood for a moment where the trail curved and the topography fell away from our feet in a great bowl and soaked in the utter silence between gales. The silence rang for us with the laughter and the music and the bells of Christmas; but for the stalwart ponderosa clinging to the shifting face of the plateau, it rang only with the wind and the snow, as it has since before there was an Arizona, before there was a Christmas, and indeed, since before there was even man to mark the solstice.
Though there are many Christmas Eves worthy of memory and filled with crackling fires and sleepless nights, anyone should count himself lucky to have one as singularly snowy and silent and splendid as this one past.