Hiking Across Grand Canyon Alone At Night Barefoot


Photo by Thea Gavin

Photo by Thea Gavin

In the very darkness
pin-dot green eyes
flicker. For miles
these spider winks
line the trail's edge
as regular as the moths
being chased by bats
into my forehead
light. What we miss
in the daytime—
tiny lives which wait
for this pitch-
thick covering
that brings breakfast-
all of us in the Canyon
smaller or larger than
something, all of us hungry.

Is it the wrong time of year
for this, wrong time of night,
wrong choice of
footwear, companions?
The sand distorts into
scorpion #7. I swing
my gaze again
toward the low rush
of Bright Angel Creek—
for hours I've heard voices
in its hustle over the rocks.
Whose wide-set colorless
eyes gleam back? Deer?
Mountain lion?
My tingling neck
says "cat" and I belt
out "Jesus Savior Pilot Me,"
as many verses as I
can make up.

But what of the other
eyes and faces my hi-beam
brings to life? Why the smiles
on so many rock chunks?
Is that boulder
scowling, lichen eyebrow
pressed over one closed eye,
weathered mouth agape
that I have caught him
carousing as I chase
hallucination . . .

One punk gives me
such a grin I move to slip
my camera from its case
to capture Rocky's charm,
but an unheard mutter
presses upon me
the importance of not
catching them
in the act of living it up.
I sense the havoc
rockfall that might
be invoked by a shrug
of schist humming
upslope until the cliff
folks respond with a shudder,
a reverberating crack
then avalanche
because some hiking fool
failed to keep
respect, but I am no
fool, am I, stepping
shoeless through
the very darkness.

Thea Gavin

In 2011, Thea Gavin spent three life-changing weeks at the North Rim as National Park Service Artist-in-Residence; now she returns to Grand Canyon as often as possible to wander and write, both along and below the rim (sometimes as an instructor for the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute). After teaching writing at Concordia University Irvine from 1997-2017, Thea took an early retirement to spend even more time outdoors, writing and leading creative writing adventures—mostly without shoes. A lifelong resident of Orange, CA, Thea loves her local wild lands and works to educate others about the importance of native flora through her work on the Board of Directors of the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Thea's poems and essays have appeared in a variety of chapbooks, journals, and anthologies, including New Poets of the American West, On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories, and Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon. She's been blogging (with lots of sole-selfies) about her shoeless adventures since 2010 at theagavin.wordpress.com.