Recently, we visited the Grand Canyon with friends from New Zealand. I hadn’t been there since I was about six years old; all I could remember of that trip came from stories I’d heard often enough to be convinced they were my own memories. And there are a few yellowed Polaroids: My older brothers looking sheepish (family lore holds that my oldest brother had just dropped his sunglasses over the canyon’s edge). My mother, young and movie-star glamorous in her capris; dad, handsome and a little dangerous-looking in his Ray-bans. And I, as usual, was gazing off into the distance—as my sister liked to quip, “waiting for the mother ship to return for you.”
I had no real memories of what the place was like, but I remembered how it had made me feel. I’ve always been moved by a spectacular bit of nature. Fifty years later, I was looking forward to feeling that way again. After a long drive, a good night’s sleep, and the slow suspense of an hour-long train ride across desert scrub and through Ponderosa pines, we finally climbed the stairs to the canyon’s rim and wandered over for a better look.
Five decades is nothing in the life of this canyon, and I’m confident it hasn’t changed at all since we last saw each other. And other than using cellphones instead of Polaroid cameras, I doubt the nature of the crowds has, either. Kids arrived excited and left cross, querulous; adults got too much sun and stood in long lines for overpriced lunch. By the time the train was ready to leave, everyone was tired and a little overwhelmed.
I guess I hadn’t really changed much, either. Because while our friends wanted to dash off energetically to explore the far end of the canyon’s rim, all I wanted was to lounge against the rail, or perch on an obliging bench, and drink in this epic bit of earth.
From the outside, though, everything about my life looks different. Half the people in those photos have disappeared from my life like a faded snapshot, including my mother, who died twenty years ago last month. There’s enormous comfort, at my age, in things that don’t change, or at least change so slowly you wouldn’t notice it in your lifetime; things like a big old canyon.
Mom—born with the Sun in Taurus and Moon in Virgo—loved the earth. She took us to the Grand Canyon; along the way, we visited the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. She made sure we saw the giant redwoods, Big Sur, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Bryce Canyon; she kept us from toddling too close to the canyon’s edge.
Taurus is the sign of the abiding earth and its enduring wonders. Those born under its influence are likewise constant and dependable, but with the fatal flaw of having been made of mortal flesh instead of sedimentary rock. Knowing she would someday leave us, our mother gave her children gifts that would help bridge the aching gap between her death and ours. One was the gift of each other, sibling guardians of the in-jokes and road-trip memories. The other was an introduction to those beautiful places of earthly beauty, which we took for granted with the careless entitlement of youth.
Now we can return to any of them as grownup, orphaned pilgrims, and rest our weary hearts against them. We can stand at the canyon’s rim, or at the base of the giant redwood, or on the Pacific shore, and feel safe and strong, connected to something timeless.
Despite the otherworldly demeanor and skyward gazing that my sister ribbed me about, I was not, in fact, dropped here by aliens. My people came to the new land almost four hundred years ago. I lived on a farm, made mud pies, ate dirt, and watched the stars. I learned to love and trust the ground I walk on, to cherish it as my birthright, my true mother ship.
Last weekend, just a few days after the Sun entered Taurus, people all over the world, in 192 countries, celebrated Earth Day together. I don’t know most of them, and I didn’t march in any parades or attend any public events. I guess, like many people, I’d come dismiss those observances with a slight, cynical eye-roll.
But today, on the eve of the Taurus New Moon, I feel such tenderness toward that gathering of brothers and sisters. We’re all looking for something timeless and abiding to hold onto in an age when everything on top of the earth seems to be spinning faster and faster toward chaos. And like an invisible Taurus mother, the good earth itself feels steady and stable beneath our feet—holding us up, catching us when we fall, and keeping us from wandering too close to the canyon’s edge.
© 2017 April Elliott Kent