Picking At The Heart Of My World


An amiable if somewhat pungent Swiss hippie was sitting in the coffee shop as I wandered up.  I am fairly sure we had spoken earlier in my visit here, but he didn’t remember me.  He had a number of items arrayed on the table in front of him, apparently for sale, although he denied as much.  There were a few 3″ x 3″ cards emblazoned with computer generated mandalas, some brightly colored pens, and several smooth, jet black stones, some flat, some cut into pyramids.  He told me they were 2 billion year old Shungite from Russia.  My response was: “What a coincidence, I have a 2 billion year old rock around my neck”.  I showed it to him, my piece of river-polished Vishnu Schist which I brought myself from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, masterfully set in sterling silver by my friend Joseph Black Coyote in Tucson.  I was told, when I rafted the Grand Canyon, that Vishnu Schist is the oldest exposed rock on the planet, only seen there and in China, where it has since been submerged by the Three Gorges Dam.  I can only assume this Russian rock comes from a mine, although if you follow the link above, you will find speculation that it is from outer space.  He told me of various mystical powers attributed to Shungite.  I half listened, knowing mine to be more powerful because of the connection I have to its source.

I was fortunate in the late eighties and early nineties to have the experience of rafting through the Grand Canyon several times.  I had a friend who worked as a boatman for one of the handful of companies licensed to operate commercial trips on the Colorado River.  He ran the large, motorized pontoon rafts, rather than the smaller, oar powered boats.  A typical trip consisted of two rafts, 30 passengers, and four crew; two boatmen and two swampers.  A swamper was responsible for tying up the boats, unloading the passengers’ gear, setting up the kitchen, helping to prepare food, cleaning up, and then reloading everything, in addition to pumping up the air filled boat when it began to go soft.  One swamper was the employee of the rafting company, the other (me) a volunteer, working for passage.  Possibly more important than the duties enumerated above, we were also guides, on a journey often as much spiritual as physical.

That first trip, I was more passenger than guide.  It was a truly transformative experience for me.  I don’t have the words to adequately express it.  Suffice to say that, whenever I speak of it (even now), tears well up in my eyes, and, whenever I drive past Lee’s Ferry (where river trips launch), I go down and stand in the frigid water and cry.  I am not the only one so moved my the experience.  I watched and guided over two hundred people in the course of my time in the canyon.  None were untouched.  An Englishman on that first trip told me that, although he had traveled the world, no experience could compare to a Grand Canyon river trip.  It was his third.  I was consumed by the wonder of the canyon, so I took him at his word, even though, at that point in my life, my travels as an adult consisted only of a couple trips to Canada and a handful to northern Mexico.

Now, a quarter century later, I too have traveled the globe, from Vietnam to India, from Jordan to Peru.  I have driven from Arizona to Guatemala and back, seen Angkor Wat, Tikal, Petra, and Machu Picchu, but, as the Englishman said, nothing can compare to descending through time in the depths of the Grand Canyon on the back of the Colorado.

I volunteered on six trips, worked as a paid swamper on one, went as a passenger on my eighth, and then volunteered one more time.  On that last trip I found a small, polished piece of Vishnu Schist in the inner gorge, and brought it out.  It took me a decade to find the right person to set it for me.  Joseph Black Coyote does not take commissions, but he too felt the power of this stone and graciously consented to fashion the silver pendant which I now wear day and night.

This is why I was not impressed by the “2 billion year old Russian rocks”.   I have no connection to them.  The one I wear touches my soul because of what it represents, the memories it invokes, and the way  I acquired it.  I have been thinking recently about taking my Social Security early and retiring to Lago Atitlan, but, since arriving on this trip, I have begun to question that.  Maybe the dream of moving here is like the Russian rocks, an illusion, when I already have the real thing in the place where I have set down roots, and where I found my Vishnu Schist: Arizona.