After a breakfast of omelets, pancakes, and French toast, Etgar 36 embarked on a two hour bus ride to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. As we entered the Grand Canyon listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” we saw ashy trees, blackened by wildfires five years ago. Joni Mitchell’s song was written during the beginning of the environmentalism movement and highlights the importance of preserving nature. To me, the sooty, disfigured trees, affected by wildfires, which were certainly aggravated and intensified by human beings, formed a minuscule scar on the face of the earth.
We hiked along the north rim of the Grand Canyon, amazed by the spectacular views of variegated rock. Shades of auburn, rust, and taupe mingled as the rocks faded into the fog.
About half way through the hike, Billy asked us to reflect alone as we look over the cliff and to listen to the silence. So often we go through the motions of life, hearing the white noise of our friends, family, and everyday life without listening to them. This exercise forced us to listen to the deafeningly loud silence in the expanse of nothingness between the sides of the canyon. The mere scale of the Grand Canyon gives a feeling of humbling insignificance. The huge, ancient rocks put your problems in perspective. The Grand Canyon, completely different from the metropolitan world I live in, gave me an sense of calm and peace I am unable to experience at home.
On the bus ride back from the Grand Canyon, we watched the movie “Almost Famous.” The movie is about an aspiring rock journalist who travels around with a touring rock band.
We went to Panda Garden, a Chinese restaurant, for dinner.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and watched a documentary entitled “I Am.” This documentary was made by Tom Shadyac after he was in a serious bike accident. He suffered a long-lasting concussion with severe depression as a symptom. The documentary starts by posing the questions, “What’s wrong with the world?” and, “What can we do about it?” The documentary starts with a pessimistic outlook of the world, exploring selfishness and ruthless competition as an innate and essential feature of the human race, but, as Tom Shadyac’s symptoms of his concussion start to fade, the documentary shifts to explore human beings’ ability to sympathize and empathize with each other.
An interesting metaphor that the documentary draws is that selfishness in materialism is like cancer. In a similar way that cancer is an excess of cells that leeches nutrients, eventually starving the body, materialism is a societal tumor, focusing the excess of wealth in certain areas and depriving other people of necessities.
Only after I watched this documentary did I realize the inherent irony in my visit to the Grand Canyon. I used the Grand Canyon to distance myself from the material world when my family’s wealth enabled me to get there. Distant and obscure, traveling to the Grand Canyon requires time, which although not tangible, material wealth, is usual positively correlated with those living in excess.
I realize I am part of the festering tumor of society, and I, although neither solely nor directly, am responsible for the wildfire disfiguring the trees. On Etgar 36, I am able to answer Tom Shadyac’s first question, “What is wrong with the world?” relatively easily, but I am unable to answer his second question, “What can we do about it?” I don’t think anybody has answer yet, but accepting responsibility for our species and our world is a first step.