Chapter One: Tim
I stand at the edge of the world.
Between me and the north rim lies twenty miles of space and a billion years of rock. I have lived here for more than half my life, but I still get this feeling in my gut. The canyon fills me with emptiness. Wind whips up the canyon walls, inflating my lungs, cool and clean, scented with juniper and pine. Below, I see layers of limestone, shale, granite. Red, green, gray, and a thousand shades of brown.
The wind shifts and pushes me toward the abyss, the canyon beckoning, drawing me toward its gaping maw. The longer I stare into this vast chasm, the more unreal it becomes, like a postcard or a dream. The north rim seems closer now. I could reach out a hand and touch it. I could step off into space and find beneath my feet an invisible walkway, a bridge of thought. I feel its pull.
I blink, startled. The panorama before me wavers, and I take a step back.
"Get your butt over here with that brush!"
I look down at the brush in my hand, then back at Uncle and the mules. He is working on Frosty, brushing her down, checking for ticks. Cecil, our other mule, is watching me, waiting for his turn. Cecil and Frosty are brother and sister. They were born sixteen years ago, the same as me. They are the last surviving Grand Canyon mules, part of a herd that once carried tens of thousands of tourists up and down the Bright Angel Trail, from the luxury of the El Tovar Hotel to the crude stone cabins of Phantom Ranch.
Now they have only me, and Uncle, and my sister, Harryette.
I begin to groom Cecil, beginning with the backs of his huge, hairy ears. They make me think of Tim.
I met Tim when we were just little kids, and the first thing I noticed was how far his ears stuck out. Like a mule looking at you. Later, Uncle told me, the rest of him would catch up.
"Take my nose," Uncle said. "When I was a boy I used to worry my nose was too big. But then I grew up and everything sort of fell into place."
Uncle had one of the hugest noses I ever saw, but I didn't say anything. When you only have an uncle like Uncle and a big sister like Harryette, you learn to keep your trap shut.
Tim's ears were not only big, they worked good, too. He could hear anything. One time I found him watching a bunch of ants dragging a green caterpillar up the side of a stump. "Listen," he said.
Tim was my best and only friend.
When I first met Tim we were both eight years old. Harryette and I had been living at the south rim of the Grand Canyon for a few months. One day I was helping Uncle mend the corral fence and I heard the distant putter of an engine. Uncle, whose ears weren't so good, heard it a second after me.
"Defense," Uncle said. We ran back to El Tovar, the hotel where we lived. Uncle grabbed the 30-30 carbine and took up his station on the porch, just outside the double doors leading into the front lobby. He knelt behind one of the stone arch windows and trained the rifle on the bend in the driveway. I had never seen Uncle shoot anybody, but I knew he'd do it in a second if the wrong person came into view. Harryette, who had been cleaning a basket of pine nuts, saw what was happening. She grabbed a shotgun off the rack and ran to the loading dock at the back of the hotel. I'd never seen Harryette shoot anybody either, but she was at least as mean as Uncle, and a lot jumpier. Me, I'd have rather come in the front way.
I got an extra rifle from the cabinet and waited with it behind Uncle, ready to hand it to him if he ran out of bullets. This was our Defense plan. Shelter, water, food, defense -- those were the four things Uncle drilled into us again and again.
Just before the vehicle came into sight, the driver honked his horn three times, and I saw Uncle's shoulders drop down, the tension gone out of him. The three honks meant it was Hap Gordon, the trader. But Uncle kept the gun sticking out the window until he could see the dusty, dinged-up body of Hap Gordon's Jeep poke its nose around the bend. Hap's Jeep was almost fifty years old, same as Uncle's Land Rover. The old twentieth-century engines were easier to fix.
We all ran out to greet him. Hap showed up once a month or so with medical supplies and other assorted trade items. You never knew what he would have. One time he had a case full of cigars. Uncle bought a box and stunk up the hotel for weeks. Another time Hap sold us a pony, which didn't last as long as the cigars. The wolves got him.
Hap climbed out of the Jeep. He had a beard this time, but otherwise looked the same as always: small and wiry with squinty blue eyes, wearing jeans, a checkered flannel shirt, and a beat-up old straw hat over long gray and black hair tied in a ponytail.
Emory, a Survivor who traveled with Hap, got out of the passenger side. Emory was the opposite of Hap: tall, thick, wide-eyed, and, like all Survivors, totally bald -- no eyebrows, no nose hairs, nothing. His face was slack and sorrowful, which was normal for him. Both his skin and his eyes were the color of wet earth. According to Hap, Emory could talk when he had something to say, but I'd never heard him speak a word. Mostly he just stood around looking sad and dopey. He had survived the Flu without losing any of his senses, but it had taken something else out of him.
But it wasn't Hap or Emory that interested me. It was the smaller creature climbing from the back of the Jeep.
This time, Hap had brought along a kid.
Hap said to the kid, "Tim, this is the boy I was telling you about. His name is C. J. They call him Ceej." Hap smiled at me. "Ceej, this is my son, Tim."
Next thing I knew, Hap and Uncle and Emory were walking into the house, leaving me with this weird-looking, green eyed, big-eared kid. Tim was the first kid I'd seen since Harryette and I had come to the Grand Canyon. I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there and scowled at him. He scowled right back.
What I did next was really stupid and I don't know why I did it. Who knows why kids do the things they do? I picked up a rock and threw it at him.
Tim said, "Now it's my turn." He bent over and scooped up a rock about the size of a raven's egg.
I ran away as fast as I could. I got to my secret place up in the top floor of the old Hopi House gift shop and just hid there with all the spooky kachina dolls and spider webs and moth-eaten blankets until, an hour or so later, I heard the Jeep start up and roll away down the driveway. I figured I'd seen the last of him, but of course I figured wrong. I climbed down and went into the house to see what Hap had traded us this time, and when I saw what was there, well, you could've knocked me down with a breath.
Uncle and Harryette were sitting at the kitchen table cutting up a chocolate bar. Now I love chocolate as much as anybody, but I didn't love what else was sitting there at that table. It was too weird. This was even worse than those cigars.
It looked to me like Hap had traded us his kid.
That was how I met Tim. A few days later we got to be best friends. Of course, it turned out that Hap hadn't really traded him to us. He'd just left him to stay with us for a while. When Hap and Emory came back a week later and Tim climbed into his Jeep and they drove off, I was sorry to see him go.
After that, every time Hap would make his run from Phoenix to Flagstaff to Page, he'd swing by Grand Canyon Village and leave Tim with us for a few days. I always looked forward to his visits. Tim was a real character. He always had ideas for things to do, and we hardly ever got caught. Although I'd have to say that I got in more trouble when Tim was around than when he wasn't.
I remember one summer we decided it would be fun to roll some rocks off the rim of the canyon. We pushed a few big ones over and watched them crash down the rock face, smashing through scrub oak and juniper trees, crushing smaller rocks, and finally coming to rest or disappearing from sight. Tim had his eye on this one rock. Actually, it was part of the canyon rim, a chunk of Kaibab limestone the size of Hap's Jeep. Between the rock and the edge of the canyon was a crack about ten inches wide. Tim figured it was about to break away. He thought when it went, it might crash all the way down to the river.
"I don't think so," I said. We were standing at the edge looking down into the canyon.
"You don't want to do it?"
"I just don't think it could roll all the way to the river." We could see a tiny section of the turquoise ribbon far below -- the Colorado River. "That'd be more than ten miles. I don't think it could go that far. There's all kinds of places for it to get stuck."
"Yeah, but it's so big!" Tim said. "It would crash through anything!" He was in love with the idea of sending that rock over the edge.
Tim just didn't comprehend the size of the canyon. Even with it spread out in front of him he didn't understand how huge it was. That rock was no more than a mouse turd to the Grand Canyon.
But when Tim got an idea, he wouldn't let go.
He found an old hydraulic jack in the transportation building and talked me into helping him haul it to the rim in a wheelbarrow. We wedged the jack down in that crack and started pumping. At first the rock wouldn't budge. It must've weighed about fifty tons. But Tim got a long metal pipe and stuck it on the jack handle for leverage and we both threw our weight against it. With a ragged groan, the rock moved about an inch.
"Yes!" Tim shouted, his face red with effort and excitement. We wedged some smaller rocks down into the crack to hold it, then repositioned the jack and went at it again.
We worked on that rock for three days. Every time we got stuck or busted a jack, Tim would find another one in an abandoned truck or car. And every time we were about to give up, that rock would move another quarter inch. The crack between the rock and the rim kept getting wider until it was big enough to crawl into. We had four jacks crammed down in there.
On the third day the rock shifted, only in the wrong direction. All four of the jacks got scrunched, and that rock just sat there laughing at us.
"That's it," I said, flinging the jack handle off the edge. "This is stupid." We heard the jack handle clang against the rocks a hundred feet below.
Tim stood there scowling.
"We can get more jacks in Tusayan," he said. Tusayan was the town six miles to the south. No one lived there anymore, but it was full of old cars and trucks.
"I don't want to go to Tusayan." The place was creepy. The houses were full of skeletons. Last time I was there I saw a coyote with a bone in its mouth. I was pretty sure it was some little kid's arm bone.
"Then I'll go myself."
"You're stupid. This thing isn't gonna move." I jumped across the crack and stood on the rock. I stomped my feet on it; it felt solid as a fifty ton boulder. "This rock's gonna be here for another million years," I said.
That was when the earthquake hit. Except it wasn't an earthquake at all, it was the rock moving, and I was standing on it. I saw Tim's eyes go wide, and the sky seemed to tilt, and the air filled with thunder. I must've jumped, because the next thing I knew I was lying on my belly on the rim and the rock was sliding down the face of the cliff. Tim's mouth was open and he was screaming or shouting but all I could hear was the grinding, booming, eardrum-shattering sound of the canyon giving up a chunk of its rim. Tim looked out over the edge to watch; I got on all fours and scrambled in the opposite direction. The roar continued for what seemed like forever. Sound waves echoed up from the canyon as the enormous boulder smashed smaller rocks and splintered trees.
As the sound faded I could hear Tim yelling, "Go! Go! Go!"
And then it was over, except for faint echoes returning from distant buttes.
Tim leaned so far out over the brink that I thought he would go next. "Cool!" he said.
Ten minutes later I was still shaking.
The rock never made it to the river. It had skidded down the face of the rim, tore a ragged path through a forest of stunted pinyon pine, oak, and juniper, crashed through a limestone ledge a few hundred feet below, cut a gouge through the layer of pale sandstone, and come to rest on a wide shelf about six hundred feet below us. On its way down, the rock had dislodged several of its smaller brothers, which continued to tumble and slide. The roar of the avalanche went on for half a minute, and the echoes for even longer.
I thought Tim would be disappointed that our big rock hadn't reached the river, but instead he was inspired. All the way back to El Tovar he talked really fast. He knew where there was another rock, an even bigger one. Me, I could hardly talk. I'd almost gotten killed. Besides, the Grand Canyon was big enough. I didn't want to make it any bigger.
"I bet we could find some dynamite someplace," Tim said.
We were almost to the village when we ran into Uncle and Harryette. Uncle looked worried.
"Did you hear that?" Uncle asked.
"Yeah," Tim said. "We were right by it. A huge avalanche!"
"Thank God! I thought for a second that the dam had gone."
He was talking about the Glen Canyon Dam, one hundred miles upriver. Uncle was obsessed with the dam. If it ever failed, he liked to say, the river would rip the guts out of the canyon.
Uncle liked to worry about the canyon. He was a Grand Canyon National Park Ranger, the only one left alive. Even though nobody paid him or even knew he was alive -- as far as we knew, the government didn't exist anymore -- he still wore his uniform. He figured the Canyon was his responsibility. You couldn't so much as stomp on a tarantula without him blowing his stack.
"Show me," he said.
Uh-oh, I thought. Harryette, silent as always, had a little smile on her face, like she knew what was coming. She thought it was funny whenever I got in trouble with Uncle.
She signed, What did you guys do?
Tim, who had picked up some sign language from Harryette, signed back: We made the canyon bigger.
Tim was always trying to impress my sister. He once told me he thought she was "a real looker." Something he'd heard in a movie once. Personally, I couldn't see it.
Since there was no way around it, Tim and I walked with Uncle and Harryette back to where we'd sent the rock on its journey. It took Uncle about two seconds to figure out that hunk of limestone hadn't jumped off the rim on its own. He saw our footprints and the broken jacks on the rocks below. He turned to me and drew back his hand as if he was going to hit me.
I hoped he would. I hoped he'd hit me hard. If he smacked me a good one, that might be the end of it. But something in his eyes glittered and he lowered his hand.
"Charles Jacob Kane," he said, shaking his head sadly, "you have disappointed me."
I knew then that Tim and I were in for the most severe punishment imaginable.
We were going to have to listen to one of Uncle's lectures.
Uncle was a man of few words -- except when you got him started about the Canyon. For nine years, ever since Harryette and I had come to live with him, he'd been teaching us about the Grand Canyon. We knew the names of the rocks, the plants, the animals. We knew the life cycle of the desert tortoise, the safest way to descend a talus slope, and when to harvest the fruit of the banana yucca. It took three million years for the Colorado River to carve out the Canyon, and that was about how long Uncle would have kept talking about it if he didn't have to eat and sleep.
This lecture started off with a detailed description of the damage we had done. Uncle went over the geological history of the rock we had moved, and of the older rocks below it. He talked about the trees and other plants that had been uprooted, shredded, and crushed. He told us how many hundreds of years it took a juniper tree to grow, and how many animals relied on the acorns from the little oaks, and how many decades it would be before the lichens we had scraped from the canyon wall could renew themselves.
We were sitting in the lobby of El Tovar, surrounded by the stuffed heads of dead animals: deer, javelina, elk, pronghorn, and an enormous moose we called Bullwinkle. Uncle paced back and forth in front of the dead fireplace, talking. I'd heard it all before, but I knew that if I didn't look like I was listening he would give me a whack on the head. A couple of times during his lecture he got so worked up he whacked me anyway, but not very hard, just a tap. Harryette, sitting off to the side, was reading a book and smiling. Every now and then she would catch my eye and make a silent joke with her hands. Look at the little glob of foam on Uncle's lip. You think he's got rabies? She was trying to make me laugh, so I'd get hit again. I bit my cheek, holding it back.
Uncle kept talking for more than an hour. He told us about how the Canyon had once been clean and pure, and then the Spaniards had come and gazed upon it with greedy eyes, and then John Wesley Powell had run the river from top to bottom, and then the miners had riddled the canyon walls with holes, and then the tourists had come with their gum wrappers and cigarette butts and beer cans, and then the dam had been built and the Canyon was all but destroyed. It was thoughtless people like us -- he pointed at me and Tim -- who had almost wrecked the most beautiful place on earth.
I felt a yawn coming on, so I bit harder on my cheek. I must've made a face because Uncle stepped over and rapped the top of my head with his knuckle. What really fried me was that the whole thing had been Tim's idea, and he never got hit once. At least not by Uncle. I looked at Harryette. She was watching me with her I-told-you-so smirk. I looked up at Bullwinkle the moose. He seemed to be smirking, too.
All that happened, I guess, about three years ago. Tim got me in plenty of trouble after that -- like the time we got into Uncle's wine supply -- but the avalanche was the biggest and noisiest stunt we ever pulled.
Tim was trouble, but we always had fun.
Text copyright © 2001 by Pete Hautman