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Andy Richardson: Sense of perspective amid the ancient landscapes

I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon – a place that, truly, is deserving of its name. All around was silent.

One mile deep, 18 miles wide and 277 miles long, The Grand Canyon is truly one of the world’s great, natural wonders
One mile deep, 18 miles wide and 277 miles long, The Grand Canyon is truly one of the world’s great, natural wonders

We’d gone out of season, at a time when the tourists are too sensible to brave the -19C temperatures. Who’d want to sleep in an RV when they wake up to find all of their food, water and clothes are literally frozen? This idiot, that’s who. And his partner in thrills-and-giggles, thankfully.

And so we stood, snow everywhere, deep, immersed in a transportive silence. A handful of birds braved the chill. It was majestic.

One mile deep, 18 miles wide and 277 miles long, The Grand Canyon is truly one of the world’s great, natural wonders. Between six million and 70 million years old – that’s back to the age when dinosaurs roamed the planet – it has been formed over epochs that are unimaginable.

It was moving. Deeply moving. I breathed hard. Troubles melted away. Staring into a void that is fantastically and impossibly beautiful does strange things to a man.

A sense of perspective emerged. Why do I worry about the trivial stuff? We’re just dots, just passing through, here for a moment to have fun and try to leave something worthwhile for those who follow us. The rest, pah, why worry?

I remembered talking to a guy, Roger, the night watchman, at one of the first offices I worked at, in West Brom. He’d been, too. And he’d told me this: ‘Whatever photos you see, whatever anyone tells you, even if you see it on the telly – ignore it. It doesn’t do it justice. You have to see it to believe it.’ I’d imagined he was wrong. That I’d somehow be able to imagine it, that my imagination would be sufficiently skillful and adroit to picture it before I landed.

And I was utterly wrong. Because nothing prepares anyone for such ethereal beauty.

The light changed. It danced on the amber rock. Clouds shifted and all the time there was breath-taking stillness. Avoiding the tourists is always the smart move, even if it means sleeping in a duck down coat, in a duck down sleeping bag, in four layers, like some sort of mummified canard.

The same sense of perspective had gathered a few days earlier, in Death Valley, one of the world’s most beautiful, barren and inhospitable places.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had been travelling through California – I’d like to call it the holiday of a lifetime, but I enjoy it so much that I’ve done that trip three times already, and won’t rule out a fourth.

A kid, against the Grand Canyon’s full-grown adult, it is but 1.7 billion years old. And it’s where such visitors as us can see how the world was formed. Great swathes of rock have been weathered and washed away. Life clings on, somehow, in an arid plain that experiences 1.7 inches of rain – in a year.

Bushes grow, there are animal traces, birds soar. It is stupendous. And it’s a place to leave troubles and cares. Because there’s a real sense of life’s temporariness, of its shortness. We’re here for 70 odd years, 90 odd if we’re lucky. But that stuff’s been around for 1.7 billion years – that’s 21.25 million times longer than most of us live for.

Imagine all the people who’ve passed through, who’ve had hopes and dreams, who’ve been scarred by life’s vicissitudes, who’ve worked for better.

And, a few weeks ago, it was my turn… again. And though the effects of a holiday soon wear off, as we plunge into the icy waters of reality, a part remains. Memories live on and retain that sense of perspective, that ability to think clearly, to delineate between the important and the fluff, to pursue our goals and talk our truths.

We stayed a while, at The Grand Canyon and Death Valley, marvelling at how much prettier, more transcendental, and more relatable they were than LA, Las Vegas or any of the other Johnny Come Lately cities round and about.

And they reminded us of this immutable truth: life really is incredible – our job is simply just to make the best of it.

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