07 October 2010

pennies from heaven

Part 2 of a two-part series on a hike my parents and I took in Zion National Park. To read the beginning of the story—to find out how we got on top of this mountain {although that seems kind of obvious}—you can read "where angels fear to tread."


On our hike down from Angel's Landing {well, as close as we got to it}, the rain started again, and we stopped in another alcove to read more {you can read about the other time we stopped to read on this hike here}.

While it's true that there comes a point you can't get any wetter—the practical side of me speaking—there also comes a time when you're on vacation and you aren't hurrying towards something. Why rush through the rain to get down a mountain?

Waiting in the alcove, I tried to focus on Annie Dillard and not on how quick-dry hiking shorts are a good idea in theory, but when you're in the middle of a rainstorm that will eventually dump 1.22 inches on an area that gets 8 inches a year, they feel clammy and are somewhat see-through if you have them in khaki.

“There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises,” I read in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which is all about noticing nature. “The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny? […] But if you can cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see it what you get.”

I looked up from the book and saw a penny, an unwrapped gift, a free surprise. It was still raining and I was still chilly wet, but across the way, there on another cliff, was a row of waterfalls. They hadn't been there on the way up; the mountain had become saturated and water was escaping whatever way it could.

I'd learned earlier in the day that the sandstone in Zion works as a sponge, soaking in the water, a feature of its porous surface. Scientists have tested the water that seeps out of the sandstone in places like Weeping Rock, and they say some of it is over 1,000 years old.

Both ideas still toggled around in my brain, running into each other: that scientists can give a birthday to water and that a rock can hold water, shoved in there between very dense rock molecules.

I wondered if any of that ancient water was mixing with the new rain as it fell down the mountain. Ten waterfalls—some no more than a trickle, some thick rushes shooting over the cliff—were my ten pennies, my ten proofs that the grayest day can bring the brightest memories.

The rain slowed but the waterfalls roared. They hit rocks in their path—water takes the path of least resistance—and changed direction, gave off a spray, a splash, a visible flash that it was here, changing the mountain a little.

“Ready?” My dad had put away his Kindle and was looking down the trail, judging how wet it was. “You can lead the way.”

With another marvelling glance at my pennies, and I stepped out of the alcove, onto the trail, and took the lead.


  1. Annie Dillard has her own section on my bookshelf. Love love love her. And I definitely relate to uncomfortable outdoorsy moments being made better by remembering Annie Dillard quotes.

  2. Hmm...maybe if you knew a geologist or a chemist, they could explain some of the mystery of the 1000 year old water. :)
    I'll be glad to see you, but I'm kind of sad your vacation is ending. I have certainly enjoyed reading about it. Thanks for capturing some of the beauty and sharing it with us!



Related Posts with Thumbnails