While cleaning out the garage the other day I came across a cache of my old 8mm home movies, many cans worth piled in a footlocker. I grabbed several of them from the Canyonlands era, dug out my Bell & Howell Super 8 projector, and set up a mini-theatre down in the basement. Even though I had digitized most of these films several years back, there was something exciting about threading up the ol’ projector again, feeling the celluloid gliding through my fingers, and then flicking that little toggle switch that brought everything back to life. The turning of the reels and the rhythmic clickety clack of the film flowing through the gate. And that flickering image on a piece of white matte board I had hastily set up on the floor.
The first reel I chose was from early 1978 and documented my last several months as a ranger in the Needles District of Canyonlands. There was the work-related footage, of course…the jeep patrols, ranger training, driving the big water truck, hanging out at the old trailer we called a visitor contact station. But most of the scenes were of a more personal nature, documenting my day to day existence in such a wild and lonely place, my humble mobile home at the base of Squaw Butte, and the ups and downs of my romantic life. It was a bitter sweet journey into the past.
There were scenes of Susan and I in our final days together backpacking beyond Lost Canyon. There was Linda, the folksinger from New York, playing her guitar on the front porch of my trailer. My friend Phil hiking over the Wooden Shoe Butte back when he was still ambulatory and healthy. And fresh-faced Mary Ann who hung out with me in those last few months, helped me pack up the house, and then moved with me to Northern California. All there on the little screen, scratches and dust and all. We were all so young and vital and full of the self confidence one needs when living in such a harsh and powerful landscape.
Last week I attended a 50th birthday party for Canyonlands National Park in Moab…rubbed shoulders again with folks I had not seen in some cases for nearly 40 years. And I think just about all of us at that extraordinary gathering felt like we were part of an amazing fraternity of folks who had shared something so intense, so life altering that we too at times felt as powerful as the place. Times of extremely satisfying adventure punctuated by moments of stark terror. The stories came pouring out about the midnight searches and rescues, the boats destroyed in Cataract Canyon, the jeeps stuck in quicksand, the high drama of hunting season….and the unmitigated joy of living with no phones, radios, television, mail delivery or convenient shopping. Only the camaraderie of like minded individuals connected by a labyrinth of sandstone canyons, hard but meaningful work, and a deep and abiding love of the land we shared together.