Lines of geologically portent events screamed at us in hues of red, gray, brown, and orange. The thermometer on the car’s dashboard heralded the rising heat of the sun the longer we drove. Overall, we drove nine hundred miles from Santa Fe to the Grand Canyon to Kanab to Zion to Vegas. The land was vast and dry, so different from the lush green forests and hills in North Carolina. Out in the West, I felt the water leaving my body, being sent up and out into the arid sky. In North Carolina, where I live, the water, humid, and sticky, coats my body like a steaming towel. Water is always there. But out West, it’s harder to find.
At the Grand Canyon, we walked around the rim, stopping at markers that told stories of the millions of years recorded in rock. There were samples of granite, shale, and gneiss. We touched them and felt their glossy, polished surfaces. We peered into spyglasses to find where they were hidden in layers of time. These are monuments to history. To change. To when water was plenty and to when it disappeared.
I've always been into mountains. Geology was my thing when I was a kid. I remember my fifth grade research paper titled: “Geology-The Study of the Earth.” Over the years, I've collected rocks and always ask, is it igneous, metamorphic, a conglomerate, sedimentary? I tend to muse on ones made from crushed up bones of sea animals, special molten events, or even different crystal formations. Volcanic eruptions, layers of silt and sand, moments of intense heat and pressure- that’s how rocks are formed. The history fascinates me.
I've been reading about the Appalachian Mountains. How they were formed. How there are fifty million or so years of sediment that have 'disappeared' in its geological timeline. When water moves sediment off mountains (to reveal what I assume is more rock), it carries all the rich mountain soil down and out. Geologists track it and use the soil samples far away from the peaks to show the paths of erosion. And yet, an encyclopedia of the region tells me there are mysteries in the rock layers. In the runoff streams and valleys and fertile fields around the Appalachians, there are missing elements, missing sediments, missing layers and rocks. They aren’t sure how certain parts came to be formed and they have questions concerning certain eras of the mountains’ biography. Seismic shifts that don't make sense and missing layers of rocks- each revealing known or the unknown parts of its history.
The mountain ranges in the West seem simpler: Sea. Now, not sea. Their layers moved down and westward. The evolutions of the erosion into rock temples in the Grand Canyon prove a simple cycle of life. Times of filling, of water, of fullness. Times of emptying, dust, echoes-- clearly marked in lines of color.
Back home, alone, I sit in my porcelain bathtub, with its smooth interior of thermo-molded factory-made ceramic and I watch as water runs down the tub’s sides in sleek, transparent magic. The water runs without revealing anything. There is no trail of sediment to mark its journey. No removal of gravel and rock in a dusty line on its smooth face. Ceramic, from clay, the glossy surface on which I lay is manufactured, replicated, sterile. I think about water. How water runs down mountains and carves, pulls out soil and rock, takes it down and away. I think about the soap in my tub. I think of water and soap and how they are like grace; the grace of becoming whole-- the removal of impurity from the pure. Is it really possible?
Grace happens to the name of the fancy body wash I have on my bathroom shelf. The irony of the branding is that it’s a perfume that smell of soap. The smell is distinct: the scent of lye, the stuff you played with in high school chemistry ( think “caustic”, “alkali”, “base”) or what you think of when you see washer-women of yesteryear in a history textbook. It's that smell from scrubbing yourself raw in an outdoor shower at Girl Scout Camp. Or maybe, it’s the scent of a soap you used in a science experiment at Girl Scout camp that you then used to clean the bathroom at Girl Scout camp. It's a smell you know but not actually a smell you would smell while taking a bath any more. The irony of a fancy perfumed soap: it smells like what soap used to smell like. Clean has a smell and it's in a bottle marked Grace.
The flushing out of debris, erosion, makes me think of the Golgi bodies in our cells--the waste removal technicians of biology. I think I always liked Golgi bodies because they looked like little amphitheaters in pictures of cell dissections in biology textbooks. Back in high school, in biology, we had to make an edible cell model. In my cell model, I used red rope licorice cut in small arcs to represent my Golgi. The red drew attention to itself in the jello--and then dissolved, sugar into sugar. Real cells don’t break down like that. Real Golgi Bodies prevent that from happening. I think I liked the way the teacher said they carried out the proteins, in little pushes along their wavy structures, gently nudging what’s not needed out of the cell. It seemed so gentle and kind, a slow goodbye to whatever the cell needed to dispose of.
I suppose water does the same when in runs down a mountain. Gently, or violently, it picks up what the mountain no longer needs and rushes it out to somewhere else, carrying it, enfolding it, holding it in a long a goodbye.
My bathwater now does the same for me. The soap takes off the dirt, binds to my skin cells, and carries them along and down the drain to become someone else's problem.
I sit in the bathtub. Our road trip over. We left and came back. Another year will start. Time will progress. More of me will be removed, layer by layer.
Like Canyon Temples and Golgi bodies.
Like Soap and Grace.
I watch the water drain. The lines of my body shadowed by the disappearing water and soap. My own history dissolving down a pipe. What portent events mark me? Have I been formed by igneous eruptions, metamorphic shifts, many layers of sediment? Grace washes over me like the clean scent of soap? I bow my head. I have been full. I have been empty. I will thirst and I will be satiated. I will be marked and unmarked. I will be here, and then I will disappear, like water down a mountain.