Slice of Life: Alive Below Crystal


It is National Park Week, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. (Thank you to Tricia Stohr-Hunt, aka Miss Rumphius, for the heads up on this.)

My family and I are fortunate enough to have rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon twice. This is an incredible experience, one that leaves you with a deep appreciation for the grandeur of the canyon and the power of nature.

The course of the river is punctuated by powerful rapids, but there are two that stick out in my mind. One is Lava Falls, which I’ve written about here. The other is Crystal, which was formed, literally, overnight.

“In December 1966 a storm unlike any witnessed before, dropped over 14 inches of rain in some places along the north rim. All this water sent debris flows crashing down side canyons [including Crystal Canyon]. When the storm had passed, the debris fan constricted the Colorado to less than a quarter of its original width, and a large boulder at the top created one of the largest holes on the river”

From “Nature, History, and Culture of the Grand Canyon: Crystal Rapid

Brian in Crystal Rapid, August, 2007
Brian in what I think is Crystal Rapid, August, 2007

Alive Below Crystal

Skirt the wave
at the edge of the hole,
kiss its lip with your paddle,
close enough to feel its power,
distant enough to avoid being sucked in,
overwhelmed by her might.

In the course of one life,
how often do these upheavals
The path is altered,
a chasm opens.
Never fully healed,
full of fissures that can crack
without warning,
bringing us to our knees.

Alive below Crystal,
our view forever transformed.
We’ve gazed into the face
of the cataclysm
and survived.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016


 Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

8 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Alive Below Crystal

  1. I’m going to be thinking about this all day, I just know it. We’ll be heading to the Grand Canyon this summer–on our way from VA to WA. It’ll be my kids’ first time there, and they are too young to go down the river, but we hope that the future has a trip like that in store for us. But I had no idea that the Crystal rapids were formed that quickly! I love how intimately you know the area, and hope to know it like that one day, too!


  2. It is a great piece, one that I wasn’t expecting to see a poem at the end. I love the comparison to life in the piece. The canyon is mighty, fierce, and breathtaking at the same time. Lucky you for being able to take the river…


  3. This poem speaks to me on a level below the literal (that sucking under unprepared level) as one of my friends lost her son in a boating accident last week. 19 years old and, just like that, the wind capsized his fishing boat. Things change so quickly and we can be caught without a paddle or anything to hold on to. My friend will survive, but this is a rapid that has brought her to her knees. Thanks.


  4. Overwhelmed by her might-wonderful line, Catherine. I am still reeling from your experience at Lava Falls. You survived makes me think of the mightiness of nature that sometimes is beyond awe.


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