I’ve been living in a canyon the past three weeks that’s roughly 50 miles long, has four houses, an infinite number of cattle guards, and the occasional cowboy on horseback moving a herd of cows. It is a beautiful place.
I’ve been here long enough to learn what time it is by where the sun sits on the canyon walls. I’ve gotten used to the stillness — so quiet sometimes you can hear the flap, flap, flap of a crow’s wings. I’ve watched the cottonwood trees in the creek go from bright yellow to a now faded amber and the apple trees in the vineyard shed their fall bounty. But most of all, I’ve been here long enough to make friends, share a lot of laughs, eat delicious meals, and go on some fine adventures.
My home has been the Montezuma Canyon Ranch and Vineyards in Utah — on a canyon road unknown even to most locals and within close reach of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. My friends have been fellow “WWOOFers” or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, a network (of sorts) where people from all over the world interested in getting their hands dirty can connect with farms eager to grow great food. (There’s also the magical added bonus that you get to stay and eat said food for free.)
There’s much to say about getting to know where your food comes from. Here at the ranch, food means orchards with apples, pears, and peaches and rows upon rows of grapevines, all about three-years old, that soon will be yielding some fantastic wine. Living in the canyon has also meant living “off the grid” with all our energy and heat coming from solar panels (one that I helped install!) and wood (that I scavenged for, sawed, and chopped!). It also means conserving water (since everything is pumped) and doing laundry only on sunny days. It has felt good to live in this way, to live with certain restrictions. It makes you conscious of the resources you use. It makes feeling warm and getting clean all the more appreciated.
But, for me, the greatest thing about living in a canyon has been the canyon itself. Its sandstone walls are literally full of history from the millions of years they took to form to the ancient Anasazi that lived within its walls thousands of years ago. Traces of this civilization are everywhere here — footholds leading to hunting caves, home structures perched high under overhangs, petroglyphs of corn, elk, and funny-shaped men, and ceramics everywhere under your feet as you wind through the sagebrush. It is humbling to stand among these things, to look out from the same caves and see the same moon, to touch the fingerprints of the ancient builder, captured in clay shards and adobe walls.
I think Edward Abbey, famed wanderer of the American Southwest, said it best when trying to grasp what the Anasazi left behind: “…the undeciphered message that they left us remains, written on the walls. A message preserved not in mere words and numbers but in the durable images of line on stone. We were here.”
And here, I am, now.
Tonight is my last night in the canyon. Tomorrow, I’ll head off for Canyonlands National Park with a fellow farmer, now friend. It will be incredible to see the dramatic canyons, mesas, and features of the park but I’ll be sorry to leave here, sorry to leave the more intimate surroundings of this tucked away place.
Here’s some more sights from life in the canyon:
As I wrote this post, I was in the ranch kitchen watching the sunset glowing dim over the canyon walls. In the other room, Louis Armstrong was on the stereo singing “and I think to myself what a wonderful world.” This morning cars are being loaded up with coolant, the final breakfast burritos are being made, a shower awaits, and then it’s time to hit the road once again. And I am thinking to myself — this life, it is good.