• Gretel Enck

Hike #7: Not Quite Slickrock Canyon

I think you know by now, dear reader, that I like to plan everything and my plans don’t always materialize as intended. This has certainly been the case in my hiking life: bagging the unnamed peak just next to the goal peak, getting turned back by rain and fog in Juneau, or bear scat, and more often than I care to admit—just missing the turn.

Such was the way of hike #7 that I made yesterday in Big Bend National Park. You could also say, I was nervous about hiking eight miles, so I hiked ten instead. Eh, wonderful day nonetheless.

The goal was Slickrock Canyon, an untraveled

non-hike that is described well in my guide book. The draw (ahem, wash) of this hike was not only the pretty destination of a narrow canyon and some early settler remnants. Also irresistible, as spring break in Texas is blooming, was the promise of little to no people. Verily, I saw nary another human soul. The timing was perfect, the weather was a bright 60 degrees with a breeze, I felt rested and strong and full of gas station breakfast tacos.

My first problem was one of self doubt. “Follow

the wash about an hour until you get to…” According to my reading of the map I traversed the first mile in about 45 minutes—a long time to go a mile but the wash was rocky and at times clogged with vegetation. So I figured to go 2.5 miles before my turn was going to take me closer to two hours at this rate. I’m just slow, and that’s that.

My second problem was not having a detailed enough map. I wrongly assessed the location of the cut in the massif from the start of the hike. Therefore, I missed the real slit in the rock which arrived much sooner than I anticipated. Yes, on my way back up the wash I saw, off in the distance, the real object of my intention. Soon enough, I passed by the turn-off which I had neglected to identify on the way in. By then I was too spent to add three more miles.

I estimate I went twice as far on the main wash as I was meant to (I'm slow, but not that slow). But in the meantime, I found flowers in bloom and some intriguing exposed mudstone and other bedrock delights, a little pool, and a flat slab of rock on which to sit and drink my Gatorade and consider my whereabouts. It can’t be called getting lost if one knows how to get back, right? Just diverted from the original course. As the wash widened and the hiking was pleasant, I was in a Lyle Lovett frame of mind, “So listen to your heart that beats and follow it with both your feet.” Because, “The road to Ensenada is plenty wide and fast.”

The day was already special with cogitations from a podcast I listened to on the drive down: Brene Brown interviewing Dr. Yaba Blay about her book One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race. As white people we have the luxury of thinking of race as black and white. Historically for Blacks, though, there is a rigid hierarchy of skin tone that influences one’s place in all aspects of society and culture. Everyone, black and white, participates in and confirms this hierarchy—as the dominant culture has viciously created and enforced the ideal of white as pure, and every step toward whiteness to be valuable.

This is not a new concept or idea for me. We find characters grappling with this reality in books, movies, popular culture. Yet Dr. Blay was somehow able to get underneath to a very raw and personal sharing of her lived Black experience. Brene Brown has great guests and deep interviews all the time, but this one seemed really, to repeat a phrase I like, to get underneath. I was moved by her stories.

Like all seeds of wisdom, the takeaway is influenced by the ground on which it lands. My ground was prepped by the reading of a book this week called Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar—a novel that reads like memoir, a raw and personal sharing of one man’s lived Arab experience in post-9/11 America. Again, a keen thinker sharing with me an insight that I had not yet internalized.

Being out in the sun and working my physical body is a way to process these ideas, these conversations. First, being strong physically is a good way to practice being strong emotionally and psychically. Second, constantly reaffirming that the world, our earth home, is beautiful beyond understanding provides immense stamina in facing our demoralizing human truths. And third, in the running away we can find our way back—to listening, to witnessing, to standing up.

Arriving back to my car tired and sore and happy, I drove the late afternoon home with another podcast, Krista Tippett interviewing Naomi Shihab Nye, poet of love and truth. One topic was the source of Nye’s poem, Kindness—a terrible story that led to this poem of light and hope. I will share it in its entirety as I printed it out to put on my wall at work.

Yes, I am back to the office two days a week. Last week was momentous in a few ways: my second Covid shot, a long overdue mammogram, my first full day back in the office, and a big step forward with our Blackwell School coloring book and K-2 lesson plan all about loving ourselves and each other regardless of the color of our skin. So, yeah, a big hike was a nice way to top it off. Creaky old bones and all.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.

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