Waiting for the Horse-Ghost

Canyonlands National Park is a breathtaking, indescribable place! My boyfriend D. and I were out in Utah for a conference last week and saw the sun set at Dead Horse Point. This awe-inspiring overlook is about 6,000 feet above sea level. In every direction, there are countless mesas and canyons that took the tired Earth about 150 million years to create. The name, “Dead Horse Point,” derives from a fascinating but tragic legend. A herd of mustangs—who were easily corralled by cowboys onto the Point—ended up being left stranded there and died of thirst, within view of the Colorado River. Like I said, fascinating, but tragic. So there we were, two humans standing in the grandeur of all of this. We watched rain roll in from the west and fork lightning scatter in the distance as we waited for the sun to pull out from behind a massive set of clouds. Soon the canyons to the east glowed red and we snapped photos from every angle, trying to get our cameras to reproduce what we saw with our eyes. But it was a brief glow—as anyone who watches the sunset knows, it lasts only moments before it’s gone. As the sun slipped behind the mountains, D. said, “Are you ready? Do you want to go to the car?” Rain was starting to pelt down and it was getting trickier to keep my camera dry. “Not yet,” I said. “I want to see if more of this canyon will light up.” D. shook his head, pointing. “The sun isn’t going to light up this area. See where it’s going? The light is moving up those canyons over there.” D. is an engineer. Can you tell? It was a scientist who built the first telescope and it will be a scientist who builds the last. It was engineers who figured out how and where to build roads coming into Canyonlands. And it was engineers who studied the rock promontory we were standing on and made sure it’s safe. Meanwhile, I—the poet—was scanning the canyon for a whisper of a horse-ghost. I was imagining that herd of horses writhing in the desert’s heat. And I was waiting for the sun to light up what was in front of me. I had no clue what the sun’s trajectory was—or as D. puts it, its path of declination—and I didn’t care. I was waiting to see what the sun would do next, and I was happy. And D.? He was estimating the distance to the furthest-off butte and studying the angles of the sedimentary rock. And we were happy.