From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

Walking Down the Canyon
From Time Magazine

July 31, 2000

As a child, I was instructed to look out the window of a moving car and appreciate the beautiful scenery, with the result that now I don't care much for nature. I prefer parks, ones with lots of people with radios and a pop stand selling hot dogs and Eskimo Pies. I believe that most people would agree with me, whether they dare say so or not.

Deserted rocky coastlines are not that interesting, or beaches: you just wind up staring at the ocean, a blank screen, and wondering if you should check your e-mail. Forests are nothing but trees. Deserts are beautiful for about fifteen minutes, but they're always located out in the middle of nowhere. And they're teeming with deadly snakes. As for mountains, an occasional range is nice, but after awhile it becomes a sort of continuous piece of Bad Art, like a painting you'd see at the periodontist's. And mountain people are such a pain. They make you feel bad for coming. Vermonters, Coloradoans, Montanans, Utahovians --- they all tend to be very sniffy about who is worthy to set foot in their midst and use their toilet facilities. In Minnesota, we are astonished and gratified if anyone visits us, we can't do enough for them, but then this is a flat state and we are Christian people.

My favorite scenic attraction is the canyon, or reverse mountain, especially when it occurs on a flat surface, such as the Grand Canyon. You get the best of both worlds here. Levelness, or platitude, and de-elevation, and when you go visit, you don't run into flinty-eyed people busily despising you because you happen to be wearing yellow-plaid walking shorts and a T-shirt that says, "Save the whales. Trade them for valuable prizes". The Canyon belongs to the world.

You put on your whale T-shirt and shorts and walking shoes with thick socks and a pack with a bottle of water and a bag of trail mix, and head down the Bright Angel trail from the South Rim. This is a splendid experience. You pass through a phalanx of men standing on the Rim videotaping the Canyon, panning from left to right and then right to left, and plunge down the trail, which is broad and not too steep and studded with mule droppings, and a hundred or so feet down, once you come around the second switchback, all of the hubbub of the Rim vanishes and you enter into a magnificent silence.

The trail switches back and forth, and though there may be hundreds of hikers on it, you are often alone, and you can peer over the edge at two or three thousand feet of rock face, and then when you weary of geology, some folks come along, and you get to switch to anthropology.

The proportion of young French, German, and Scandinavian hikers is high on the trail, most Americans preferring the video version, and so it's a foreign exchange experience. You watch the sinewy tanned multilingual Europeans striding purposefully upward talking, one assumes, about man's fate and the future of culture in an age of information, and you see the occasional large pathetic flabby American sitting on a rock and gasping for breath, sweating off the Big Macs, thinking about coronary occlusion.

The descent is much harder than the ascent, but you don't know that yet. The novice hiker is leg-weary as you near the cottonwood trees of the first oasis, three thousand feet below the Rim, and it's much hotter down here than at the trailhead, and you lie down in the shade and briefly commune with Kit Carson and Charles Lindbergh and Sir Edmund Hillary and wonder, "Can I make it back up?" The answer is yes.

On the ascent, you have a clear goal ahead, and you get happier and happier as you keep pressing on, one switchback after another, and start to feel really good. You overtake other climbers and pass them. Then, at a trailside shelter, you run into some teenagers weeping into an emergency phone. Two girls trying to convince a park ranger that they really, really, really, really can't go any farther and need to be airlifted out. Two well-fed American girls in nice clothes, both ambulatory. One of them sobs in a well-practiced way, and if you weren't here looking at her, you'd think she had crawled for ten miles through cactus dragging a broken leg behind her. She cries out, "But my dad will pay for it!" They beg. Please, please, please.

You refill your water bottle and leave these wretched and repulsive people, tossing a chill glance over your shoulder, and you ascend, purposefully, without pause, to the Rim and accept the silent admiration of the tourists there, who step back to let you pass, and you stride into the lodge and go to your room and shower and put on clean clothes and order a gin and tonic and sit on the balcony and look out at the Canyon blazing red and orange in the sunset, and feel a moral superiority that only time can diminish. In a few hours, you have gone from galoothood to moral gallantry. What is a vacation for, if not to make you feel better about yourself?

Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech

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