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looking down into the canyon

Gone West



I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport in an airy, glass and steel alcove overlooking the tarmac. The sun is several degrees above the mountain range, and jets rocket down the runway. I watch as their sleek bodies realize their weightlessness, and the landing gear suspension pops out as if surprised at such a sudden, newfound capacity, and then they’re off.

We’ve been in the southwest for a long weekend vacation, and I’ve been trying to play it slow, to soak it all in: the glass wall, the aluminum struts that support it, the cabling design that connects down to the terrazzo floor, the small brass plaque dedicating this sunlit area to someone named Maria. The plaque is hidden down at the bottom of the windows, square with the floor. There’s a little brown bird trapped in here with us. She’s found some popcorn spilled over in a corner.

Perhaps it was the time change, or the constant movement of our itinerary, but this has been the kind of weekend that’s stretched out in time. Breakfast this morning seems like a long time ago, but it was barely two hours ago. Still, the setting seems otherworldly. We ate in a one of the many hotel restaurants in front of a different bank of windows, this time overlooking the pool deck, where men busied themselves with staging the area for another day in Las Vegas.

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The Art of Building Sand Castles


There’s something existentially good about bringing your children to the beach.

The beach is a homing beacon, a pulse that corrects our attitudes, a constant. Even the first night, after we’d unpacked the van and made the inaugural supply trip and found a simple supper, even then, something compelled us to walk out on the pier, crossing the high tide below us in darkness, around the somber fishermen, their baited night hooks lurking forty feet down, above the sea, gentle and present and lulling us, back and forth, over and over, transfixed.

A fellow plucked a baby shark from the murky sea. The pup flopped about on the pier’s deck a bit until its new master, a grandfather who seemed preternaturally calm about handling even foot-long sharks, bare-handed it. My children gazed on as he pushed the hook back through and untangled his catch. “Want to touch him?” he asked.

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Deep in the Heart


“If anyone asks, just say you’re from Texas, and if that’s not good enough, tell ’em to go to hell.” —Nana

It’s summer between seventh and eighth grade in middle school. I would turn 13 that August, and my grandparents on Dad’s side were taking my brother, Brian, and me to Texas. It was like a family vacation, only it was two weeks and change long, and my parents weren’t coming along. I guess you could call it one of my grandparents’ retirement trips. They took off for a couple of weeks because they could. We got to go with them.

We drove the entire way in a burgundy Oldsmobile, winding west, stopping now and then to rest along Interstate 10, Nana and Brian in the backseat, Paps and me in the front seat. I was the designated navigator, outfitted with cool shades, an atlas, and a sense of direction much better than my grandmother’s. Brian played pocket video games, and his most urgent request was that whatever motel we stayed in that night had a swimming pool. We laid up for the second night of our trip some place in Louisiana. We’d pulled off the highway early, probably four in the afternoon or so. Paps was taking the drive down slowly.

It was a classic side-of-the-road motor lodge, the kind where the pool and its concrete deck were off to the side, near the parking lot, with a teal iron fence around it. The wind was blowing the bayou air, and leaves and bugs littered the water’s chlorinated surface. We had about thirty minutes to splash around (although I only remember Brian jumping in) before the thunder started rumbling beyond the interstate. Soon the thunderheads rolled over for a drenching rain. We ate supper at a Shoney’s that night and fell asleep to the glow of a television broadcasting a baseball game, the room’s air conditioner blasting away under the window.

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