September 15, 2015

maybe a love letter to a dam

By CB Bryan
Glen Canyon Dam
September 1, 2015

I somehow managed to find myself here, 700 feet below where I once was. Falling down and down and down, until finally I am face to face with almost 3 acres of Bermuda grass. Starry eyed, I stare deep into the brilliant green and want to take my sandals off and jump the fence, linger in the cold wet grass that is watered by the dam and mowed every Thursday. This dam doesn’t divulge all; secrets seem to linger in closed off passages. I want to slow down and lightly touch the ceramic tile hallways, but instead we are herded quickly. This dam doesn’t wait for its admirers. The air gets colder, walking through fluorescent tunnels. Signage along every corridor and yet it still is lacking in communication skills. Somehow, after three years of concrete pouring this dam still doesn’t seem solid. It knows how to woo me though, with “pedal power” and bicycles carrying goods from one floor to the next, good signage and even greater views. I look up and wonder what I could possibly offer it. I am small in comparison – just this tiny body in the thick of it and it could crush me whole if only it lost its grip on the canyon walls on either side.  

I want to hate the dam thing – eyes watering, learning about the beauty and archaic canyon with years of history before dam’s existence. Nostalgia for something never experienced. There are swelling strings and crescendos echoing through the rocks that once were. The ghosts of river runners crashing through Colorado river carved pathways. If it hadn’t come along – what beauty would still exist! What magic!

I try to find the pool that I’m told I can use because we’re staying at the campground and that’s supposedly one of our amenities. This is where we are staying, a campground next to a resort next to a lake full of floating apartments. I squeeze my fists passing by a small diesel leak that has engulfed the air. I am baffled and still under a slight daze, still starry-eyed as I flirt with the surrounded red rocks that make my heart long for my desert country and sandy mesas. I run and walk over on a carved concrete pathway that eventually leads to the pool. You need a plastic key that looks like a credit card to access the small bit of chlorinated water just over a wrought iron fence. Another concrete pathway to another pool and find the same obstacle. This pool however is near an entrance to the resort and hotel where guests can buy margaritas and t-shirts with rock paintings and glittering sequin star constellations. The guests most buy these southwest tokens and then hide them away -- proof that they were in the desert once, but not ever worth wearing. Instead, they’re all decked out in vacation wear -- printed dresses and polo shirts -- clean compared to my dusty shorts. We can’t get a plastic key because we don’t have a blue piece of paper confirming our stay at this weird concrete desert.

The walk back is again, along a concrete path and the sun sets over the lake and over the 12-room pontoon boats. My heart flutters again, there’s that dam in the distance; orange and pink light over everything -- the gift shop and the mobile recycling unit, the laundry facility and the shower. What kind of place is this?

The next morning I wake up at 6am -- an hour before breakfast and walk down to the water’s edge. There are plants that I’m familiar with but don’t know their names. Everything waits to be discovered. I realize why I have been in conflicted love this whole time.  In some way shape or form it provides the resources so that I can live in the place that I love. I shouldn’t love the desert as much as i do. It is not sustainable. It should not hold the amount of people it does, and yet it does. Dams across the American west’s landscape allow us access to the dry dusty beauty and for that I am perhaps in love and grateful. Maybe I love you, Glen Canyon. Maybe I need you if only to continue to love the southwest and this desert homeland.

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