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Backpacking with the SaintsWilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice$
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Belden C. Lane

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199927814

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199927814.001.0001

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Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton

Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton

15 (p.193) Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton
Backpacking with the Saints

Belden C. Lane

Oxford University Press

The trip didn’t make sense at the time. Most backpacking trips don’t. There are always more pressing things to do. We didn’t have the time or the money, but we went anyway. Sometimes you just gotta drive to the end of a long dirt road in the middle of the desert and keep walking. When Aravaipa Canyon lies at the end of that road, you know you won’t be disappointed. Mike and I had come to southeastern Arizona to hike the twelve-mile length of the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area. “Laughing Waters” is the name the Apaches gave to the site. The Aravaipa band of the Western Apache lived here in the nineteenth century. They did well at first—hunting deer in the side canyons; gathering saguaro fruit, mesquite beans, and pinyon nuts; catching native fish that thrived in the creek. But by the 1870s, drought drove them out. When they sought relief at Camp Grant a few miles away a Tucson mob organized a massacre that left them decimated. The government relocated the remainder of the tribe in the White Mountain Reservation to the north. These canyon walls, reaching a thousand feet high in places, hold memories of children playing under reddish-brown hoodoos and dark stories etched in the desert varnish of the rock. Today the Bureau of Land Management regulates entry into the canyon, limiting permits to thirty hikers a day at the western entrance. For much of the way you slog through ankle- to knee-deep water, stopping at every bend to marvel at what rises before you. Towering red cliffs, stands of green willows and cottonwoods, jimson weed and desert marigolds, cactuses of every sort. This is a place where humans are outnumbered by bighorn sheep, where poisonous centipedes hide in thick grass, and serpentine side canyons darken ominously in the late afternoon sun. I’ve loved it since I first set eyes on it. At the start of this book I mentioned a night I’d spent alone in the desert near here a few years earlier. What I experienced that night would finally make sense on this subsequent trip into the canyon proper.

Keywords:   Aravaipa Canyon, Buddhism, Erasmus, Hindu spirituality, Monasticism, Trappists, experience, lions, mindfulness, prayer

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