Whenever I visit the Grand Canyon, whether for a brief peek over the rim while passing through, or down into the gorge on a hiking trail or rafting the Colorado River below, the words I overhear exclaimed from others are often the same. Words like “Wow” or “that’s amazing” or “magical” come to mind. Questions like “can you believe that?” or “how in the world can that be?” are also common.
But there is one type of person who may be drawn to the canyon more innately, more viscerally, than any other, and that person is an artist. Creatives often draw inspiration from grand sources, whether from an amazing landscape like the Grand Canyon, a mastery of human art like the Sistine Chapel, or delicate, intimate examples of life. This week, in partnership with American Rivers, NRS, Osprey Packs, and Keen Footwear, we are launching a new short film, The World Beneath the Rims, that takes a look at a trio of artists, and contemplates their connection to this amazing landscape.
In The World Beneath the Rims, we explore three people whose lives have been completely drawn in and irrevocably pulled into the world of the Grand Canyon. Bruce Aiken, world-renowned painter, came to the Canyon decades ago to live, work, paint, and raise a family, and he never left. Amy Martin, a powerful Grand Canyon photographer, entered into the world of the Grand Canyon before she actually entered the world; her mom brought her into the canyon in utero, and after her mother tragically passed away, Amy returned to the canyon for contemplation and healing. Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile and our guide for this story, came to the Colorado River to pursue his passion as a dory boatman, but was ultimately inspired to write about not only the fastest human-powered trip through the canyon, but also the history and modern operations of the place itself.
The film also explores an essential component of all of our lives, chaos. As Kevin Fedarko exclaims in the films narrative, “We all enter into and find ourselves overwhelmed by these periods of incredible confusion and chaos, where we are just completely lost and we are turned upside down and everything we own and everything we possess, everything we have carefully lashed to the deck of our boats, is just flung into the river and scattered all over the place.” Yes, the chaos of a rapid may also be a metaphor for life.
As for the canyon itself, the chaos is also too real, as development threats surround the canyon from all four points of the compass. Most notably, a groundwater development plan that could dry up, forever, the fragile seeps, springs, and waterfalls within the walls of the canyon itself. The expansion of the village of Tusayan, without proper groundwater management and alternate water sources, could potentially do irreversible harm to the precious clean water inside the canyon that provides so much life and intimacy to all that depend on it – plant, animal, and human. And while this scheme has been recently halted, a nearby development plan – one to drop an amusement-park style gondola into the heart of the canyon, has reared its ugly head once again. As David Brower once mused about dam proposals, the immediate project may have been defeated, but the place where the project would be built will be there forever, and we must always be diligent about defending these places.
With this film, we hope to inspire action to protect the Grand Canyon, and other fragile places that are so special to each and every one of us. We all need sustainable supplies of clean, fresh water. We all need to have places where we can create, heal, live, and thrive. And the connection between these things, like the connection between the three characters in this film, beauty, is important.
“Beauty means something; it’s more than just an abstract idea, it strikes at the core of who we are. It’s bedrock. It’s one of those things that can sustain us.” – Kevin Fedarko
Words: Sinjin Eberle, American Rivers, Communications Director
Photography and Film: James Q Martin