I sit with our dog Bo in a tiny spit of shade beside The Watchtower at Dessert View, the easternmost point on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon while Todd takes his turn climbing to the top of Mary Colter’s architectural wonder. From my spot on a rock I look out over the canyon and feel that somehow I have made it. I start to cry; I have made it. I am 52, our children are mostly grown and gone and Todd and I have made this open-air trek across the country to this moment, this immense sight. I wipe my cheek as passing tourists ask to pet our sweet golden and when Todd returns, he takes up the shade with the pup while I climb the Watchtower.
Mary’s work from the 1930s is stunning, not only has she repeated the local Puebloan design, she has set windows of varying sizes at differing heights throughout the rough stone walls of her circular tower. I hear someone’s paid guide explain how she wanted to create a place that allowed visitors to see every angle of the Grand Canyon. And this she has accomplished. Each window is placed with great care, creating an artist’s landscape portrait of a different angle of the canyon’s scene. One window, large and high, reveals only sky—bright blue with scuttling clouds; another shows the deep green of the twisted, squatty trees that climb behind, as if having no notion that a rift in the earth falls away on the other side; yet another live painting reveals a hopeful mesa in the midst of the great crevasse, and yet another shows half sky, half hole in the painted desert.
I smooth my hand along the surface of the undulating stone and peer, straight on, through every single window. Some are at my knees, some at my breast, some over my head, but I stop at each, eager as a child to see every view she intended me to notice. As I do, the tears run, large and rolling, and I feel as if each window holds the view from a different part of me, revealing a different piece of my life’s experience. Each of my little parts can see only the view from their window; they cannot see the whole. I climb another set of stairs to find another round room of window portraits and realize that each younger version of myself holds a distinct view of the canyon of my life—its gaping wounds and glorious vistas. I begin to wonder if the tower is a replica of my heart’s center, holding all my parts in tandem. I cannot quite find the answer before it is time to go.
Hours later after watching the sun set from another vantage point, we return at my request to Mary’s magical tower. The sun nearly gone, we take photographs of the waning light on the side of its magnificent stone. The curve of the tower bends the light to near rainbows. I stand beside it, remembering all the views from the inside—each perspective from each pane of glass as they bend in an ever-shrinking circle up three flights of stairs.
I breathe in. I breathe out. And in the breath I find my higher self holds the greatest view. My little parts have been locked inside a tower at the edge of my canyon, none knowing more than the view from their glass. But today I stand beside, hand in hand with my higher self, and see the whole: the beauty and the ruin, the light and the darkness, the cavernous hole, the rocky cliffs, the tiny flowers that bloom from the craggy rocks. I may not yet know the canyon’s entirety, but I know the sparsely placed windows in the tower offer singular views, ones that only make sense now combined and seen from without.
From within my tower, my little parts see through their glass dimly, but on the outside, fully grown, I see face to face, strong enough to bear the whole.