Grand Canyon Metaphors

I’m standing on a small, spiky brown boulder. Diverse species of cacti, grasses, and wildflowers peek out from between the many other rocks and boulders that surround me. The subtle red glow of the long the spines of the Ocotillo Cacti tell me spring is in the air. The sun is bright. Below the bluff upon which my boulder rests, I can hear the Colorado River roars. Upstream, some unknown distance away, I see what I think is the top of the canyon walls—snow highlights the contours of the forested hills up there. Across from me, a massive wall looms—yellow, beige, olive green, purple, brown. To me it is immense and immovable, yet when I look long enough I can see the patterns of erosion. This canyon is young, a seeping wound to the earth. This is the first of many metaphors that have returned to me over and over in recent days: a metaphor that takes the earth to be a body or human. It is a metaphor that comes from a book I’m reading. It makes me wonder: if the Earth were alive, what would it think of this canyon? Would it find the flash-floods, mud-rivers, and boulder fields as serene and lively as I do? 

I can see a friend approaching. She comes and stands next to me. We marvel in silence. Then she says to me, “it doesn’t seem that big.” I understand what she means. The magnitude of the landscape around our viewpoint is so big it is hard to conceive. 

“How far do you think your voice would carry?” Thinking that maybe the ears and the voice might be more reliable than the eyes in this case, I suggest we try a scream. Calibrating all three senses, I reckon my call traversed at most a tenth of the space that I can measure with my eyes. Here is another metaphor. This one is again bodily, this time taking sight in terms of vision. The two metaphors work together, too. If earth were a body, how much of it could hear me? How much of it could I see? 

I feel small. Tracing my sight up the cliff another time I notice two planes, their contrails stretching across half the sky. I flew here. My impact feels big.


In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that metaphor is much more than an aesthetic device adorning  the language of poets. Rather, the authors suggest, metaphor is a basic tenet of human thought. In a series of blog posts this week I will explore a series of metaphors that underpinned my experience of travelling 227 miles on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Metaphor, as I will use it here, means “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (Concepts we Live By, 145).⁠1 

On the flight back to my home from Las Vegas, NV, I opened Metaphors We Live By and discovered a toolkit for thinking about the significance of comparing or experiencing things in relation to one another. I look forward to reflecting on some relational experiences I’ve had recently. 

Posting again soon, 


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