“Take a step back. A little to the left. Bee, would you mind moving to your left, and Roger, to your right. Will those in front stoop slightly and those in the rear stand on your toes and take a step back. Christmas pictures only come once a year, let’s get this right.”
I don’t remember what was said after that. Screaming, crying, people begging God for an instant replay in hopes of reversing what had just happened. Apparently God wasn’t listening, because Bee and Roger never got developed. They were standing on the edge of the biggest slash in the earths crust and she asks them to take a step back in order to appease Christmas. Sometimes you just gotta laugh, even when you know it is inappropriate.
The rescue people came and went. It is several hundred feet of pin ball action to the bottom. There is no hope of surviving such a fall, and yet we all hoped out of habit I suppose. Me, I was a bystander, but it didn’t lessen the trauma.
I didn’t know Roger or Bee. I can only assume they were like everyone else that comes here to worship at the but crack of the earth. I doubt they expected to remain a memory tattooed on the rock walls, but then do any of us really appreciate the fact that one day we are, and then we are not.
I got some good photos of the fall. From where I was situated I was able to follow their progress until, well the end. They aren’t the kind of pictures you’d send out at Christmas, but then the local newspaper is always looking for human interest stories.
I’ve always enjoyed photography. Well, not always, but since I got my first camera when I was about ten. It was old and required film which most people thought was a nuisance, not to mention the f stop settings, speed, focus, all now done without so much as a thought. Back then, you had to pay attention. The pictures you took were an extension of not only your eyes, but spirit.
I was convinced that had I been able to afford film and the processing, I would have taken some Ansel Adams type photos that would have made my friends sit up and smile, or at least feel like a tree growing out of a rock. The experience however did teach me a lesson I retain the elements of to this day. Film, although essential in preserving a record of what you see, is only essential if you do not have a photographic memory.
Not being able to afford film I learned to develop my memory instead. Although I cannot show you the visions I catalogue in my little gray cells, I can describe them to you. Some say it is why I am not a renowned author; others say it is because taking pictures with a camera that has no film is the dichotomy between belief and faith. I personally don’t see the difference, but then I don’t pretend to offer psychological diagnosis to people I hardly know.
No matter the why or why not, I will never forget Roger. Our eyes met as he slipped from the earths rim and began his decent to the bottom. They say in a vacuum things fall at 32 feet per second. I can only believe them as I have no way to contest their atmospheric math, if that is what it is. I do know however that even at 40 feet per second Roger reached his destination before I could climb over the safety fence to get a better view, and picture of course.
I never really got to know Bee. She was hidden by the frantic flailing of Roger. I bet people said she was nice however, they always do, even when they don’t mean it. Something about death that brings out the best in people. Too bad life doesn’t demand a similar reaction.
Elmer the editor of the Canyon Gazette said he’d give me 25 dollars a picture, but he wasn’t paying for impressions of pictures. He said he’d fallen for that once before and stark white rectangles on the front page, although they generated considerable quires, remain an embarrassment to this day. No matter the number of times I’ve apologized, he just won’t let it go. I guess that goes with the job, his not mine. The pictures I took were so clean and truthful you could almost hear Roger’s last words. They were a bit garbled, but then I’m sure he was stressed and not thinking clearly.
Matilda Hemp the designated family photographer asked me if she could have copies of my photos, as no matter what, Christmas would come again. I attempted to explain that my pictures were all stored in my head. The camera was just to keep people from thinking I was crazy or a pervert. She could see my point but wanted to know what I thought she should do, being she was responsible for sending out the family Christmas picture this year, and she had nothing but memories at this point. I assured her memories were often enough, but she said she couldn’t send memories, “how would it look?”
I suggested we go down to the newspaper office. They have archives there with hundreds of pictures of tourists and the canyon. I didn’t tell her that dozens of people a year make the same mistake as Roger and Bee. The pictures are all pretty much the same, so no one would really know it wasn’t Roger or Bee. She thought she’d pass and see if she couldn’t find someone to Photoshop their faces onto the canyon’s background. I told her I thought I knew a guy, but she said it was OK, she thought it would mean more to Roger and Bee if someone in the family did it. How can you not agree when you know that grief has a hard time letting go, even at the canyon.
Next year I’m going to Mount Saint Helens. They say that what with the earth attempting to compensate for the way it has been treated, that there is a good chance something will happen there. It’s been a few years and I know from experience, pay back can be hell. I thought about getting some film, but then I can’t see how film can be a better record keeper than my little gray cells.