Isolation sets in

1 04 2012

I’ve only been here a month, but it seems like a year.

I thought I knew what isolation was like, living in Panama City. That was nothing. The Grand Canyon is remote. It is a National Park, after all, on the edge of a cliff, some 7,000 feet up. It’s a good place to go into exile.

Many of the workers here are older people who have retired from their career jobs or military service and are now enjoying a little extra cash in a natural setting. There are also a large number of Native Americans working in the park. The Navajo, Hopi and Apache reservations are close by and their numbers are well represented inside Grand Canyon. And then there are the foreign workers, brought in from countries like Ecuador and Thailand for a three month stay and usually made to clean rooms and bus tables.

I have been assigned to work inside the gift shop at the Maswik Lodge, where my retail experience has helped tremendously. Running a cash register is kind of like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it. My first cash register work came as a high school teenager at the Port St. Joe Piggly Wiggly and now, more than 20 years later, I’ve never been robbed and my drawer has never come up majorly short. Knock on wood. Big ponderosa pine wood.

But I’m not selling necessities at Maswik. I’m selling souvenirs — from t-shirts and jewelry to pottery and greeting cards crafted out of mule dung. Of the dozen or so gift shops in the park, Maswik is the only one designed to be a “green store” and by “green” I don’t mean money. The Maswik gift shop is an example in environmental stewardship and United States ingenuity. Almost all of the merchandise is designed and distributed within the United States and this manufacturing is carried out with strong regard to softening the environmental impact.

It’s a refreshing change from the Wal-Marts and Targets of suburban America, supplied by China.

However, aside from the store’s feel good eco-friendly message, I have noticed some of our top sellers are Tylenol, Advil and Tums. The elevation catches many tourists off guard. So many assume Arizona is the desert and the Grand Canyon is on a river. And while they are right on both accounts, Northern Arizona is not Phoenix or Tucson and very few visitors to the park actually make it to the bottom of the Canyon.

I haven’t ventured in yet, although I do plan on making an initial hike tomorrow, weather permitting. So far, it has been very cold and windy on my off days. The second week I was here, a huge winter storm blew in and dropped 18 inches of snow on the Canyon. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to warmer conditions.

And as difficult as the isolation can be, I am thankful to be working a lot and saving money. I had a plan in mind when I accepted this assignment. You might call it a mission in discipline and capitalism. The early going, as they say, is always tough. If I can stick it out, the rewards will be great.

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3 responses

1 04 2012
David Altermatt

As I have said, John, I am very pressed with your amazing fortitude. My prayers are with you as you descend the canyon tomorrow, that you are able to enjoy the beauty of God’s hand shaping the earth.

2 04 2012
Don Harris

You thought Panama City was isolated? Seriously, you wouldn’t believe where I work. When I went there for the interview, they told me “You’ll think you’re lost when you start seeing all the dairy farms, but just keep going.” On the other hand, it’s a 37 mile drive with almost no traffic, so I guess I can be thankful for that. Anyhow, I hope you get to see more of the canyon. At least, if you’re there for a few months, you won’t have to cram everything into one day.

2 04 2012
David Altermatt

John, your fortitude is amazing. Hopefully your hike tomorrow will be too. Go with God.

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