Location: The Grand Canyon
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, the second-largest population center in the state. It can be tempting to think your home is boring or pedestrian, and for a long time, I did – I grew up in a suburb, went to school in a typical district with a typical curriculum, and when it came time for summer vacation, my parents were never interested in what our own state had to offer. Instead, I was lucky enough to travel the world: I’d been to 19 different countries by the time I was 13. I understood, in a vague way, that my state was home to one of the wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon, but for a long time, I was completely uninterested. In 2007, my perception completely changed.
What Changed: Seventh Grade
As a kid, I always loved history. I started with European fantasy books and branched out into classical mythology and found my specialty in Egyptian history and mythology – but my love of history meant I had a soft spot for social studies teachers. In seventh grade, I had a teacher, Mr Montgomery, that changed my life in more ways than one. As I went through the year, I’d stay after class to talk to him; I found that we both had a love of Egyptian history and 60’s protest songs. At the end of the year, we exchanged addresses so that we could send each other postcards of our summer vacations. I was going to see the châteaux of France – he was hiking the Grand Canyon.
The Postcards: Balanced Rocks And Crenelations
At the last stop on our overseas vacation, I excitedly sent off my postcard: a beautiful (if cliché) castle in the Loire Valley. When I got back home, Mr Montgomery’s postcard was waiting for me, a stunning image of two pointed rocks balanced end-to-end on top of each other. He’d written that as he hiked, he was thinking of me, and how astounding I’d find the sights: he said that my academic interest was all well and good, but that touching and experiencing it for myself was completely different. Reading the postcard, I knew he was right – interacting with natural history and studying it were horses of two different colors – and what’s more, I knew I wanted to experience it for myself.
A Timid Girl In Scottsdale
I kept the postcard with me everywhere I went. Later in the summer, my mom, who struggled with arthritis on a daily basis, was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale for foot surgery. Because she couldn’t go alone, the family made a weekend of it: we made the three-hour trip two days before the appointment, stayed in a comfortable resort hotel, and decided to explore Scottsdale. It was the first time my parents had taken any interest in the sights of our home state – so I knew, as shy as I was at the time, that this was my chance to ask for what I really wanted: to see the Grand Canyon. The day after the appointment (a pre-surgery appraisal that had gone well), we were having dinner at a restaurant. It was here that I showed my parents the postcard from Mr Montgomery, watching them read it with bated breath. When they were done, I did my best to swallow my fear and finally asked the question: can we go to the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon
It took some wheedling and begging, but my parents finally agreed to extend the trip and let us go to the Grand Canyon. As my dad pulled the car into a parking space, he glanced back at me and said the words I’ve never forgotten:
“Well, there’s the big hole in the ground.”
At its core, he was right. But the dry humor didn’t make my stomach flip any less as I approached the edge, nor had any of the pictures I’d seen in my life prepared me for the real thing in all its glory. As I gazed out at the Canyon, I found myself in an odd mood: thankful to Mr Montgomery for encouraging me, but also thankful to myself for being bold enough to ask for what I wanted. It was an interesting experience for 13-year-old me, and one I wanted to hold onto for as long as I could.
Mr Montgomery told me, during the school year, that I was going to be an Egyptologist in the future. Looking out at the Grand Canyon, I finally understood why I’d laughed it off at the time: I was afraid to reveal my real feelings, ambitions, and desires to people who might judge me for them. But the feeling of standing up for my own life wasn’t one I wanted to give up. Four years later, when I started applying to colleges, I filled out my intended major: Egyptology.
Photo by Daniel Vargas on Unsplash. Update: This photo appears to have been archived.