"Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


On the Bear Trail

Nandan Datta, one of India's many software professionals in the USA, writes about a weekend spent hiking at Bear Canyon.

When Ravi mentioned Bear Canyon to me, I immediately accessed Google, as is my wont. I am one of those whom the Net has noosed all ends up; I seek sense or succour from it, from a case to case basis. Ravi and I are fellow hacks in one of those corporations, and we write software. We are currently posted in the US of A.

The Bear Canyon, it transpired, was an infernal hole in the ground, some one and half hundred southerly miles off Phoenix, Arizona, cradling one Seven Falls. The website Google spewed was picturesque. It showed gorgeous gorges dotted with foul flora and warned of fouler fauna; including as expected, the eponymous bear. And ominously mentioned a trekking trail. I looked at Ravi with a wild surmise. And there was that familiar glitter, equally foreboding.

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Now, this Ravi has the Livingstone spirit splashing about inside. He likes walking at places never meant to be walked upon by modern men; and shanghais folks into tailing him. I had so far staved off all his advances and meant to, further. Thus, as a pre-emptive strike, (so fashionable these days), I said, "Great place, great site, I feel I am already there...."

"And we will be there, this Saturday !", said Ravi, refusing to be pre-empted.

"Not I, you go ahead..."

"But, why not?"

"I have a friend coming down from New York, visiting me....", software teaches one to think, at least on one's feet.

"Oh!" said Ravi. And left it at that.

That evening, as I packed to leave, there was sudden company. It brimmed to the rim with the fairer sex and the hosanna, Bear Canyon Ho! I said I knew as much. And then they deigned to offer me a place in the party. I pointed out the time of the year and the concomitant heat, in the atmospheric sense, and said the climb was steep. They asked whether I will be equal to it. I said of course. And that was it.

And the following Saturday, blisteringly early, I found myself headed towards the Bear Canyon, with a hat on a head full of qualm and such sinister forebodings, in a group of nine, Ravi in the lead.

The drive to Bear Canyon from Phoenix was pretty straight, headlong along I-10 till Tuscon, and then turning right, straight again. We soon reached the head of the trail. It was a hidden sort of a niche, and the trailhead looked rather civil, with liberal maps and refreshers strewn. But, it warned, in letters clear and cutting, that amenities along the trail were none and water and other lifelines were not on the house. But as an extenuation, there would be the Seven Falls at its end and along, the stream would be crossed just seven times. To drive home the poetic justice, the total trail length was to be seven miles. "But not exactly seventh heaven this would be, in this heat" said I in pun, but even the fun of it went unheeded. Onwards, was the consensus. The ladies ladled sun lotions on themselves and in a few minutes, with Sisyphean shoulders, we started. A trolley bus carried us up the road, disgorging us at the actual start of the saga.

We walked along a narrow path in gentle ascent and blunt turns. A valley lay behind us, and the hills stretched in recesses ahead. The slopes were a curious mix of green and brown with boulders smooth and cacti smirking. We walked single file, and there was space just enough for that. The sun’s fury rose slow but steady. Bushes were here and there, spent forces as far as shades go.

A rivulet crossed our path. If this was meant to be the first of the seven, which evidently it was, it was rather dampening. Not because it wetted, but because it did not. The rocky bed was bare as a bed-frame, and here and there some puddles lay trapped, awaiting their vapoury deliverance. We cocked a snooty stare at this stream, gloating in memories of our land where rivers are as great as they go in this world. We were suddenly boys and girls, again.

The trudging wore on and the stream cut us every now and then, the count upping to seven in no time. Some had little more water, one even a bridge, a rustic rocky one, somehow reminiscent of Rama's path to the rakshashas. I did not want my feet wet. Passing each watery interlude skipping from rock to rock as the Alpine chamois does. Much cajoling and hand-holding abounded as the girls were often afraid of drowning and said so, today being an off-day from their independent womanhood.


By the time we had seen the last of the seventh, it was nearly noon. Hiking had been on for more than an hour and the heat now hit. The sun at zenith, the mountains blazing, their shadows stunted. Trekkers passed us to and fro in advanced degrees of undress, honouring the weather. We said unkind things about their immodesty, amongst ourselves; and walked on. I fell a little behind.

The setting was natural, a bit unnaturally so. Not a hint of habitation, of hubris or hustle of the mechanised modern. The sun-soaked travellers looked as evanescent as they actually were, fleeting water on the eternal duck's back. No banner of burger or elixir jarred. The wind also stood still, chary, as if of spoiling the hushed harmony. In the heart of mainland America, motored in a jiffy from Phoenixian progress, all this suggested immense effort behind the scenes, in reverting and preserving these atavistic, almost museumesque surroundings. But strangely still, it touched. The millennia warped and the world we know a distant dream, the air felt rent with an animal affinity with the earth.


Tempers frayed and recriminations were hurled against the sun and our leader. I smiled smugly and looked every bit of ‘I told you so’. A quick vote was taken to decide ahead or abaft. And it came tied. My casting vote was for ahead; the sun and silence were intoxicating. So we moved on.

Another good hour and a half along a path of rising inflection, stretched further at each turn by our own fatigue and fester, the valley lay deep down below, its houses and roads fickle specs on the canvas awash with a thick, viscous sun. Our expectations floundered as no roar and gush of water greeted our weary ears. And the prospect after such penance of meeting a damp squib of a Fall, metaphorically even, raised our hackles. The captain was further heckled. It is true the website had promised much.

We turned as the trail turned, resolving to turn back any moment; and there it was, the Seven Falls.

It was quiet, maybe in deference to those and that around. There was neither much water, nor much fall. Whatever there was trickled down like tears on a maiden's cheek. At the foot lay a little pool, dark and dulcet. The water lapped softly against the parched shores, evoking a cathedral’s coolness. We went to its edge, washed our faces and feet and felt refreshed to the pore. And then we had lunch. Bliss and bonhomie.

The way back was downhill and peppered with jokes and reflections. We reached civilisation in nearly half the time we had taken to leave it. One of us thought she saw a rattlesnake, but others called it a twig.


"Maybe after the rains, the falls will have more water...", said one, on the way back. I hoped not, for the pathos will then be lost in the plangence of a raving cataract, and a poor cousin of the Niagara it will then be.

Back at the office on Monday, a colleague asked, how was it ? He had been similarly disposed as me, but stronger willed.

"It was so quiet," I gushed.

"Quiet?" he probed.

And I kept quiet, like the Seven Falls.

Photo Credit: Nandan Datta

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