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A Day at Providence Canyon: A Personal Exploration Amidst Global Quarantine

Story and images by Blake Blackmon

“I see it!” I exclaim too early. “There’s no way,” he says, sympathetic to my enthusiasm. We move forward and the mirage of canyon walls turns out to be trees dipping and rising in the distance. “Oh,” I sink back into my seat. I feel this impatience like a wick beneath my skin.

Hours earlier I paced, packing with one hand drinking coffee with the other, let’s go, let’s go now.

We hadn’t even set a specific departure time for the trip that I knew was generous of him to indulge me in on a random Wednesday. However, that morning I woke with cabin fever, and it took little to send me into the flames of impatience. Thankfully, 15 minutes into the drive I could at least put up the facade of being settled. Over the past few months this has become a feeling I know well. Being confined to our two-bedroom home, I have wavered between a false settling and a burning, but I am always aware of the wick, the desire to ignite.

In one such instance, weeks earlier, I begged him to go with me. I said I had to go; wick throbbing. It was all together impractical. The drive itself was 40 minutes and it was already 2:00 p.m. I knew it was impractical; much of desire is. His eyes were sweet as he told me we would plan a day soon and wouldn’t it be so much better planned? I didn’t expect my eyes to fill with water, the flame snuffed out. “Okay,” I replied, settling for the usual walk around Lakebottom. Gray gravel mixed with dirt and lifted to a small smoke that stuck to the skin of my ankles and the whites of my dog's paws.

A view of Providence Canyon State Park. Photo by Blake Blackmon.

“I see it!” I say confidently this time, sitting up straight. It was only a glimpse as we turned at the small wooden sign that read: “Providence Canyon.” We weave through a winding road as I peer eagerly through the trees straining for another look. “Do you know where you’re going?” I ask. His response is calm, “I think so.” I bite my tongue. The dogs stand up in the back, pressing their noses to the window causing a cloud of moisture. We pass a church, oddly in the center of the park. We pass empty picnic tables and playgrounds still roped off. The sight sinks something in me. I wonder if the park will be incredibly crowded; filled with people also tired of being cooped up. We reach the end of the road where a small welcome center rests and park. I am quick to jump out. The wind pricks my skin and for just a moment I think about bringing my sweatshirt before remembering where I am. It is still early, but the Georgia heat will soon wake coating us like invisible rain. I leave the sweatshirt behind bringing only my phone which I stick in his backpack.

Blackmon and her beau explore Providence Canyon. 2020.

We walk past the welcome center along a steep downhill path. I feel the difference in my feet immediately, the clay both hard and soft, clumps of red sticking to the whites of my shoes. At first, the red beneath our feet is all we see, our bodies surrounded by green. I feel a spark of electricity as we reach a wide-open red expanse. In each direction, a sign points to a separate path and I feel hungry for all of them. We start at the path labeled Canyons 4-6. I walk preciously at first, trying to avoid the larger puddles where my feet sink and stick to the red mush. I don’t know what I had expected that morning, but for some reason I had never considered being on the canyon floor. I was prepared to look down at the scenery but as we moved forward I slowly realized we weren’t just looking at the scenery, we were in the scenery.

From the canyon floor.

My mouth drops. I stare upwards at red walls of clay and dirt hovering like mountains. The illusion of sturdiness is too convincing. I have to remind myself I am surrounded by something delicate and impermanent. The colors are what excite me the most at first. As my eyes move up each structure, I marvel at the patterns and the color palette of dark red, violent orange, deep golden yellow, and purple the hue of amethyst. I walk closer and closer to these walls until they are reduced to that which they are composed: small flecks of dirt. I feel I am standing in a giant sandcastle. We follow the path which opens to some new marvelous formation every few steps. Magnificent sculptures loom above us and I look up at each one trying to give them all the appreciation they deserve; trying to memorize every image and moment.

A closeup of one of the canyon walls.

The feeling is not unlike the one I had the first time I went to the Met Museum. The large structure held beauty in every corner and I felt small, and incapable of fully appreciating and experiencing everything it had to offer. It’s the feeling that makes me remember how everything is always changing; yes I take the same walk around Lakebottom multiple times a week but do I not see some new sight or think some new thought because of it?

We finish the trails on the floor of the canyon and it is time for the view I expected all along: from above. We follow a wooden railing blocking us from stepping out onto the more dangerous edges of the canyon’s walls. I understand the railings. When you look at the canyon it looks so solid, like something you could walk to the very edge and sit upon. It is so easy to forget that water is all it takes to slide the dirt downwards, constantly changing and molding its shape. He informs me that they have to move the railings back every few years because of this and I can’t help but think how the canyon will probably never be exactly as it is this day. Its edges will change day by day almost imperceptibly until it is once again time to move the fence. It is something to come back for, some speck of red dirt to hold onto until I can return. A time, I hope, when the playground will be open and I won’t wince as I pass fellow hikers even at six feet apart. I leave with this hope and this fullness, and for the entire drive home I am settled, the wick burnt down to a satisfied nub. ◼︎

A butterfly on the trail.

Before You Go:

Due to the continued need for social distancing, the popularity of outdoor attractions in our region has risen tremendously. Georgia State Parks have seen a dramatic increase in the number of visitors traveling to their parks each day - especially on the weekends. Some parks have experienced crowds so large they've been forced to stop admitting visitors as early as noon. Before heading to Providence Canyon or any State Park in Georgia, we highly recommend calling the park to ensure they're still accepting visitors that day.

More from Blake Blackmon:

Written for The Columbusite:

Other work:

View Blake's website and poetry here.


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