Within a half-mile of my front door Rim Rock Drive starts to snake up the Colorado National Monument. After a series of steep switchbacks that ascend about 2300 feet, there's little respite when the road flattens out because, true to its name, it runs along the rim of the canyon.
No one rides here with indifference. Flatlanders curl toes and clutch arms rests, crying out each time the driver dares to look out at the scenery. Even the locals will feel a palm prick here and there.
The road has few guard rails because they spoil the view, and once you started putting them up where would you stop?
To me, driving this road feels safer than running past a cornfield or a shopping center parking lot, because here I am fully alert, tingling from the pull of the canyon void.
Of all places, this is where I feel mortal — keely alive yet aware of death's inevitability.
When I was last here, a local woman drove along this dramatic red sandstone rim and did a Thelma and Louise into space. Seven weeks later, her crumpled Subaru wagon still rests at the bottom of a canyon, and yesterday, the Denver Post used her suicide to introduce a story about despondent people going to beautiful settings like this to end their lives.
Where else should they go? A garage? A basement? A high school?
In Portugal, we visited a chapel fashioned from the bones of the churchgoers to induce pilgrims to contemplate their end and perhaps be frightened into sinlessness. The memento mori runs through many cultures and artistic expressions — typically with images of skulls, bones or more symbolic representations of decay.
I prefer to conduct my mortal meditation in this great expanse, viewing creation instead of the crypt.
Standing in such places as this — under a clear blue dome, surrounded by billion-year strata and with oblivion at your feet — you feel the tiny whoosh of your breath measured against infinity. But you also feel connected, your beating heart and appreciative eye momentarily signifying the center of the universe.
Is it morbid that I cannot stand here without envisioning the leap, the fall, the end? Should I worry that the canyon tugs at my boots? That my fight or flight response is confused here, and I feel I might fly, not flee?
I don't think so, because I always turn away, alive and ready to embrace the seconds that remain. To make them matter.
I'm already falling, of course, and it will ultimately be such a very short trip. But not here. Not now. And probably not so certain.
Practice is over for today.