On Google Earth the canyon of the Dry Frio River looks like a pale, crooked finger poking northward into a region of darkness. The dark area -- the Edwards Plateau -- is dark with hilly slopes mantled with evergreen Ashe Junipers and Texas Liveoaks. The canyon's floor is occupied with fenced-in pastures and a little dead-end road.

Wind inside the canyon normally is either warm Mexican air gushing northward, or cooler air flowing southward off the plateau. What a pleasure in late summer when hot, howling wind sweeps down the canyon making fast-moving silvery waves in big fields of tall grass.

It's hard to imagine how a piddling stream like the Dry Frio carved such a big canyon. However, here and there along the river huge boulders left in odd positions show that the canyon's formation hasn't been a calm, continual thing, but rather it's been roughly gouged out during very rare catastrophic flooding. A friend who studies pollen research for this area says that 10,000 years ago the climate here was much wetter, but 5000 years ago it was much drier.

Three or four miles south of here, in the 1980s, archeologists excavated a prehistoric campsite along the Dry Frio. Wandering bands of indigenous Americans had used the camp from about 7000 BC until historic times. During the late 1400s when the shipwrecked Cabeza de Vaca and a handful of followers passed near here they reported Pinyon Pines with wonderfully edible seeds, though now the pinyons are rare, only atop a few hills. Early indigenous groups were driven south by the Apaches, who later were attacked by the Comanche, and eventually all were displaced by European settlers.

Physiographers tell us that canyons can reach only a certain depth, not eroding below the current sea level. With time their walls decay, their troughs fill with sediment, and the whole landscape where the canyon used to be erodes to a fairly flat "peneplain" close to sea level. The peneplain exists until either the sea level changes or forces within the Earth raise the entire landscape so that the erosion cycle can begin again.

I relate to this canyon, for I know the feeling of coming out of nothingness, of slowly acquiring a history, a certain character, and a perspective on things. Moreover, like this canyon opening onto the low-lying Coastal Plain, nowadays I find I can cut no deeper into the meanings of things, and I experience a certain leveling out before a vast unknown ocean.

With this insight forming within, it's the Raven's raw croak echoing off the canyon's walls that sets me straight again, the unforeseen wildflower or moss making a surprise appearance along the trail that keeps me going, like the little stream of water trickling down the canyon's bottom, clear, sparkling, and filled with life, even after all that's passed.  .