Leah and Brandon — Moran Point, Grand Canyon National Park (and an ode to GC weddings)

A Grand Canyon wedding is amplified by the solemn splendor of the backdrop. Hiking and exploring this wonder of the world is one of the reasons I moved to this area. After many visits to see family based here and various flirtations with both the North and South Rim, I knew I wanted to devote more than idle days along the periphery and get to the Canyon from every angle. Now, I get to share my intimate acquaintance, that which has enchanted millions from around the world, with couples making the greatest commitment two humans can make to one another.

Aside from the awe-inspiring beauty that stirs creative minds and the cavernous contours that strike both delight and caution, precious moments along the rim of the Canyon also contain natural interactions to be admired and overcome. These are single-serving moments of vibrant life in the eons-long saga of this geologic time capsule but are, nonetheless, minor obstacles to be dodged when conducting a heartfelt ceremony. For me, those have included a low-flying raven getting a closer look by buzzing by our small group of humans perched on a picturesque promontory, innocent passers-by-turned-audience lifted by the whirlwind of universal grace that a Canyon wedding inspires (and perhaps clapping or cheering the scene prematurely), and, most commonly, an intermittently unrelenting breeze stoked by the stark blend of relatively flat surroundings at the South Rim’s edge, its 7,000 feet of altitude, and the updrafts and downdrafts of varying force and volatile temperatures that the Canyon’s topography unleashes. Often, the dust and pollen aloft, and possibly the emotion of the moment, will cause my nose to run a bit as the ceremony nears its conclusion.

These humbling breezes complicate the proper positioning of a bride and her fluttering accouterments. They also demand commanding mindfulness from the officiant. I have had to speak loudly enough to be heard by gathered guests over unpredictable howls of wind. When one of my first Canyon weddings involved Celtic handfasting, my indoor training was put to the test by tangling gusts that knew and cared nothing of this ancient tradition (from which the expression “tying the knot” was born). Most often, I have had to find innovative and unwavering ways to grip my ceremony text, especially when turning a page that will invariably be commandeered into a sudden and ephemeral desert sail.

A recent Canyon wedding was bathed in such breezes at the eastern South Rim vista known as Moran Point. The event was also awash with true American Western flair that would have made the most authentic cowboy proud. Leah and Brandon hail from the northwestern corner of Colorado, far from the polished ski provinces of the I-70 corridor and the urban centers of the Front Range. Theirs was more than just a merging of two lives but of four, as Brandon’s two preteen boys were also central to the occasion (with the three gentlemen decked out in matching immaculate blue flannel shirts and crisp blue jeans resplendent with stunning silver belt buckles). The soon-to-be frontier family had explored various scenic sites on their way down from Colorado and spent time on the South Rim the previous day with the handful of assembled family members who had came along or joined them from eastern Arizona. The thoughtful, kind boys told me of their efforts to earn permission to hunt small game, a right of passage in this type of brood. When I told them I had some luscious fresh plums from my yard I intended to share with a valued colleague – Jesse, the event’s photographer – I spared a few for the family after they professed a fondness for the fruit. Somewhat idle and fleeting connections like this, made on the periphery of blessed occasions in ridiculously majestic places, take on added meaning in a modern, digitized world so quick to divide and disconnect with cold, ugly impunity and dehumanizing deception.

Leah and I had spoken about her desire to keep the ceremony simple yet find ways to honor the boys and let them know this marriage was also about their current and future place in this union. By adding one sentence to my ceremonial introduction and adding words of commitment to the young cowpokes in their vows, a beautiful balance was struck. Now, in coordination with Jesse, the last obstacle to surmount was finding a lull in the fastidious wind. We found the right moment to set forth but still, I had to ask one of the boys to hold back Leah’s veil so it would not become a confused windsock and photo spoiler. I had only minor issues with my ceremony pages. My only real challenge was defeated by the tissues I keep in my jacket pocket. Though I intend them for potential use by brides not wanting to streak their makeup or grooms wanting limit the number of tearful photos taken of them, it also happens that I need those tissues for my own tears and overcome sinuses. On this day, I think it was the particulate breeze that caused my need, but when the young cowboys began tearing up as the couple surprised them with direct professions of their commitment and love to them and expressions of their invaluable roles in this ceremony, I think my tears’ cause became a blend of airborne allergy and heartfelt empathy. I’m so lucky and blessed to get to do this job and I take it as an honor on every occasion. And every occasion opens new avenues for poignant meaning that restore faith in the best human traits. Amazingly, I can almost forget about the Canyon when such touching moments occur. Almost, for it can never be an afterthought and reminds why so many chose to make their deepest unions in proximity to this unrivaled Colorado River-carved gem.