Yes. Yes! In San Juan County, during my field school years in the mid-80s, I saw shocking pot hunting damage firsthand, sites hit very badly. I’m haunted by memories of human skulls and other remains churned up and tossed aside—men, women, children, including a child’s mummified foot—remains meaningful to diggers only as signs that grave good such as pots, jewelry, or other marketable artifacts might lie nearby. The exposed human remains don’t trouble me so much for their grim “to this we must all come” reminders, though there’s always something show-stopping about coming upon human bones. Nor do they impress me for the disturbing evidence they offer of the pot hunters’ disregard for law. To me, what’s telling is the pot hunters’ complete reduction of a culture and its members to “the good stuff”, the shrinking of life and its cultural contexts to mere “things” having market value. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 3”
The quieter woman’s attributing the factually wrong “squeezed orange” metaphor to an archaeologist stuck in my mental craw. No archaeologist who had put in time in the area could have gone on the record with such a false statement without doing damage to their reputation. Crossfire’s own “things” amount to a treasury of archaeological information, barely tapped. Not only are there numerous significantly-sized Ancestral Puebloan sites in the sliver of the canyon I usually haunt, all containing intact sections of their archaeology, but many smaller, telltale sites surround those. Beyond that, the canyon is a puzzle of hundreds of sites, many kinds. In places, lithic and sherd scatters pepper the ground, along with whole or broken arrowheads, tools like axes or awls, or spearheads. But those are just the visible features of sites, what meets an eye with a steady gaze. The density of prehistoric occupation further extends two to four layers vertically into the ground.
And Crossfire’s not alone in sheltering such abundance. When the fight over the canyon erupted in 2007, one proposal for keeping it closed included designating it for permanent closure to OHVs and special protection because of its being a treasure house of culturally sensitive resources. When I mentioned that proposal to Winston, he retorted on that basis, the entire region qualified for closure and protection.
For years after that encounter in the canyon, whenever the “squeezed orange” phrase crossed my mind—which it did often—my curiosity tingled. A few years ago, it bothered me so much I tried googling “squeezed orange” with “archeology” and “archaeologist” but found nothing. Yet for someone who has spent decades running to the Oxford English Dictionary to examine etymologies and relic usages of words and phrases, the striking image had the redolence of a linguistic mystery hinting at a meaningful and important social provenance. “Squeezed orange” seemed to have a story to tell. I wanted to listen, to put it together, if I had to, but in the mid-twenty-tweens, new personal circumstances arose that demanded attention and elbowed the question aside, as similar conditions had done many times and for many years before. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 2”
Backstory: On 6/11/2009, in a raid dubbed “Operation Cerberus Action”, a large contingent of federal agents descended on San Juan County, Utah, and arrested several Blanding and Monticello residents for the illegal theft, selling, and trade of protected Native American antiquities. Among them was the esteemed Dr. James Redd, a longtime resident of the area. Dr. Redd was indicted, but the day following his arrest, after recording a long message to his family, he took his own life. This tragedy on top of the already shocking show of force resulted in unforeseen effects, some of which are still in play today, in the questionable prosecution of Rose Chilcoat and her husband Mark Franklin, for instance, for allegedly endangering livestock. This post expands on an earlier post titled “Getting Digs In.” The chapter has grown in length, so I’ve broken it into 3 parts.
June 13, 2009. Two days after Operation Cerberus took the town by thunderclap, and a day after Dr. James Redd committed suicide, I came up out of Crossfire and heard voices above me, near the trailhead. The town was still shaking, stunned by shock, outrage, and grief. I felt curious to see who might be coming into the canyon. I glimpsed a woman on the rocks overhead, well off the trail, turning back in response to a companion’s call. Picking up my step to intercept them, I caught up with two retirement-aged women—out-of-towners—as one helped the other over the arched rebar cattle guard at the trailhead. Something about them said, “Colorado”. They didn’t see me approaching, so I greeted them then asked where they were from. They were coy about answering, saying only they were visiting.
“You?” they asked.
I answered that I lived up the road but was not originally from the area. “Are you going to see the cliff dwelling?” I asked. There’s a two-story Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling a little off the beaten trail in the crease between the cliffs’ base and the talus slope. I thought they might be hiking in to see that.
The woman who seemed most willing to engage in conversation said, “Yes.” Then she pointed to the yellow, green and white, heavy-gauge aluminum, BLM sign posted at the trailhead announcing the canyon’s 2007 closure to off-highway vehicles. “But we really wanted to see this,” she said. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 1”
If only life had turned him out like dandelion fluff—
by the hundreds, the thousands—out in the abundance
of mushroom spore, seahorse fry, ghost moth eggs.
Never before has life spoken to me in such terms.
“I have taken your beloved but left in his place
this bend branch crop of golden peaches.” Continue reading “Were-gild for a Taken Husband”
This post may seem out of step with this site’s “wilderness” or “environmental” character. But it’s a post urging more responsible behavior in the sphere of language, especially on the internet, where rhetorical global climate change seems to be raising the temperature of social media sites to the level of frog-boiling. To my mind, the quality of a language environment and the condition of the natural world connect intimately. Successful changes in environmental policy result from carefully designed language that takes into account past, present, and future well being. Conversely, poor behavior toward the physical world only succeeds through unsustainable reasoning and often bullying rhetoric–that is, it forces itself on its audience, because it can’t otherwise connect with them. So here we go.
The title of this post comes from the novel 2666 by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. The full quote is, “Metaphors are our way of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeming.” It’s a complex metaphor that…well, kinda expresses something a lot of us do when, in conversation, we plunge into the fluid realm of metaphor–especially in our online conversations, where anonymity and the here/not-here nature of virtual presence make many of us bold.
But metaphors. Metaphors are great, right? And all-purpose. A clever metaphor can carry the battle in an argument, thus proving the supremacy of razor wit over club-tongued lunacy. The winner takes home the Truth Booty, cuz, you know, booty is truth, truth booty. Agreed?
The writer’s dilemma: as much as those of us who think we have something to say also tend to believe we perceive the entire firmament of truth associated with our subjects and can name all its constellations, each of us actually stands on a cliff with limited views. We can only speak to the best of our abilities from those positions, speak of and to what we see now in the best language available to us, knowing that we’re missing something, all the while looking forward to finding the frontiers of insight that form at the edges of our current narrative takes. This letter is such an effort. Given the time I had to register my concerns, the current developing attitudes about the “usefulness” of public lands and oil and gas dominance, limited character space for submitting comments electronically, and my current view from the cliff, I felt pressing need to say my say and wrote a “comment” to the Bureau of Land Management regarding my best understanding of the risks oil and gas development would pose to Crossfire Canyon, aka Recapture Canyon, and those of us living near its edges. Readers may notice that I’m not inclined to outrage or agitation over uncertainty. This may be because I’ve faced so many threatening situations for so long that I’ve learned something about directing my focus and efforts and, in cases where the happy ending failed to develop despite my best efforts, living with unfortunate outcomes and what they truth they reveal. But perhaps something in the comment’s contents will have meaning and effect.
Subject: Canyon Country District March 2018 Oil and Gas Lease Sale
Please withdraw Parcels 29 and 30 (Map 7) from your auction and consider permanently closing both parcels to oil and gas development. Three good reasons exist to take such action: 1) Parcel 29 and part of Parcel 30 border the rural residential area at the end of Browns Canyon Road where I and several families live quite close to their westernmost boundaries; 2) both Parcel 29 and 30 cover an environmentally sensitive area, with 29 taking in part of the canyon bottom that includes a series of 10-year-old beaver ponds and their developing riparian zone, as well as a black bear migration route; and 3) both parcels cover an area of dense prehistoric cultural remains that the BLM has already determined to be at risk and worthy of permanent protection. Continue reading “Dear BLM, Parcel 29 is beloved to me”
This post is an excerpt from my unpublished book, Crossfire Canyon and the Landscape of Language. I published a shorter version of the chapter in 2007 on the blog Times and Seasons. I’ve added material and developed my thinking about the intersection of narrative and truth, posing questions about what our responsibility may be when we tell a story that deeply affects people–especially when the story isn’t strictly true, but people who read or hear it feel that it must be.
Early in the summer of 2007 I visited Blanding resident Winston Hurst, a longtime friend from my archeological field school days back in the 80s. Winston is an esteemed archeologist in the Southwest and a man of science. We were discussing Craig Childs, who was coming to Blanding’s Edge of the Cedars State Park to promote his book. I had met Craig in the 90s at a writing workshop he’d led in Torrey, Utah. The first time I read Craig’s work—it was The Secret Knowledge of Water—I thought, Here is a writer I can learn from. I’d taken the risk to travel to the workshop, even though leaving the household whose atmosphere depended on the state of my special needs daughter Teah and on the whims of toddler Val left husband Mark with his hands full.
The experience proved well worth the risks to my household’s teetering domestic balance. Craig told our little group—all women—that it was his first workshop. At one point we met in the wonderful stone house, still a work in progress, of a local resident. To make memorable his point that we should all carry writing journals when we’re out traipsing, Craig set a pile of his own journals in the middle of the floor and told us to each choose one and find a quiet place to read it. I happened to pick the one that contained dialogue that would later appear in his book, The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival. The dialogue occurred between Childs and his river guide friend, Dirk Vaughn, who used to be a cop. It involved Dirk’s statement that he’d killed a man. Continue reading “Quothing the Raven by Patricia Karamesines”