One morning last summer I came up out of Crossfire carrying two objects I wasn’t carrying when I entered the canyon. The first was a fully intact turkey tail feather that I plucked from the trail. As I admired it, I noticed an oily sheen on the dark-brown barbs near the feather’s tip. I stopped in the shade of an oak tree and raised the feather into a shaft of light filtering through the leaves. When the sunlight struck the feather, chevrons of rainbow colors appeared in the vane, very rich and vibrant in hue €”a bit peacock-esque. Who would have thought a turkey could produce such a gem?
The feather was a natural object, shed by a canyon resident. My second found object was in a way the feather’s counterpoint: a container of commercially produced bottled water, over three-quarters full, dropped along a steep part of the illegal ATV trail that has caused such a ruckus in these parts.
I knew right off that the bottle wasn’t mere litter. People rarely toss away water that they bring into the desert. Looking at the ground, I saw tracks suggesting a story. Travelers on horseback had come down the trail, which is very steep, narrow, and somewhat rough along this section, especially for folks astride beasts of burden somewhat averse to going downhill. Only hoof prints surrounded the bottle €”there were no boot prints at all except mine. I think that one of the horseback riders dropped the water accidentally. She or he isn’t to blame for not retrieving it since there’s barely room for horses walking single file, let alone space for a person to dismount onto the sharply pitched and loose-rocked downhill grade. Doing such a thing would have risked an accident, and all just to retrieve a cheap water bottle. It was my job as the next person who came along to escort the bottle from the canyon, and I was happy to do so.
Walking along, I began idly examining the container, which I supposed to be far less interesting than the turkey feather. But as I read the label, I felt increasingly uneasy. The bottled water is a Nestle Company product. We needn’t go into what if any socio-environmental troubles might trickle down from purchasing a Nestle Company product, especially one in a plastic bottle €”disposable plastic bottles now being health and environmental no-nos. What interested me was the stick-on label’s wordage. The registered trademarked name of this product is €œPure Life € €”a high-minded cognomen indeed, sparkling with ambiguity. Such a name attempts to stake brash claims on meaning, especially for water sourced from the public water supply in Denver, Colorado. The lowly tap water selected from this common source is elevated to the status of €œpurified, € which the label, as required by law, explains is done €œusing reverse osmosis or distillation. € The process adds calcium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and magnesium sulfate, no doubt essential components of purity’s vestal flavor.
The words €œPure Life € scroll across a banner surrounded by a halo of blue and white rays. Down at the banner’s right-hand corner stand three human figures, dwarfed by the banner and bearing no distinguishing features except differing colors and sizes. The largest figure €”colored green, an illness and money color €”appears to be male, if we apply the traditional associations (larger than the other two and wearing, we suppose, trousers). Immediately behind Green Man is a smaller homunculus, as yellow as sunshine €”possibly a child. Behind the child is a blue figure wearing, apparently, a dress. A woman? If so, why so blue? Might this featureless trio represent a family? The images are, of course, wide open to interpretation. The important detail of this portrait of the nuclear family of man is that all three figures stand with arms spread wide as though expressing joy at the sight of the radiant banner or as if to embrace a Holy Grail that they’ve searched for and at long last have found €” €œPure Life €. Indeed, if you give the water bottle a quarter turn to the left from one of the €œPure Life € banners, your eyes, if they’re sharp, will fall upon this trademarked imperative: €œEmbrace the Pure Life. €
I knew that picking up the bottle itself before it became unsightly and perhaps dangerous detritus was the right thing to do. Once I awoke to consciousness of the images and language stamped on the label, I felt especially happy to remove it from Crossfire. The canyon is already cluttered with rhetoric as vying parties marshal words for control of its landscape. Bits of advertising copy caught on prickly pear spines benefit neither the discussion nor the canyon’s ecosystem €”although I can imagine the label slogan €œEmbrace the Pure Life € dung-glued into a pack rat midden, melting into the fond embrace of ureic acid, water, bacteria, and enthusiastic insects always up for a little canoodling.
To read part two, go here.