And there’s a whole life in that, in knowing that the sun is there. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Chancy, is flight, an omen’s
flutter in the unsettled air
from angles where we least
expect a challenge. Invention,
they say, of primordial insects
aspiring to high haven above
raking tooth and claw. Accident,
is flight, of last-chance leaps
to crest battlements of gravity’s
grubbing keep. That such least
creatures found loopholes in
law pillorying them to their
places in a food chain. Then
in their thoraxes, more frangible
than flesh, composed arias
of survival, buzzing themselves
loose. The miracle, is flight,
when four hundred million years
ago, some humble bug got itself
wings, and with wings, ascension.
Hard thing it may be to admit,
the humankind taking credit
for all triumphs over nature,
but, with flight, some strain
of early dragon-just-turned-fly
choreographed the first steps of
the dance away, escape velocity. Continue reading “Evidence of Flight”
At the bottom of these sustained bad acts that may imperil us all, or at least those who are “Not-Us”, lie age-old beliefs that Earth exists as a source of wealth and power for the worthy, that it’s a “thing” for our use. But underpinning those beliefs? An even older traditional story line traceable to early creatures’ adaptive behavior, aroused in response to the need to secure the evolutionary advantage. And nowadays, that old struggle almost always takes form in the language of instrumentality; that is, in language—including body language—applied strictly as a catch-and-hold tool.
A Motley Vision readers from way back may recognize some content in this post. The older version appeared as a 2-part piece in 2010, then titled, “So You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know…”. I’ve since added an introduction and more material about language and the possible tensions that may be at work when competing narratives go to war. This version is also the outcome of a Facebook discussion where I crowd sourced a thinking problem I ran up against in writing an introduction for a chapter of my WIP, Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: At the Interface Between Language and Landscape. The online discussion resulted in a breakthrough that enabled my reworking the chapter’s introduction and fine-tuning the post.
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 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”