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”
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”
Glancing at Belle, I can tell she needs water, and soon. I lead her away from the beaver ponds before she’s tempted beyond her ability to resist to drink from its giardia-laced teapots. I hurry her to the shade of a big juniper, another of my stops, and sit down in the dirt beneath a broken branch that hangs across the trail. Obviously, Belle needs more water than I can provide by cupping my hand. I relent and pour her a drink in the canteen lid. She laps four or five lids full then lies down in the shade without my prompting, her shoulder pressing against my knee. She pants rapidly but seems to have gotten enough to drink, refusing another offered lid.
Looking around inside the juniper’s shadow, I notice a single penstemon blossom, looking like a wind sock on a pole, glowing red against the litter. Its color leaps to the eye from a backdrop of live blue-green and dead brown juniper stubble; last year’s curled, tawny oak leaves; green wisps of grass growing in a clump; spider webs clouded with dirt and other debris; and round, purplish-blue juniper berries dropped into grey-toned soil speckled with blacker grains, probably of decayed organic material. From somewhere up-canyon, a canyon wren’s laugh pipes its downward-falling scale. Continue reading “Field Notes #12: Who Has Seen the Wind? (Pt.3) by Patricia Karamesines”
Part Two of a three-part post. To read Part One, go here.
Nearing the grove, I find the trail leading into it paved with a light mosaic of shed brown and yellow leaves. I resist the impulse to resent fall’s steady encroachment into summer’s back edge. When I reach the interior of the woods, Belle, very thirsty, trots ahead to a beaver-felled trunk, our customary bench, and plops down to wait for me to offer her water. I open my waist pack to discover that I’ve forgotten to bring her little plastic water dish. Thinking about how that might have happened, I can’t even remember why it isn’t in the pack. Maybe I took it out of the pack when I refilled her water bottle in the kitchen then forgot to put it back in. This is the kind of mistake I make when I’m worn down. I’m unhappy about this error and try to figure out what to do. I cup my hand and pour water into it, continuing to pour as Belle laps water off my palm. Looking at her face, I can tell it isn’t enough. The cap on my canteen is big and will probably hold 4 ounces of water, but I don’t want to offer the lid of my canteen to my dog’s tongue unless the need becomes urgent. Continue reading “Field Notes #12: Who Has Seen the Wind? (Pt. 2) by Patricia Karamesines”
What a mystery is the air, what an enigma to these human senses! [T]he air is the most pervasive presence I can name, enveloping, embracing, and caressing me both inside and out, moving in ripples along my skin, flowing between my fingers, swirling around my arms and thighs, rolling in eddies along the roof of my mouth, slipping ceaselessly thought the throat and trachea to fill the lungs, to feed my blood, my heart, my self. I cannot act, cannot speak, cannot think a single thought without the participation of this fluid element. I am immersed in its depths as surely as fish are immersed in the sea.
—David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
Part One of a three-part post.
August 24, 2013. When I head out today for Crossfire Canyon, I step into a world in motion. Currents of surface wind, smooth in texture, cool to the touch, flood out of the south, curling around every solid body be it person, fencepost, or stone, leaning into every curve in the terrain. Weeds and spindly desert sunflowers undulate in it. As I pass my neighbor’s orchard, waves of wind sound in the apple and pear trees’ leaves, oceanic in temperament, noising like breakers crushing themselves against sand.
Here on White Mesa, the character of the desert air ranges widely from spring’s sandpaper winds that rattle windows and flake shingles off roofs, to the sudden dust-ups of sand spouts or dust devils, to dead still, the odd hour where the air’s quiescence reminds me of a motionless pool deposited in a stream bed after a flash flood has rumbled through. Today’s wind surges without half smothering me. I’ve walked into mesa blasts that grapple with me for my breath. This wind is respiration friendly. Continue reading “Field Notes #12: Who Has Seen the Wind? (Pt. 1) by Patricia Karamesines”
I wasn’t enraged, like a trapped coyote, because I hadn’t been really trapped, but I felt plenty angry as I put the Danger Tree behind me. What a dumb trick, I thought, quite possibly one that could have ignited more trouble. And yes, probably, it had been intended for BLM personnel. That being the case, I was glad I’d triggered the gadget instead of a BLM officer, who might have not only taken its message more seriously but also regarded it as a threat, especially in the wake of the of local agones in which the BLM had played either black hat or white hat roles (sometimes both), depending on the angle from which you viewed their actions. After the 2009 artifact raid, they’d pulled some of their rangers out of back country recreational areas for their safety. The mood of San Juan County residents simmering at the high heat it was, authorities harbored concerns that more radical elements might express outrage over Dr. Redd’s tragic loss and arrests of friends and relatives through violence rather than by the traditional outlets of Fourth of July anti-environmentalist floats, ATV activism and rallies, and the usual long, rambling letters to the editor that typically publish in local newspapers. Continue reading “The Trap, Part Three by Patricia K”
I meet a young couple in the canyon. A dog in their company tells me more about them than they guess. I see a piÃ±on pine tree alight with fall sunshine. As I exit the canyon, I discover a prying eye. This is another long and the last installment in this series but it isn’t the end of the story.
For late November, Crossfire Creek was running high. Usually, a few flash floods in October knock things around a bit, then bone-dry air siphons the water off into the sky, leaving the creek bed bare except where beavers have gardened two springs to create a year-round water park half a mile long. As I stood on the bank above a pond contained behind one of the lower dams, I turned to see a young couple I didn’t know walking toward me down the trail, my neighbor’s Welsh corgi, “Goliath,” loping ahead. November weather in the Four Corners region sometimes runs to the mild side. The couple wore short-sleeved shirts and were holding hands as they strolled. Seeing the dog, I supposed the pair to be relatives of my neighbors whose house lay east of mine across a city block’s worth of pasture. I greeted them and Goliath. Continue reading “Death of an old dog, part five, by Patricia”