In the late Spring, when we vacationed on the Colorado Plateau, I discovered a book by Patricia Limerick called Desert Passages. Dr. Limerick describes the American encounter with deserts in terms of three attitudes towards nature “as a biological reality in human life…hunger, thirst, injury, disease and death….as an economic resource…a container of treasures awaiting extraction…or as an aesthetic spectacle. “ We affectionately called our trip the archaeology tour as we visited the ruins of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples at Wupatki, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, and Canyon de Chelly. Wave and I spent many hours at the ruins in quiet meditation while I attempted to capture the essence of these amazing cultural resources on watercolor paper.
One of the great mysteries is what happened to the ancient peoples? Archaeological evidence reveals that sometime in the late 13th century these peoples abandoned their homes amongst the mesas and canyon walls and it is theorized that environmental changes — possibly extreme drought — caused these peoples to abandon their homes. One feels a certain twinge given the current state of drought in San Diego, Los Angeles and the rest of California, and of course the fire still burning in the San Gabriel mountains. It is believed that they left the Colorado Plateau and migrated to join other pueblos along the Rio Grande river in New Mexico. How would we best characterize the Ancient Pueblo peoples encounters with the desert? As a biological reality? Probably yes. As an economic resource? Probably yes. As an aesthetic spectacle? Probably yes. We preserve the artifacts they left us and look for answers in the patterns as we piece the pot shards together. Ann Weiler Walka’s poem “Other Dreams: Grand Gulch” in Waterlines: Journeys on a Desert River gives us something to ponder. “My thumb polishes the fragment of a bowl, its shallow curve delicately cross hatched with black…some woman dug this clay from a slip of mud…she kneaded the clay with sand and spun a ball into coils….she painted the bowl with a yucca leaf…and dreamed the design from her fingers…she blessed the bowl…that night in her sleep she saw clouds piling over a mesa, spirits coming home. She dreamed of the clay along the creek cool and slippery as a freshly opened heart.”