Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 31, 2010

Boy Pondering Dogs

Is it not passing fair to be a king, and ride in glory through Persepolis?

So speaks Faustus, as he contemplates the wonders he will enjoy if he consummates his deal with Mephistopheles.

As I conclude this week’s recap of a few days in the desert and mountains, and what I pondered there, I can easily say that I don’t need to be a king riding in glory. After all, there are all those retainers and chamberlains coming into your room in the morning to wash you and dress you, and the same thing again at night, and then there are audiences with loyal subjects who all want you to pay them damages because the Royal Chariot ran over their turnip patch and their children are starving, or the Royal Tax Collector beat them ever so slightly and caused them to miss work, and who needs the trouble? All that noblesse oblige stuff, and, really, if I’d wanted that, well, I’d’ve tried to be a talk show host or something big, 21st-Century-wise.

Nope, standing on a dusty trail in a remote corner of New Mexico will do fine for me. Like here at Chaco Canyon.

Chaco canyon Brad Nixon 2974 (640x402)

Doesn’t pay the electric bill, but then, there’s no electricity there, anyway. Hyuck hyuck. It’s a privilege to have the leisure and means to jet off to some place hundreds of miles away, just to walk around in the woods. Billions of people don’t have any opportunity to even consider such a thing. I might as well be a king, with privilege of that degree, and so I am.

And so I pondered the mystery of the Chacoan culture. Although we have the remains of their buildings, their pottery and tools, we know very little of substance about them. They poured almost incalculable effort over hundreds of years into building cities that housed thousands of people, and now they are less than a memory in the sweep of time. Archaeologists have to use some inductive reasoning to conjecture what might have been their social organization or what the various structures they built were really used for (e.g. we don’t KNOW that the numerous kivas were religious structures, although we know that later pueblo cultures and contemporary ones use them that way).

This deep gulf makes visiting Chaco different from walking around in Rome, Athens, Beijing or even Egypt, since we know a lot about the Romans and Greeks and dynastic Chinese and, to a lesser extent, the ancient Egyptians, who were indefatigable in writing down things about their favorite subjects: themselves. It’s more like visiting Stonehenge, and trying to correlate what you see there and the evidence of a vast, highly organized enterprise for a purpose that is almost impossibly obscure.

One CAN walk in Chaco Canyon just for the experience of a natural world that is very different from my home landscape of Ohio, or any other non-desert world. It’s not a wilderness, thanks to hundreds of years of occupation by the Navajo, then the Spanish and later the efforts of the National Park Service (long may they prevail). There IS an officially-defined “wilderness” only about 20 miles as the crow flies from Chaco: the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

Bisti Badlands Brad Nixon 003 (640x402)

Bisti is an astounding place, completely trackless, except for the tracks you make as you walk there, so walk softly. The bizarre landscape of weathered hoodoos looks like one of the panels from a Dr. Strange comic where he encounters the Dread Dormammu (or his cousin, the Darned Dormammu), or, perhaps more accurately, the kind of place Mickey and Goofy would traverse in search of some arcane secret.

“Garsh, Mickey. This looks SERIOUS! We’ll get LOST!”

Mickey gets that familiar glint in his eye. “Heh-heh, Goofy, don’t worry. I’ve got this ball of twine in my pocket.”

Only Mickey would have a 5 mile-long ball of string stashed in his form-fitting pants. Of course, the pirate cat (Mickey being a mouse and Goofy a dog, cats were always the bad guys) cuts the twine and Mickey and Goofy get totally lost, and have to be rescued by Scrooge McDuck, who flies in in some fabulous futuristical helicopter powered by unlimited wealth.

As we hiked through Chaco Canyon and pondered, I kept recalling the fact that all the timber hauling, stone quarrying and farming were done without horses or draft animals. People had been living in Chaco for about 8,000 years, and longer than that in other parts of North America, so they did have a long span of time to develop sophisticated means of living. But imagine: no draft animals and no wheels. One can only speculate about the impact of seeing a troop of Spanish soldiers wearing armor and riding horses, a few hundred years after the Chacoans had dispersed.

It can be difficult to fix upon the things that link us to those distant human relatives of ours. Then I thought about dogs. The ancient Puebloans probably had dogs. After all, there is evidence of dog burials at a site up Utah, indicating some high regard for the noble beasts as much as 11,000 years ago.

How did dogs and people link up back then? One imagines a group of rather indolent wolves got this Big Idea. They wandered into some camp and said to the Ancient Ones, “Hey. Here’s the deal. You’re tired of us hunting down all the good sheep and other moving food, and, frankly, we’re tired of you guys running us off. So we’ll move in here and become dogs. You can give us cute names like Rip and Fang and Festus, and we’ll bark at stuff at night to let you know if anything’s coming.”

Ancient Ones consider this, keeping one eye out around them, just in case there’s a circle of these wily critters closing in out in the brush while they’re distracted.

“Uh, you know,” they say, “Food is always kind of short here. Now, you say you won’t be out eating up the sheep and the rabbits, but will you be taking care of your own food?”

The head wolf kind of looks down at his paws, then says, “Well, no. We thought maybe we’d just have whatever you’re having.” Then he adds, “But, really, think about that barking thing. Might come in really handy.”

“Might be a big pain in the loincloth, too,” one Ancient One says under his breath before saying out loud, “OK, well, let us think about it. We’ll get back to you. My people will call your people … er … wolves.”

To see the previous articles relating to the visit to the wild places of New Mexico, click back though them using the navigation below.

I have to say something about today’s title. If there is a prize for “most obscure pop culture reference,” I aim to win it with this entry. There is (or was) a band named “Boy Dog Pondering.”

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017


  1. I was all set to tie “Boy Pondering Dogs” into an old episode from “Checkmate”, but I guess that would not tie in with the Musical Group thing. Actually, I just wanted to post something here to aknowledge your mention of The Dread Dormammu, as well as his less than Dread Bro. Really reached out for that one, way to go. Wasn’t old Dormy one of those entities whose very name was not to be mentioned?


    • Well, yes, but I figure if Steve Ditko could WRITE the words, so could I: I’m not reading this aloud. Look for more adventures of Dread and Darned here!


      • I have no clue on the title, but Katie was at Stonehenge last week, if that helps any!


      • It would probably be someone from Katie’s generation who gets it, as if any of them are reading this old-guy stuff!


      • Nobody, and I mean noooobody, could draw a body falling off a New York City skyscraper as convincingly as Steve Ditko. Johnny Romita? Get outta here.


      • And deltoids. Don’t forget those deltoids. Even Kirby studied Ditko’s deltoids.


Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: