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 rutabegas 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. 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, and how, although we have the remains of their buildings and 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 varieties of 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 themselves, their favorite subjects. 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 Navaho 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 is an astounding place, and 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 steely 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, farming were done without horses or draft animals. Now, 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 no draft animals and no wheels. Man, just imagine, a few hundred years after the Chacoans had dispersed, what would have been the impact of seeing a troop of Spanish soldiers wearing armor and riding horses!
So, it’s hard to fix upon the things that link us to these distant human relatives of ours. Then I thought about dogs. The Anasazi probably had dogs! After all, there is evidence of dog burials at a site up in Utah, indicating some high regard for the ol’ 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, 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?”
Wolves kind of look down at their paws, then one 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