March 12, 2008
A few years ago during a two-week raft trip on the River That Runs Through the Grand Canyon, our hikes through the side canyons sometimes led us to petroglyphs, pictures carved into rock hundreds of years ago. As we'd sit in the shade of the cliffs, staring at these old images, I'd try to come up with a narrative that matched the pictures.
The boatman who led the hikes would often scoff at my stories, as if only an expert could possibly figure out what images meant. But the teenage boy on the trip, whom I had befriended, would listen to my narrative and nod. I don't think human narratives have changed all that much in hundreds of years, and the stories were about the same things humans have always talked about: love, sex, relationships. I looked at the images and saw hunting trips, parties, community events, war.
One figure, an image we saw repeatedly, looked to me like a woman dancing, with her hands above her head and her right leg kicked out. I felt sure it was announcing a party, a celebration. The boatman would tease me whenever we saw the figure on a cliff, "Look! A wild dancing figure! Another party invitation!" In response, I'd point out what a great place we were in for a big community celebration. One spot, for example, had these huge centuries-old firepits and a fantastic view.
So now, when I'm in the southwest, hiking through the desert, and I come to places where ancient people once lived, loved, ate, and celebrated, I sometimes feel like I have to dance at the edge of a cliff, in solidarity with the ancient women who danced wildly once in the very same spot.
Posted by jo(e)