On raindrop-pecked sand, the subtle lunar crescent of an Archaic metate broken and abandoned a few thousand years ago.
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About 130 million years between tides.
A little rock shelter in the sandstone where—maybe in the early 1900s judging from the state of the juniper—a Navajo sheepherder, a woodcutter, or an outlaw had augmented a natural cave with cut branches.
The Skin of the Earth
Where we put our feet can change within a yard or two.
Also true for others’ feet.
From hike journal, 10.8.95:
The day began and ended with a moon so big and orange it looked unreal, beyond natural, godlike: something to worship, for how could something so strange not be holy?
In the morning, as I drove down to meet the others at 7 a.m., the setting moon was about to touch the western horizon, oval as a big squashed orange. I stopped the pickup and said, “Oh!”
In the evening, as we drove wearily home at dusk, there she was again, rising: weird, enormous, still infinitesimally touching the purple mountains. We came over a rise in the road and all together said, “Oh!“
Later they switched moons on us and there was only that little cold dime, high in the sky.
An illustration for Dr. Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico, showing the technique presumably used a thousand years ago by the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, to froth a drink made from cacao traded up from Mexico. Arguing the details with three archaeologists and four Pueblo consultants took six weeks and about fifty emails. Love this kind of dialogue!
And yes, the woman has six toes. A mutation that shows up archaeologically and may be associated with high status.
The story of chocolate in Chaco is fascinating. Here’s Dr. Crown’s brief introduction to it:
More of my favorite kind of illustration, historical recreation:
I’m painting a lot these days…
…and so is the vast, clean desert.
The desert has been at it much longer than I have.
A frosty desert morning on the gravels of the ancient Rio Puerco. All around us, distantly, the pop and crack of target shooting. We parked in a trashed pullout and hiked away from the road.
Wandering, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, we picked up rocks and dropped them. Showed each other the best ones: quartz and quartzites, petrified wood, metamorphics full of crinoid stems—all tumble-polished millions of years before humans were human. The sun rose, then sank. The wide bare plains; the weather-bitten volcanic Ladrones palely looming, almost floating. Except for wind and the marksmen, silence.
At dusk, our pockets full of pretty rocks, we trailed back to the pickup and sat on the tailgate as the target shooters drove homeward past us in their four-by-fours.
From the western ridge of the syncline a pass looks out over Cabezón, shadowy and shadow-washed. Many ancient, rudimentary stone circles scatter their boulders on high points. Each may be the site of a vision quest; we can think of no other explanation. Below lie mineral springs. One is raised on its deposits, a breast whose nipple is a pool, perfectly round, green as an old penny.
As we walked back along the ridge, some small creature far down among the split rocks screamed at us: Squee! Squee! Squee! An ear-splitting insult that never stopped until we went away.
The spareness of the desert: a small hill was home to seven clumps of terra cotta-pink grass. Beyond it, dark piñones echoed their humped shape. All carefully spaced; plants form a community, yet they’re individuals who live with each other at a social distance.
I drew the fossil of a spiral snail shell embedded in a gray limestone boulder.