Yesterday, we took a strenuous hike in the maze of rocks high above Moab, Utah. We were searching for petroglyphs and enjoying a warm, sunny autumn day. One of our sons was with us, helping us spot the ancient native pictures and making a detailed photographic record of what we found. It is difficult to describe the pleasure I feel on such days and the sense of wonder that people not only lived for thousands of years in this harsh place, but made beautiful art too. We let our minds wander. What do the figures on the rocks mean? Who were the artists? Could we communicate with them if they were standing before us? What would they think of what we have done to their home? The ugly potash plant we see in the distance. The jeeps, ATVs, and motorbikes wreaking havoc on the land.
Hiking clears our minds and makes us reflect on our lives. Sometimes in the early morning after an excursion, we talk and try to make sense of them. One conclusion we have reached is that when you are caught up in the world of work, family, and personal ambitions, you are, without knowing it, trapped in a web of social control that dictates how you think and act. Only when we were able to partially free ourselves from this were we able to see our lives for what they are. And the larger society for what it is. Vast seas in which we are swimming against the tide but never getting to shore.
While we were talking, I glanced out the windows and noticed activity on the back porch of the rental house next door. A new guest was setting up a portable treadmill. We were struck by the insanity of traveling with your workout equipment, unable even for a day to abandon your exercise routine. The sun was shining, the air was mild, and within minutes, she could have walked into the rock fins, along a beautiful creek and enjoyed the yellow, rustling leaves of the cottonwoods. Instead, she put on her dark glasses and strode like an automaton on her machine, no doubt happy in the thought that she was so efficient. Task completed. Next?
Janet Lewis, a poet, penned this:
Time stays, they said. We go.
They moved through Time as through a room
Under the great arch of Betatakin.
We cannot hear their voices
What words they spoke
To echo here, to rise along the walls
Of this steep canyon,
Are gone; and yet the jay,
The warbler speak their notes
And the wind blows, whirling the aspen leaves,
Brushing the thick short needles of these pines,
And by the path
The small flowers still are bright —
Vetch, bluer than turquoise,
Clustering white stars;
And all the leaves are new, early in May,
Small, perfectly shaped, each to its odd design,
And gleaming; and the porcupine
Climbs from his tree with easy slumberous grace.
His quills shine in the early light,’
A halo, as he goes Into the mist of green.
Time stays, the canyon stays;
Their houses stay, spit rock
Mortared with clay, and small.
And the shards, grey, plain or painted,
In the pale roseate dust reveal, conceal
The patterns of their days,
speak of the pure form of the shattered pot.
We do not recreate, we rediscover
The immortal form, that, once created,
In Time’s unchanging room.
This poem works best if you read it about three times.
Dear Ben, thanks for this lovely poem. The red rocks near Moab always make us feel part of something that will be there when we are not.