Dave's Family Trip to the Four Corners Region: The Takeaway
After three weeks in the Southwest, and a fair bit of pertinent reading (four Tony Hillerman novels: The Wailing Wind, Listening Woman, Thief of Time, and Hunting Badger . . . these are ostensibly crime thrillers, but I also learned a bit about the Navajo nation, Navajo religion and practices, and high plains topography . . . I can't wait until "seep spring" or "box canyon" or "ceremonial Navajo sandpainting" comes up in conversation, because I know just enough about these things to be annoying . . . I also read about half of David Roberts' The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest . . . this is the sequel to In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest, a tome which is famous . . . or even infamous . . . with professional archaeologists and amateur pothunters alike because his tales of mountaineering, climbing, and intrepidness inspired others to hunt down the many off-the-grid ruins he described, and now many of these sites are heavily trafficked by hikers, and some have been vandalized, desecrated, and/or plundered . . . Roberts is a bit of a grouch, but his writing is vivid and fun, and his synopsis of the various academic debates on the origins and disappearance of the Anasazi-- now known as the Ancestral Pueblo-- is excellent) this is what I can tell you, and it certainly helped that our last stop was in Santa Fe, where we stayed in a historic adobe house right near the plaza . . . the owner, an older Spanish lady named Virginia, is related to Father Martinez-- the priest of the Taos parish that Willa Cather characterizes in her masterpiece Death Comes to the Archbishop . . . in the novel, Martinez challenges the Catholic faith's rule of celibacy, and he supposedly fathered many children in Taos . . . Virginia, whose family has lived in Santa Fe and Taos since 1598, described Martinez as the "villain" of the novel and was skeptical of Cather's speculation about him . . . this was news to me, rube that I am-- I never would have ascribed "villain" status to anyone in the book, which was more of a sequence of vignettes leading to the construction of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi-- a romanesque marvel of golden sandstone-- which Father Lamy (Latour in the novel) spent his life yearning for, so that the church could have a proper house of worship in the untamed West (and, ironically-- and you can see a scene of this on the giant iron door-- it was the Pueblo revolt and the burning of the original church that cleared the ground for the new cathedral) . . . anyway, I've lost my way here, and that's appropriate for my final moral, but whether it's the exit that boasts both The World's Largest Golf Tee and The World's Largest Wind Chime, or the perfectly preserved ruins in Mesa Verde, or the many ruins in Canyon de Chelly, which the Navajo live amongst, or the various old adobe churches and buildings on the Santa Fe trail, or the ancient petroglyphs that are literally everywhere-- in the canyons, in the Petrified Forest, along the rivers, on the cliffs-- the Southwest offers greater opportunities than the Northeast to see how many people through the ages have said-- with art, architecture, buildings, weapons, war, pottery, and giant wind chimes: we were here . . . and the Southwest reminds you, with the vastness of the land and the evocative ruins, that you will not last, you will turn to dust as well . . . in the Northeast, sometimes we pave over history, sometimes we build over it, sometimes we grow beautiful green plants over our history, and sometimes the rains just wash our history into the rivers and oceans, but in the dry and arid Southwest, history is preserved, and it feels like a different country . . . because it is, because everywhere in our country is a different country, it's just that you can see it out there . . . and if you can get out there and see and feel this land, the ruins and the mountains, the desert and the high snows, if you can taste the fresh green and red chiles and navigate the weird winding streets of Santa Fe and Taos, which are reminiscent of Toledo, and walk through the plaza in the dry heat, you'll see what I mean, and never think about the United States the same way again.