"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Where you can see time
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, 24 miles off a paved road, 1,000 years, no, millions of years back in time.
A shallow inland sea laid down the sandstone deposits. You can still see the wave ripples in the once sandy beaches atop the 300-foot cliffs. the layers of rocks speak of eons.
You are small here, and you can see time, how time works, from the rocks, the sun, the ruins, to the clouds moving fleeting shadows across the land.
More than a 1,000 years ago, the Anasazi, the old ones, built huge great houses here, still standing after all these years, complex stone architecture with no mortar, the center of a widespread culture on the Colorado Plateau. Then they vanished amid drought, leaving few burial grounds. Some say their descendants are the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
And every day, you can see time at work here. Fajada Butte in the distance with Pinto Alto ruins in the foreground. No, they are not uninhabited, just open to the endless sky and universe. You can hear the spirits of the place in the wind and clouds and silence.
You can camp in the open, under the cliffs, and see the bats come out with the stars.
You watch as another day slides down the sky, time by the sun inching, second-by-second, up the far cliffs as shadows advance, till darkness comes and day fades.
You gather around a campfire for warmth, and the coals glimmer and pulsate like tiny universes, as a equinox full moon rises in the sky. The light of the stars in the unpolluted, clear, dry, high air, shines on the rocks just as they did in 1054 when a supernova lightened the day and night sky, recorded on petroglyphs nearby by their astronomers and artists.
In the mornings, light illuminates Fajada Butte again, throne of the sun dagger that measured precisely the movements of the sun and moon for these ancient people and their crops and ceremonies. And the rising equinox sun makes its mark on etched rocks, slides down the cliffs on the west end of the canyon as shadows recede, shining through precise measurements in windows in giant subterranean circular kivas.
Time is quiet here, but you can feel it, you can see it as it washes over you, like a prehistoric sea