“Come and see what we walked right by.” Chris, eagle-eyed co-explorer, beckoned me to the edge of the high alcove. I had just lain down on a flat boulder to gaze at the sandstone ceiling and the rock art, but it was clear that his discovery was worth interrupting my reverie.
There, right on the approach, was a deeply incised petroglyph. A single claw stood alone, stark in its simplicity, its beauty evincing an ancient artist’s skill.
We had been too distracted by the more obvious — the massive recess in the Navajo sandstone, the multi-colored artwork spanning several millennia, the grinding grooves in the boulders, curious carved holes, a water seep. Occasional flakes of chert sparkled in the sunlight, remnants of the tool-making process. The site was clearly occupied for a long, long time, by more than a few people. I could almost hear children’s laughter, women grinding seeds or corn, men sharpening their axes.
And then… the claw. Some man long ago selected that boulder and sat down with his tools, abrading the pad to a good quarter-inch depth, adding the toes, finishing with those imposing super-claws. Was he saying that he was part of a clan associated with this animal? Was it evidence of a hunt that fed his people well? Was it a No Trespassing sign? I’ll never know.
The lesson at hand: don’t be so distracted by the flashy that you miss the subtle.