Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 28, 2012

Target Ruin, you move me!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:00 am
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This handsome ruin site held multiple families in the 13th century.
Its floor is a couple stories off the ground, accessible only by ladder (long gone).

Hidden in the canyons of San Juan County, Utah, lie countless ruin sites that have stolen my heart. This day Sam took me to a new one; I promptly fell in love with the neighborhood and felt that I could be very much at home here. The long ladder is missing, though; while I relish the ambience, I’d have trouble ascending. I may have to abandon my plans to move in.

These unusual incised glyphs are new to me.

Certainly it is one of the prettiest sites I’ve seen in a long time. On close inspection, what stands out to me after eight centuries is the “humanness” of the place. Painted handprints, geometric petroglyphs, ground-out ladder supports, sooty ceilings, pleasing views — all speak of the inhabitants who built it.

Fifty years ago a paragraph was written about magnificent Cliff House at Mesa Verde National Park. The author makes an emotional connection that has helped me experience all ancient sites in a new way:

“Unfortunate indeed, is he who views this ancient city and sees only the towering walls. Unfortunate because the stones are the least important part. [The ruin] is really built on the hopes and desires, the joys and the sorrows of the industrious people. It is not a cold empty city, for it’s still warm with the emotions of its builders. In each fingerprint and tool mark lies the prayers of a young couple for a home filled with children and happiness. Each storage bin is chinked with a farmer’s prayers for a bountiful harvest. In each plastered kiva wall is an ancient priest’s reverence for his gods. A pot is not just a piece of baked clay: it is an ancient potter’s molded prayer for beauty and strength. Each solid wall is a testimony of the success; each shattered human bone, each broken jar, is an admission of defeat.”

— Don Watson, The Indians of the Mesa Verde

Hopelessly captivated by the resilience and resourcefulness of ancient dwellers, I look forward to future explorations. It’s one thing to see displays in a museum; another entirely to encounter these places in the real world, where each of my senses adds further understanding, providing the ‘gestalt’ instead of isolated bits. It’s wonderful, and sweet, and rich beyond telling.

Using dendrochronology, scientists can date the cutting of these logs. The tree rings are distinctive enough that highly accurate dates can be obtained. I don't have a number for this batch yet.

February 5, 2012

Jay Canyon 3: Reflect

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:24 am
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Kathryn. Granary. (photo: T Baresh)

(Continued from Jay Canyon 2: Explore)

Lunch comes out of the backpack: cheese and crackers, apple, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts, chocolate-covered edamame. On a flat boulder that looked perfect for ancestral corn-husking or sunbathing, we munch and hydrate and ponder.

Something somewhere in the back of my mind is not right. A detail picked up by my brain is not jibing with all the data, but it flits away again and is gone. We listen to a raven croaking, examine the areas where desert varnish is thick and dark from constant wetting, get down on our knees to look into storage cists dug in the rocky floor, study the partially-burned logs that may provide a clue as to the fate of this dwelling site.

Having found fingerprints in the granary mortar that fit our own digits precisely, we sense an intimate connection to its builder(s). I rest my left thumb on a forebear’s impression in the dried mud; it is my own. Centuries dissolve with a smile.

~~ To Be Continued ~~ at this post

February 3, 2012

Jay Canyon 1: Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:46 am
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Sinuous canyons lead to exciting discoveries. Grand County, Utah.

The snow was stopping, so we layered up and drove south of town along the Colorado River. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Tara was taking me to a ruin site she had visited, promising me a granary photo op as my reward.

Feathered spies — pinyon jays — laughed overhead, flashes of bright blue enlivening the otherwise muted desert palette. They are the town criers, alerting the world to our presence. We don’t mind. Nobody else is out here today.

We made our way up ledges, around cliffs, across the mesa bench and up sandy washes until we arrived at an alcove whose neighborhood was graced with an abundance of large trees and huge dead trunks. In our habitat, this is an indicator of reliable water supply; two major pour-offs and a seep/hanging garden corroborated this hunch. One majestic cottonwood, a species found only where its feet can be perennially wet, stood as undeniable confirmation.

Up, up we climbed. My heart beats faster, and my senses get sharper, approaching a ruin site; it is always more than meets the eye. A small thickly-mortared granary was perched prominently on a van-sized boulder.  Letting my imagination go where it would, it went, predictably, to the people who had built this structure perhaps 800 years ago.

I drew near with awe and curiosity and delight.

~~ To be continued ~~ at this post

April 2, 2011

In which Kathryn finds a metate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:33 am
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This metate is about 15" x 22".

“A needle in a haystack,” I told myself. “How can I ever locate this artifact based on a six-month-old general description from visitors?”

A couple had come to the desk last September to report that they had found a grinding stone, or metate (meh-TAH-tay) in one of the less-traveled sections of the park. They showed me photos they had taken, and I assured them it was indeed what they thought it was, probably at least 800 years old, of ancestral Puebloan origin. I got their contact info, gave them the park archeologist’s email, and hoped for the best. I returned to Minnesota before I had a chance to get out there and look for it for myself.

It was just sitting on the sandstone in the open.

Today was supposed to be the most glorious spring weather yet, and it was my day off. I wanted to go metate-hunting. Based on the vague directions I had scribbled, it could be anywhere along hundreds of feet of rock, hundreds of feet wide, among junipers and pinyons. I had a mental image of the expansive area, and a general gut feeling to go on, but I knew it was a slim chance — even if the metate were still out there.

The crisp 46-degree air invigorated my lungs and my steps. An hour or so of solo sunrise hiking brought me to the vicinity, and I began slowly making some passes up and down, back and forth, just to see what I could see. I was also practicing identifying bird songs, so any time I heard one I’d stop and ID it with binoculars. A perfect spring morning.

My contemplation rock is in the background. A comfortable perch for a couple hours' pondering.

I put my back to the low morning sun, walked up a bench of sandstone, and almost tripped over this ancient artifact. Staring was all I could do for several minutes; I eventually marked it on my GPS and photographed it from every angle, including background landmarks so the archeologist can see it in situ. And then I sat down on a rock nearby.

I stayed on my rock for maybe two hours. I studied the metate plus everything around me — every landmark, every living thing, every noise in the soundscape, every smell. I wanted context. I tried to imagine the women and girls who ground seeds at this metate, and wondered whether they had wonderful girlfriends like I did, and what they made for their breakfasts, and whether their hearts were open to love, and what their names were.

Seven individuals walked by in that time, on an established trail but oblivious to the treasure just out of their sight. What a gift I had stumbled upon.

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