We had been walking, Benjamin and I, out on a hike to the west of town where it was warmer and spring had already begun weeks ago. The plan was to go, to shake off the funk, the melancholy feeling we attributed to another harsh Rocky Mountain winter. The place we chose is called Canyon of the Ancients. I love that name. Say it and you feel this great sense of profundity, of big-ness. In a chills up the spine kind of way. And it is. It’s amazing that we can get in the dusty little green Subaru and drive, down the windy road past Mancos, past Cortez, and then we’re there – Canyon of the Ancients. It’s beautiful. With its orange and red hued rocks that stand up in the landscape, demanding to be noticed. And we’re in the high desert – despite the fact that just across the road, snowy peaked mountains stare back at us, reminding us that we are still in Colorado.
Canyon of the Ancients. Not so far from its more famous cousin, Mesa Verde, the place where people go to see the impressive cliff dwellings of a long lost civilization. The Canyon of the Ancients has its ruins too, hence the name. The Anasazi, Navajo for ‘ancients’. It’s the great Atlantian mystery of the southwest – who were the Ancients and where did they go? They populated this region for a long time, and then seemingly vanished, leaving behind the ruins we see today. There’s lots of theory and speculation, some of it involving spaceships, but the most viable thought is that they became the Pueblo tribes of today. Still there is much that is mysterious about these people, and this place.
We walk for a ways, deeper into the canyon, until we can’t see the cars or the road or the houses. We leave all evidence of our civilization behind, as we trudge through the soft red dirt, stopping to read a deer print, or a pile of droppings. Past junipers and Mormon tea, yucca and little tiny cacti. Over rock formations, where stubborn trees choose to grow despite the obstacles.
And yet, neither of us can shake the mood we came in with. The sadness that just won’t go away. The sunshine, the earth, wild and expansive before us, none of it fully changes how we are feeling. A moment of reverie in all of it, but the feeling is still there, waiting – simply pushed aside for a moment like a book, face down and folded open to the page where we left off.
At least it feels peaceful here. The land feels right, all is as it should be, with the eagles and crows soaring overhead and the rocks that have been here forever.
We stop for sandwiches and reflection beside a great cliff. Above us, we see a small ruin – a brick wall, maybe 3 feet high and 5 feet in length. Evidence that humans have been building long before I can possibly conceive.
How long ago were they here? I ask Benjamin.
I think they left around the year 1300, and before that they were here for thousands of years. I think there were a million people here at one point, he says.
I try to imagine a thousand years. That means they had their own history to look back on, their own ancestors and predecessors who found this place. Long enough to feel that things would always be so, that they would always live this way, in this canyon residing in cliff dwellings of earth and stone. And a million people. That number is inconceivable as well.
Funny, I say. It doesn’t feel like a former metropolis. The ruins have become part of the land in this way - they merely continue the line of the landscape rather than feeling artificial or superficial.
The earth has a way of replenishing itself, he reminds me.
And I wonder if New York City will be like this, thousands of years from now, the ancient subways and skyscrapers appearing as if they grew out of the ground, birds and trees everywhere and the earth feeling ancient and wise, like an older person who’s been around the block enough to know but doesn’t need to tell you so or prove anything – just sits there and smiles at you indulgently.
It’s amazing really. People come, and they build, they have whole lives, they trade, they hunt, they eat, they have sex, they shit in the dirt, they cut down trees, tread on the ground, build roads, have celebrations, births and deaths, and then it’s all over, just a memory.
That’s when we start talking about the 2012 thing, as we’re sitting there, by a grandfather juniper. He’s taking water from his Nalgene and mixing it with the soft dirt, so that it forms clay. He rolls it in his hands, staining them red with earth, the very matter that those bricks must have been made with. I sit there cross legged, a few feet away, looking out at the snowy mountains in the distance, and up at the sky, blue with scarce clouds like pulled cotton.
I don’t quite know how it starts, but I know that I bring it up, thinking as I am about millennia and civilizations. And we have a penchant for delving into heavy subjects of conversation. People have been talking about 2012, the Mayan Calender and all that for some years now, how the signs are there for big change – economic collapse with the realization of the failure of human enterprise to conquer all.
He reflects that the earth will continue to have ‘flu symptoms’ as he calls it. The tsunamis, and earthquakes, the fires and floods, volcanic eruptions. The things that terrify us humans but are right and natural and just part of the process in the lifespan of Gaia. Like coming down with the flu.
Neither of us want to think that the end of humanity is on its way. We’ve got too much to do here and it wouldn’t make sense that it was all for naught. No, there will be changes, there’s no doubt about that. Old structures and monuments, physical and otherwise will become but a faint memory, held by the ground, the rocks and the trees. And, like the Anasazi, humans will move on, or evolve into something else entirely.
I suspect that this sadness we are feeling is the necessary sadness that comes with all change – when you have to let go of the old ways because they just don’t work anymore. Because I’ve noticed that it’s not just us. Most people we have talked to or come into contact with lately are feeling sad like this too. I do believe that this mood - this weird funk everyone seems to be in - is part of this bigger thing.
It was Benjamin’s birthday. We went out to dinner, listened to the other people talking and eating. They felt sad too.
Earlier, I thought aloud: If this feeling is all around us, because we’re picking up on this general tone of melancholy, then it probably isn’t ours to begin with. So if it isn’t ours, then we don’t have to give in to feeling this way. Just recognize it, acknowledge it but don’t get lost in it. I don’t want him to be sad on his birthday, so I say it, before moving on to other topics of conversation. My thought, as far as I am concerned, was just a thought. It may as well have been a nice smell or a pretty song, soft and lingering for a moment before dissappearing on the breeze. And yet...
We’re sitting there, in the booth, eating and talking, in the thick of this melancholy stew of people, when Benjamin says: It’s working. Every time I start to feel that way, I remember that I don’t have to – that it’s everybody else, and I push it away. It really helps.
Ok, I try, taking my own advice. I mean, fuck it, why not?
We take shots of silver tequila with lime, and grin. I pay the waitress and thank her. Then we skip home, avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. And I’m glad to be alive. We’re so unbearably small in reality, and for some strange reason, this fills me with profound and abundant hopefulness. Hope in my life, in my destiny, and in this incredibly powerful, scary, loving and beautiful planet that we walk on every day. Why not rejoice in it a little bit? It is Spring, after all.