The Ancient Ones
Have you ever wondered if history and the books and pictures are actually facts that chronicle the past or just fabrications to calm an otherwise panic stricken world? What if what we accept as historical evidence of our past is only a compilation of dreams and ideas that someone or some organization has fostered on an unsuspecting world in order to exercise control based on historical trends that have not actually happened. This thought first came to me many years ago as I would listen to the stories of my father and relatives and others. I wondered if what they were telling and re-telling their recollections of true events or just making up stories to best the other. That idea has stayed with me, probably in a sub-conscious state, from that time until now and what has brought it to the surface again are some images from a summer trip long ago throughout the desert southwestern United States.
The exact memory that has re-surfaced this idea comes in a mental image of a rounded two lane road gently curving through the shrub and sand valley bordered by two ancient mountain ridges. The image is one of heat and dry and desolation, probably a very common set of adjectives when rendering views of the southwestern part of the United States. I don’t really remember where the day began or where it ended but just this segment and a stop along the road where some signs of ancient native American dwellings were listed on a slightly rusted and wholly bullet ridden sigh proclaiming the site of some “petroglyphs”, ancient picture writing used by many peoples of that time and before to record the events of their day.
Surprisingly, when I stopped I found other wayward travelers had also preceded me and were preparing to make the same pilgrimage that I was about to embark upon … down a considerable stone carved staircase descending from the hot dry valley floor into a less inhospitable canyon where, carved into the sides of the walls among the restless trees, shrubs and vines were the remains of dwellings composed of sun formed adobe bricks, the obligatory building material of that era, still forming the walls, doors and window openings where ancient peoples had but a moment before lived, laughed and worked. The southwestern United States is littered with these modest dwellings built by people which had know knowledge of us in much the way that we today have no knowledge of the people who, some hundreds or even thousands of years hence, will look upon us an enigma of the past — trying in some way to understand and connect with who we were and maybe even wondering if we did indeed really exist or were just the contrived imagination of some unknown individual or group.
As I won the bottom of the canyon the thing that was most evident was the difference in micro-climate between the valley floor and canyon bottom. Where the valley was never ending and an ominous reminder of July in the desert the canyon bottom was convoluted and at each turn a slightly different layout presented a slightly different set of possibilities. It was in this arena that the “petroglyphs” were to be found, recorded upon stones in both carved or scraped form and what seemed like painted or stained carvings. Amid this ancient library was a stone slab, up-ended, and obviously of some importance due to its positioning. Upon it’s surface were inscribed a series of picture-writing that told some marvelous story, I assume, and not just the idle graffiti we now so commonly associate with abandon buildings and isolated structures — just begging for someone to adorn them with important messages such as “I was here” or “Jim 1958”. There was some provided commentary about the meaning of the symbols but what struck me was that someone long since gone must have crouched on the very same ground, or at least the very same position, that I now occupied to create the record. An event which must have taken both some thought and organization and some time to complete. This realizations at that moment seemed to answer for me that question which I had carried from my childhood about the reality of the past.
As I stood there and lay hand upon the stone I could almost feel presence of that one or few that had just completed the message and stepped aside but a moment ago. It seemed to me that I could almost feel their breath upon my back and sense the left over heat from their feet upon the cool earth. Could they sense me, through some mystical magic, and know that I would be there where they had just stood looking upon their work and wondering who they were — longing to make contact?
I wanted desperately to stay just there and wait for some connection to occur but that was not possible. Even thought we were, as one might say, miles form no where there were others who gathered and possibly longed for the same type of connection as I. So, silently and politely I moved aside making room for them to step in to the transport position and take their moments wait. I spent some time wandering both up and down the canyon from this point … no to far, for it was a risk to be to far from today when you were in the land of the past. One might simply disappear around the next turn in the path or behind the bow of the next scrubby tree never to be seen again. Maybe – just maybe that was the answer about the past. It wasn’t really the past but an extension of today just slightly out of sink through which the unsuspecting or unwary passed when they wandered to far afield. Maybe the picture writing was the plaintiff cry of those lost souls trying to make contact and find a way home. Maybe the past was the place where you go when your lost or abandon, or when you protest the present to vigorously.
As the afternoon waned I became increasingly aware that it was time to leave this place, ascend onto the valley floor and rejoin the present. To stay in the canyon to long or to stay over night was a sure invitation to become missing. I have had that feeling before, occasionally, when in uncertain or unfamiliar surroundings which begin as interesting and end with a sense that the amount of time allotted to them was quickly running out and one must leave or something would happen. I never really worked out what that something might be but the feeling of its impending approach was definitely all that was necessary to begin a hasty retreat.
Maybe that is what the past is, a momentary connection between then and now through which one can make a physical connection with people and places which no longer exist. Maybe the past is the shadow that follows us just out of sight and time so that we realize that it is there but never find a place where we can gain a full view. As this awareness began to grow in my mind I remembered many situations both throughout my childhood and into the present when this feeling became a motivator to physical change. I remember one very dark and still night camping in the high-country of Colorado west of Boulder when I was gripped by the realization that something was there — just out of sight in the shadows silently watching.
Even now I can feel my flesh crawl as I recall that night. To recount the exact event I must provide a little background. During the early 1970’s I spent the greater part of every summer, between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next, traveling throughout the western and northwestern United States and Canada as far northwest as the Yukon and even into the state of Alaska. The idea of being isolated and alone was something that I had experienced quite often and, in fact, came to relish. There was something awesome about standing alone upon a precipice overlooking a scene that you can not put into words or walking among the trees or along a stream that seems so wild that it defies imagination. Maybe that is what made this event so unusual and frightening.
The spot is one that I had frequented quite often in terms of camping because it was accessible by a not-to-rugged jeep trail that ended at a clearing which had been graveled and made a place where the more adventurous souls could park and hike from. It was just adjacent to this area within a stand of pines that I had camped many nights on many occasions. At night from within the pines you could look north across the open area and out across a tree filled valley into the next series of rolling hills that composed that portion of the front range. From a position atop a large granite bolder that formed the northwestern boundary of the graveled area one could sit an night when the moon was new and see so many stars that the heavens seemed to become a blanked that you need only reach out and pull over you as a cover. On nights like that I would sometimes site for several hours just looking and trying to understand the distances involved. You could see the stars but what you saw was not really there. I used to laugh thinking that the light I was enjoying was so old that at its beginning I and my people and people in general were not even apart of the then earth. In addition, sometimes the those evening vigils provided views of meteors streaking across the sky. One night in particular that has never left me was the evening atop the rock when I saw a meteor that left a golden arc across a full 30 degrees of the sky.
This place was both familiar and comforting to me. It was a place where I felt at home and safe. I knew every rock and tree for quite some distance in any direction, having explored the area off and on those days when high adventure was not on the menu. At those times I took my camera and might spend hours in some small area just looking and watching … watching the ants at work or some interesting flowers for which I took pains to produce a close-up image. This familiarity was probably what intensified the feeling that night, for one does not expect to be suppressed or confounded within the familiar surroundings of ones home.
The actually event occurred around 11 P.M. or there about after a day filled with some activities for which I no longer have any memory. I was in my tent surrounded by the warm comfort of my sleeping bag when a thought began in my brain that I was no longer alone. At first I attempted to shake off the feeling as something left over from an over-active childhood fantasy. But, the feeling would not abate and in fact became more intense as the moments passed. I began to imagine all sorts of possibilities. Bears came first to mind. Although I had never seen a bear in this part of the Rocky Mountains I supposed that like the Sasquatch, seeing did not qualify their presence or absence. I theorized that having spent time in the Canadian Rocks and Alaska I had taken all the necessary precautions to eliminate or encourage a bear exploring my tent or near by campsite. Then the thought of a rogue animal began to grow in my mind and that lead to all sorts of childhood illusions about things that preyed on the unsuspecting person. Things that defied the natural instincts of animals to avoid humans, and in short order I spent some few minutes hallucinating about the “boogie” man, so to speak.
This turned into a real belief that something was near. Something unexpected and uninvited. Something that was observing me in just the same way that I had some many times watched bugs and birds and life in general. Something big, maybe not physically but emotionally. I’m not sure how long I wrestled with these feelings of dread, I suppose that in reality it might have been only fifteen or twenty minutes at the most but it seemed like hours. Finally, to my disgust, having been unable to rationalize the event I decided that I would spend the night in my car – a 1972 VW Carmen Ghia – not really built for overnight comfort. Once inside I immediately felt safe but the feeling did not last. Maybe it was the close proximity of the glass or the cramped interior but I soon found myself no better off within my metal machine that I was within my nylon tent. Finally, I actually fled my home driving down out of the back country and into the nearest hint of civilization – a mountain community perched upon a turn in the road but one containing friends. I spent the night in my car parked behind the lodge/store owned by friends.
Once morning arrived and feeling quite foolish I returned up the sky road, that jeep trail leading to my campsite, and continued the remainder of that summer in uneventful bliss. I have never forgotten that night and the experiences and feelings that it allayed within me. I am no worse for the ware and still do not find it necessary to continually look behind me in the dark or at night. I am convinced that what I felt that night was a connection between the presence and the past and it was that opening, allowing things and events un-experienced by anyone living at that time, that so affected me. I wonder what would have happened if I had not decided to retreat and remained in my tent. Would I have been visited? Would I have simply disappeared. Would I have been able to make a connection with the past experiencing someone long since dead and forgotten and in that meeting taken or gained some understanding of some past existence.
I have decided that this is what happened that warm summer night so long ago and that for some reason it was either the place or the individual that created a portal allowing a connection between the past and the present. If it was the place maybe that is what drew me back some years later when spending a family vacation in that same area of Colorado with my family. I remember telling my wife about the place, leaving out these few important facts, and even driving back there in just the same was as one returns to a childhood home to see if its still there. But, if it were the individual, me, then I am confident that the opportunity will again present itself and when it does I will be better prepared to accept the encounter and take the passage to what ever or where ever it leads.