My home is a red desert that trembles with spirits and bones.There are two reasons I came here: my father’s death, and the lion man who prowled my dreams. Perhaps it was coincidence, but a man–half wild, ravenous beyond words–slid from the dream world into the mud of the waking one the same year my father left this world for another.Ghosts. Paw prints. I have tried to stay put.
Now I believe that true lasting change and sustainability–cultural or otherwise–must rely on something more ancient and universal: art–any form that evokes the archetypal imagery that lives deep in the human psyche–can, in words i once heard imparted by the author Terry Tempest Williams, “bypass rhetoric and pierce the heart.
And there I am, my body shrinking away from his hungry grasp. The photo reflects just how threatened I grew to be by my husband’s animal appetites, by the very maleness of him. I forgot that his natural lusts and longings were bound by an equally natural sense of love and loyalty. But it was inevitable, I had come to fear the corresponding aspects in myself.
There are other noteworthy characteristics of this rock art style: Anthropomorphs without headdresses instead sport horns, or antennae, or a series of concentric circles. Also prominent in many of the figures’ hands are scepters–each one an expression of something significant in the natural world. Some look like lightning bolts, some like snakes; other burst from the fingers like stalks of ricegrass. Colorado Plateau rock-art expert Polly Schaafsma has interpreted these figures as otherworldly–drawn by shamans in isolated and special locations, seemingly as part of a ceremonial retreat. Schaafsma and others believe that the style reflects a spirituality common to all hunter-gatherer societies across the globe–a way of life that appreciates the natural world and employs the use of visions to gain understanding and appreciation of the human relationship to the earth. Typically, Schaafsma says, it is a spirituality that identifies strongly with animals and other aspects of nature–and one that does so with an interdependent rather than dominant perspective. To underscore the importance of art in such a culture, Schaafsma points to Aboriginal Australians, noting how, in a so-called primitive society, where forms of written and oral communication are considered (at least by our standards) to be limited, making art is “one means of defining the mystic tenets of one’s faith.
And, sure enough, saturation begins–the staedy work of seeps and springs. Then, suddenly, cottonwoods and willows spring from the sand, their leaves gyrating into a byzantine mosaic of greens. Birds, frogs, and insects trill out brilliant improvisations–a kind of critter jazz. And as the water gathers substance, there is the ballet of tadpoles and water skeeters across the face of clear ponds.
I have scavenged for ways to put down roots here. I am perfroming the precise rituals required. Still, I have no idea how to claim the promised land, to gain any semblance of acceptance among its people. And I realize this is probably how I will always live–slinking around the margins–even on my own property.