Skip to main content

Children of a Lesser God

I come through southern Nevada every autumn, it seems, and pay homage to a couple eccentricities of the land. There is a pseudo-cliff dwelling that I drove to, at the beginning of my RVing career. It is still here. The dry wash is loose gravel, so it is surprising that I made it with the van and trailer, way back then. But today I used the mountain bike.

Back then, my "discovery" was unplanned, so I fluttered my eyelashes over it, and honored it by building a fire, and watching the shadows of my hand walk around the ceiling of the "cliff dwelling."

By then, I had decided that cliff dwellings of the Native Americans bored me to death, when they were made into a tourist trap. That was part of the reason why is was so surprising to enjoy "my" cliff dwelling.

How lucky I was to experience something like this hole in the cliff! I was in the last generation to be able to do so. Today a newbie RVer would expect to be told exactly where it is and everything about it from some blabbermouth blog, trying to monetize backcountry travel. I pity the newbies of today. They were born too late, and don't even know it.

The photo above doesn't look like it, but you can stand up inside the cliff-dwelling.

Nearby were other holes. You'd think that some critter -- maybe even a mountain lion -- would make a nice den out of cliff-holes like this. But there was no sign of nesting inside. Still, I biked by features like this with a bit of trepidation.

Further downstream there was a marvelous baby mesa in the sandy dry wash. How nice it was of the little cutie pie to face the sunrise!

I wish I had brought calipers to measure the thickness of those sandy lamellas. One millimeter would be a good guess.

Because of the non-compactness of some of the rocks around here, you see the effects of erosion, from one year to the next. It makes it "Geology Appreciation Day."

Perhaps you have to experience it to appreciate how enlivening it is to see earth-processes take place on a human time scale. Typically geologic processes occur so slowly that the subject becomes off-putting and dull to an ordinary human being. We are puny creatures, after all. We can be forgiven for needing to 'wrap our hands around' something in order to be impressed by it.

This human tendency, demonstrated here in the dry washes of southern Nevada for geology, is just one example of a broader principle. Perhaps it explains the need of puny, ordinary human beings for saints, leprechauns, demons & angels, and relics & ritual, instead of being happy with Aristotle's "First Cause", the Watchmaker god of the eighteenth century Deists, or an omnipotent god like JHWH or Allah.  

Professional authors of real books and executives in the publishing industry might say the same thing about amateur bloggers.


XXXXX said…
I often wonder myself why there is such a draw to the past, to visit places where we have some knowledge of its history. What is it about just standing there and imagining that is so powerful?
Surely many people are drawn to the ruins of old cities but there is also the lure to places which hadn't yet been mutilated by man. Your comments made me think of the book "Tribe" by Sebastian Junger....what we've lost yet still seem to miss about the "primitive" cultures which lived close to the land, keenly aware of their environment and wrapped in natural consequences. He makes a startling observation.....White people who had been captured by Native Americans largely did not want to go back to the White Man's world. Even when returned to their white families, they escaped and went back. This held true for grown women as well as children. Yet, the reverse is not true. When Indian children were raised in white homes with loving parents, they opted to return to their tribes. Why was this more primitive world so much more attractive? Something about being able to indulge and live by our raw instincts. To fight and kill which required bravery and courage and is somehow built into being a man through thousands of years of clan and tribal living. Living and surviving by one's wits. The west has lost its sense of belonging to a tribe which meant everything to Native Americans. You as an individual was not as important as your place in the tribe. The unity and loyalty was everything.
What do we have? Machines and central heating but people who don't even know their neighbors.

I experience this much like you describe. The land I live on became a part of the land giveaway of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. But my yard runs next to a natural spring so this very land I live on was marshy and soft most of the time so unlikely that any Native Americans ever even camped on it and probably avoided walking through it as well. A ditch was dug out for that water and now it runs in a creek behind my yard. But I'm well aware I'm the first person to live on this land and there is something very special about that for me. Although it's ridiculous to think that anyone can really own a piece of land, I feel like a steward of it until it will eventually go back to its original state which somehow feels like a victory to me.

George, so you have spring-water running through your land! I didn't know that. Wonderful.

Earlier in your comment, you seemed like you were falling for the "Germanicus Syndrome" of the historian, Tacitus, and I was going to give you a hard time about that. But now that I know about the spring water... (grin)
Maybe I should look into that book by Junger.
XXXXX said…

I looked into "Germania" by Tacitus and it seems to be an attempt at description by someone totally outside the group and who, of course, looked at them as an enemy. (Very telling in itself.) However, being a veracious reader, I have it saved and will probably order it. Another really good book which I almost quoted from in my post is "Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is destroying American Democracy." In the intro, which you can read parts of on Amazon, he describes what human beings were like (in his humble opinion) before the advent of recent civilizations (last tens of thousands of years) and how there is a perpetual and unsolvable conflict between man's basic nature and any organized civilization and government.
This is all interesting in the sense that I think it is highly related to the content of your post which seems to beckon to a longing for those earlier times which are still buried deep within us and are a part of a nature our species lived out unchecked much longer than the civilizations and governments of the last few ten thousand years. I think you said it once in an earlier post.....evolution works very slowly.

XXXXX said…

I should mention that the book "Tribe" was mentioned in "Suicide of the West" so it's all talking about the same thing.