Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

For the last few weeks I had the great pleasure of visiting the southwest of the US.  This region is home to many indigenous peoples, the Hopi, The Navajo, The Ute and and Paiute, and others.  Many of these people trace their lineage back to an ancient people called the Ancestral Puebloans.  These people lived in the southwest for almost ten thousand years, maybe even more.  Their way of life included the construction of some technologically impressive building sites from Mesa Verde in Colorado to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

As I hiked over the top of Chaco canyon with a little field guide to the ancient ruins, I got to the top of the hill at a place called Pueblo Alto.  This is the highest dwelling-place the ancients built on this site and it has views across hundreds and hundreds of kilometers to the mountains of Colorado and Utah and even Arizona.  This was the Chacoans ancient realm and scientists believe they have  traced an ancient line-of-site communication system that spanned tens of thousands of square kilometers.  Thin pieces of mica or vermiculite may have been sewn on onto huge round stretched hides and transmitted a morse-code type system, at night they may have used fires.

Around the middle to the end of the 10th century AD, the Chacoan civilization seems to have ended.  No more impressive cliff dwellings or huge settlements, no more wall building, and no more long distance communication. 

Even then this was marginal land.  In the hearths and middens of these ancients are the leftovers of foods stuffs that are still grown in the area.   Perhaps they exhausted their surroundings or were driven off by invaders, but whether environmental or political, their systems disappeared.

The massive roads of paving stones they built have fallen to ruin, but new ones have taken their place.  Around these footprints of the ancients the new world of cars and interstates and cities and 7-11s holds sway.  On this Earth Day, perhaps we should remember the old people, who's lives at the time exuded permanence and solidity, but who's settlements and successes now lie as a warning for us.  What warning or message of hope will we leave?  How can we escape their fate?

I always feel that there is positive message to deliver, and if there is one here it is this:  we now hold the key to our future.  It is clear what we must do, and (to quote the six million dollar man) we have the technology, and we can rebuild ourselves and our shattered ecosystems into what we want them to be.  It is up to each one of us now, and collectively we can leave a legacy that outlasts ourselves and echoes through the generations yet to come. 

It is our decision now.  We have a responsibility, we have the means and the talents to make the hard choices and survive, thrive and show in our works that we can live together with each other and with this Earth. 

Some may baulk, and some may be hopeless, but in fact we have never been more powerful, and that power is both destructive and constructive.  Let us use it the best way we know how.

Happy Earth Day!

Chaco Canyon, the center of the ancestral Puebloan Culture

Camping at Chaco Canyon beneath the stars.  The canyon is not as impressive as other sites from a nature point of view, but the historical relevance and deep cultural history is almost palpable.   This is the most studied archeological site in North America, and a place of deep spiritual significance to the indigenous peoples of the area.

Kin Kletso ruin in Chaco Canyon.

Kin Kletso sits south of the more famous Pueblo Bonito.  The valley was the epicenter of an ancient culture that had trading ties with peoples as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America.

On the Navajo Reservation in the town of Crown Point, a bi-monthly auction helps local craftspeople sell their unique art to collectors around the world.  This wool rug represents hundreds of hours of work, and sold for 1200 US Dollars. Many historians believe that the main reason Chacoan culture grew so strong was through an integrated trading system.

Early spring clouds hang over Monument Valley in Arizona.  The Ancestral Pueblo people, based out of Chaco canyon, may have communicated regularly with the people here, 480 kilometers away.

Hite, in Utah, is one of the farthest flung parts of the ancient Chacoan world.  Here the sun is embraced by a struggling old juniper stump, still growing possibly from the time of the ancient peoples.

The cadence of the ancient world was determined by the march of the seasons, much like our world today.  At the beginning of spring the sun sets over the Henry mountains in Utah, from the top of which could be seen all the way to Chaco Canyon, 580 kilometers distant.

Venus sets over the desert near Glen Canyon in Utah.  Chaco and many ancient sites in the area are aligned directly to the rising and setting of different stars and the sun and and the moon.  The ancients were aware of the the solstices and equinoxes, and like even our culture today may have given certain seasons, constellations and planets a variety of meanings as clear to them as our horoscope is to us. 

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