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|
|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.|
|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.|