Glimpses of our past
It’s obviously garbage. I pick it up only because it’s interesting in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s a red, white and sky-blue rusted steel Pepsi can that I’m guessing was tossed out of a Jeep at this spot sometime back in the late ’70s. I wonder if the Jeep is still in service, or even the people who were driving it.I relish a few memories before tossing it all back to the sand from whence it came. I wouldn’t call this place littered, but there are enough crushed beverage cans and broken bottles scattered around so that hauling out this particular one won’t make much difference.A little farther on, I find a penny. It’s nearly black from the relentless desert sun. It must be old. I pick it up and rub it between my fingers, just because. It’s not a wheat head. They stopped minting those long before this one was coined in 2000. I put it in my pocket. A penny earned is just another piece of clutter for the tray on my nightstand back home that collects pocket junk ranging from paper clips to unwanted change.It makes me feel bad about the Pepsi can. I held it in my hand much the same as its previous owner had. I, too, tossed it to the ground. I’m an accomplice in this crime of pollution, joined with the original perpetrator by the years that separate us. I’ve made no positive difference here today, even though I had the chance.My family and I are hiking with friends on their land in southwest Colorado. We’re searching for arrowheads. Near this private property are two cliff dwellings that housed the ancestral puebloans, who were formerly, and quite recently, insulted at being called the Anasazi, or so we are informed by their claimed ancestors, who several thousand years or so from now may, through their descendants, be insulted that someone might someday call them “Velotoupians” or some other name that they can’t now possibly imagine. Although there is great mystery concerning the sudden and complete disappearance of this ancient people centuries ago, apparently they have relatives living near Cortez lobbying diligently for political correctness.While nobody condones taking ancient relics off private property even with the owner’s permission, it is perfectly legal, or so I am told. We all know the archeological ethics involved. If you find an artifact, you leave it where it lies. In our hands, it’s out of context. It’s a record of history that will be erased with our meddling. Displacing even a tiny bead could be removing a clue that forever makes a question about the past unanswerable.I raise my sight from the ground to get my bearings. The cliff dwelling site is still half a mile in front of me. I glance back down and a shiny object catches my eye. I reach for it and pull an exposed point out of the red earth. It’s a symmetrically curved fragment that can’t possibly be natural.I examine it more closely and see the pattern stained purposefully on its surface. The concave side is gray with thin runnels of texture made by fingers sliding across it when it was still damp clay, conceivably a thousand years ago. It is magnificent! I scavenge around in the dirt looking for other pieces or maybe some tools. There is nothing else that I can find.What could this shard of broken pottery be doing way out here in the sage brush, so far from its maker’s home? There is a chance that it was discarded here centuries ago as garbage. I should put it back on the ground, right where I found it. If I do, though, it’s doubtful that anyone will ever find it again, even if they should happen to retrace my steps out here where no trail exists. Should I keep it as a souvenir?I summon the image of the old Pepsi can again. I brush my pocket to feel the outline of the black penny I put there. I want this broken piece of ancient baked clay. I don’t know why I want it, but I know that I do.Hackneyed justifiers wheedle my mind: Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure. One in the hand is worth two in the bush. Opportunity doesn’t knock twice. Two wrongs don’t make a right. … Trash dropped from my hand is trash on the ground.Honestly, Roger Marolt went to the desert only in search of the sun. Send your petroglyphs to email@example.com
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