Red Man Ruin
Birds sing me awake as the sun brings the first hint of red to the canyon walls.
I spread my map on the camp table, slurp strong tea, munch toast smeared with peanut butter and apricot jam.
A large branch of Lost Canyon, aptly named for its labyrinthine structure, catches my eye. Have I been there before? A memory of a wash surrounded by high walls, the rush of water surging behind me from a sudden thunder shower, a race to the safety of a ledge. I've been there, but the flash flood made it impossible to explore.
I glance at the bright blue cloudless sky. Today no thunderstorms threaten. Not unusual. Utah's arid canyon lands get but four inches of rain a year.
On the trail two hours later, deep into Lost Canyon, my companions and I come to the branch we are seeking. We fight through 100 yards of brush and find a twenty-foot wide wash that meanders through thickets of black bush and sage. No water, no human footprints; steep canyon walls. The wash, a dry stream bed scrubbed free of brush by flash floods, is the sole pathway to the head of the canyon.
A mile up the wash someone calls out, "Look there, on the left."
I look, not for a ruin, but for a rectangular shadow, the darkness of a doorway on the bright sandstone wall. Spotting the doorway helps me to see the nearly invisible structure blended into the wall by the Anasazi. It once housed corn grown on the flats near the wash. Built with flat stones, I can see indentations where fingers pressed mud between the stones to cement them in place. I feel it might have been my fingers that just yesterday pressed this mud. Inside, in the dim light, are arrowhead chips, pottery shards and small corncobs. Above the ruin is a pictograph of a human figure, painted more than one thousand years ago.
We search for a route further up onto the canyon rim, where more structures are likely to be hidden. In 1200 A.D., a drought brought the end of agriculture in this area. The few viable communities that survived built new shelters high up on the canyon walls to protect their crops, and themselves, from nomadic bands, from those whose fields had failed.
When we reach the top, someone says: "Look, over there."
I look and see three shadowy doorways. Next to one of the ruins, firewood is laid out as if prepared for tonight's fire, as if we have just returned from the hunt.
Thirsty, tired, caked with dried sweat, we begin our return to camp. On the way, someone says: "Did you hear that Martin has lung cancer?"
Martin—he hiked with us here once. I search my memory for his face, see only shadows of the man. We were acquainted, but not close.
Our talk goes to things we remember about him. When was he here with us? Did he smoke? Was there a wife? Despite all our talk, just bits and pieces of the man emerge from shadow—the pottery shards and corncobs of a life.
I wonder, when our time comes, will we too be but shadowed memories?
published in Simply Haiku, September-October 2004, v2 no 5