Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

From the Museum--A Holy Place

If I wouldn't have had a guide, if I wouldn't have known ahead of time that the Sioux quartzite out there was full of ancient etchings, I swear I could easily have missed them, even though I walked right over them. But then, I visited the Jeffers Petroglyphs in the middle of the day, and I was told that when you're there determines their relative visibility--just exactly how the sun hits them or slants over them makes for significant differences. No matter, I must admit that some of them I simply didn't see.

But they're there, and about their reality there is no doubt. Nobody knows who drew them, which is to say nobody knows much about just exactly what kind of tribe and culture was here way back  when. The pictures themselves are about out only source book. The people who carved them were hunter/gatherers who ate and drank, loved and died, and, unless our speculation is silly, held some kind of rituals, which implies some kind of faith. The Red Rock Ridge--what locals call the site--was once, and still is today, a holy place.

Which is perfectly understandable. When you stand beside ancient etchings that anthropologists suggest are 10,000 years old, when you see striations carved into the surface by a glacier that was here even before that, when you just stand there and think about time--or even time's irrelevance--even the arrogant have to grab a breath. Faith of every kind begins with a human being on his knees taking a volley of stuttered breaths.
Some might disagree. It's not anything like, say, Devil's Tower. If you stand up on the highest red rock at the Jeffers Petroglyphs, you're no more than twenty feet above the lowest place within miles because Red Rock Ridge is a prairie high, hardly a "ridge" at all. It's not the Royal Gorge or the Grand Canyon. There's no risk from that nutty impulse to jump some of us feel when we stand up on a precipice. Nope. Leap from the Sioux quartzite at the Jeffers site, and even a retiree would have trouble breaking a bone.

But if you've lived out here for awhile, it's perfectly understandable how it is that even today people wander out to the site to sit and meditate. 

Seriously, I wish it were closer to home. If you sit on that red stone, surrounded by the emerald prairie, miles of open land yawning out in every direction, and realize that, long ago, men and women in bison skins sat here too, inscribing their visions in the pink rock, you'd have to say, in the parlance of the young, "whoa."

"I'm like, 'whoa.'"

That's really where faith begins--"like 'whoa.'" I like that.

Some of the old cathedrals can do that maybe; but today's more contemporary spaces? Nah.
What I like best about Jeffers Petroglyphs is that you can go there anytime. There's no fence. There's a wonderful little visitor's center, there's miles of native prairie, but there's no fence, which means, hard as it to believe in this day and age, the drawings on Red Rock Ridge--like the Ridge itself is always there, always open, as a holy place should be. 

I'm not kidding. You could go there tonight, late, when there is nothing but moon and stars, and sit on the ridge. You could. No one would mind. Just you and the wind.

Like, "whoa."


First up in June, 2009

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