By Adele Ardent
Glen Canyon Dam / Lake Powell, AZ
September 28, 2017
Do you ever consider the reasons that we can’t move freely through time, the way that we can through space? We think of our past selves and our future selves as selves. Changed and changing, perhaps, but still continuously us.
But memories are tools only, made available in the present moment through the effort of complex neurological machinery. We can’t move through time, I think, because ultimately there is no we within the self... only this self, and this self, and—now!—this self. Taking memory’s gathered knowledge to hand doesn’t necessarily make me the creature I once was, any more than picking up my father’s hand plane or chisel makes me into my father.
It was hard to dislike Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam, in spite of all the complexities of place that I knew to be buried under the gathered waters. This system had been made, after all, for me—or rather, for the benefit of future humanity, which the men of 1956 had concerned themselves with even while my parents were waiting to be born, and of which I now, so many years later, hold a small share.
So I took what was offered by the builders of the dam: I washed my limbs in its waters, drank from both flowing tap and ruched wave. I took in the waters through skin and throat, and intricate metabolic processes have no doubt layered some of the proffered oxygen and hydrogen atoms into the strata of my cells, binding two separate and complex systems, human and river, into one. Or, at least, into a before, and an after.
Swimming out to the buoy that marked off Lake Powell’s safe beaches from the turbulence of churning propellers, I felt a shiver—in any other era, I would be flying far above the ground, over rocks and the low, distant course of the free-flowing river. For a moment, I considered whether the weight of my body was supported by delusion more than deluge, if I had only convinced myself that this changed world existed as I saw it to be. In truth I was held aloft only by this small pocket of time, between the stemming of the river and the day when the land will crumple this dam like a sodden paper cup.
I think it is worth noting that many (if not most) of those that authored this place in the 50s and 60s must be dead; their oxygen and hydrogen have been allocated to other projects, as mine also will one day be. And certainly no one who set in motion “the way things are” in our country 150 years ago, 200 years ago, or 300 years ago, is still alive today. We access their thoughts and memories and stories, but it is our hands doing the shaping. It feels like we should be free to make our own choices, and to tell our own stories, but with this much weight, this much inertia… Can we do anything but follow the path that has been so neatly laid out for us, drift down the furrow between the banks, flowing more faithfully than any river?