October 22, 2018

Former Bears Ears

Former Bears Ears

This place wasn’t built for humans. When we arrived on this cliffside, I felt like an invasive species – trammeling the soft ground, breaking branches, sneaking into a domain that isn’t mine. We’re in the former Bears Ears National Monument area at the edge of a massive, beautiful mesa with many reaching peninsulas, one of which is named Muley Point. No name seems significant enough for the incomprehensible vista below us. It feels like a place of the gods.

Great waves of slickrock rise and fall at the top of this enormous landmass. The rocks hold deep pools of water after a rain, pools weathered by generations of moving water and wind. The stony waves grow more frequent as they reach the edge of the bluff, then abruptly stop and change angle into an enormous red rockfall. This cliff plummets down to the red plain below, and then angles into yet more cliffs traveling downward, wiggling around each other as they go – the “goosenecks” of the San Juan River. The river itself is rarely, barely visible, a silty red waterway only seen in occasional glimpses from our perch far above.

This is a land for rocks and sands, for pinons and junipers. This is a land for plants, herbs, and medicines of the body and soul. This is a land of sky, endless sky, vistas so large that I really can’t even stand to look out at them sometimes because my mind can’t comprehend the vastness.

Oceans of rock; tablets of sky.

It is inhuman. It is inhuman in a magnificent, spectacular way. This place was not built for us to take from, to break, divide, or conquer. This is a place for learning, awe, humility, and gratitude.

What has helped me understand this place best are moments spent watching the birds. Ravens, pinon jays, turkey vultures, and even one grand golden eagle. The ravens are my personal favorite, because they seem so comfortable at this intersection of vertical land and lifting wind. They play together around all the cliffs edges, stitching together the many layers of air and land with their swirling, burbling flights.

I am thankful to the ravens for sharing this place with me, for giving me a way to access and understand a landscape which is not designed to make me comfortable. I am thankful that inhuman, more than human, nearly unintelligible landscapes exist. Where else could we learn about distance, about the swell and shift of rocks over time, about the tiny cryptobiotic life that builds over decades? Who else could teach us about these things if this landscape was gone?


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