A river of time
One long ago summer, floating down the travertine filled waters of the Little Colorado river, I recalled the meaning of very ancient voices; they spoke of their beliefs that this river, the umbilicus of life, was the place of origins for the Hopi nation. I know now, this river is also my original source. It too, is my river of the beginning of time.
Inevitably and always, it is the frequency and the duration of the voices persisting in the landscape that call and hold our attention. These voices are acting as the fossil clues to the deep past from which this archaic world we inherit emerges. From this deep past --the source of life-- much later I, too, have emerged.
You and I spill forth out of this river of time.
There is a quality of life that I will call the character of duration. You may call that longevity, but it refers to the elapse of continuity between events. That quality is not unlike a river that flows with swift, turbulent and calm currents, all intermingling in eddies buffeting us about as a trapped spider amidst the foam and the debris of this restless flow. You can sense the different rhythms of duration. We call it time. And you can sense this only if you venture beyond the mechanically contrived time we have been conditioned to watch on the face of the clock that has become our careers. One has to find places where, like eddies in a whirlpool, the familiar flow gives way to the enriching play of severed strands reweaving the fabric of this warp and woof of duration. Some places have the power to elude the mechanistic margins of time and space and thus we may -- if we allow ourselves --- to be propelled into the multiple dimensions of time in which we dwell -- but often fail to recognize.
You will know these places by their feel only if you can sense the cycles of frequency and duration within which we coexist with the multiple layers of this emerging world. You can detect all but the subatomic timelessness in these places because we are trapped in the realm of decaying neutrons that atomically tick off the moments between our restlessly pounding hearts and the deepening breaths we aspire in our search for reassurance amidst the fluctuations of an unexpectedly alterable world. You can find places where time appears to throw up past, present and future all before us as if our grammar is mocked by the existence of the past enduringly tied to the present. As we hurtle into the future we have the quickened pace of cells and the firing of neurons in the chemical sea of our bodies to match the timpani of the diaphragm as it syncopates rhythmically and then more rhythmically with the endless beating of our hearts. We exist in diverse frames of time but are attuned only to the slow circadian rhythm of our hormonal oscillations and the daily movement of the sky's more prominent features; day giving way to night.
We live with a constant fiction -- it is that some experiences are conveniently categorized as departed, lost in the past. For example there are earth's features where these times converge and we may hear only if we listen the cacophony of colliding times like a cataract where water spills over rapids into some temporarily unifying gorge.
As you walked through Canyon de Chelly did you feel, as I did, the footsteps or hear the voices of a thousand generations forming -- molding -- and artfully arranging the adobe mud to fashion a dwelling place for the human spirit? Did the apparently senseless deaths of all those hands, heads, and hearts arise in some gratifying image of the human desire to display for the entire world to see the gentleness of our emotions and the vitality of our spirit? I can think of only a few places like Canyon de Chelly where I have felt the hot breath of people I have never known filling me with the noble tragedy that was theirs and remains also as our lot.
Once in the cave of “fon du game” near Lascaux in the Dordogne Valley of France -- upon seeing the hand print of that artist 35,000 years old -- I felt the presence of a particular human spirit. It was that deep essence embodied in all of us that is a spirit that cries out against the "dying of the light."Oh how I now "rage against the dying of the light." In the senseless slaughter of humanities' frail beauty that is death the most unnerving rejection of all grips my soul. Few can withstand the ice cold hands of a corpse. Any corpse was --once-- loving and vibrant and living. Who may withstand the ice cold hands of a corpse and not tremble at the power of death to rob us of our most tender desires, our most profound needs and our most intimate of loves?
Again deep in the valleys of Canyon de Chelly perusing at length the ruins of the Anasazi, or so called "ancient ones," I heard voices in a clap of loud thunder. The white hot lightening resounded in thunder as a storm approached and threatened to flash flood the once dry bed of ground with the swelling stream. In the breaking roar I thought I sensed their voices and in the smell of the burning nitrogen wrapped in rain, I imagined the sweat of the Anasazi crafts people. It was their constant exertion that carried the water from distant places, that trudged up precipices to acquire the timbers and carefully placed the stones to build their agricultural outposts in this desert. Upon sensing their presence in the quake of the sky and the scent of the rain, I began to understand the timeless quality of Hopi language and ideas.
For the Hopi, instead of being dead, gone or lost in the past, their ancestors endlessly return as storm clouds. These Anasazi and their descendants in Hopi villages today also believe that the Kachinas come down every vernal equinox from the San Francisco Mountains to dwell among the mesas. But they must be invoked, called forth like the spirit hidden in a rock or the mystery embedded in the flowing stream. Hidden from our view is the ever present and restless past, spilling into the present moving, ever swirling through us. If only we are open to sensing this quality, we can on occasion, realize that we are trapped in time like a bug in amber. The hints about the actual qualities of duration come from the river, the rain, the rocks that prop up the Canyon walls and the ravines revealed by ceaselessly tumbling water.
There are no English words to adequately express the parody of duration we call time. But to grasp how and why the Kachinas are summoned annually from these remote peaks in Arizona is to sense a hidden dimension to the antiquity of places and the memories with which we embroider our passage down this river of time.
Travel well, walk wisely, and may fortune be between you and death, as you amble along the deafening corridor from which we appear never to return. That is of course except as the eternal showers of rain, or mesons, or neutrinos that daily escape our attention as we drift together into entropy.
J. V. Siry
Rivers & Forests
The Grand Canyon
Environmental literature defined
schedule | Home | Atlas | site-map | Ecology | laws | quick look