Marcey and I walked down the wash that wound its way through the small canyon. Although it was barely the begging of April, the midday sun was blistering hot. Such is life in Arizona, a place of yellow-brown dryness. You can feel it in your mouth, you can feel it in the cracking of the skin ─heck!─ you can even feel it in the way your eyes dry up like grapes transmuting into raisins on the vine.
Nevertheless, Marcey, her son Sam and I decided to brave the rising temperatures and go for a brief hike to a place called Badger Springs, a trail no more than a few kilometers found a little way north of Phoenix, near a forgotten little town called Black Canyon City. The trail followed the bed of a small, dried up spring that connected with the Agua Fría River some kilometers away.
As we walked along, we were exposed to the hidden wonders of the desert world. The desert is a place of life, if one has the eyes to see it. Here and there, different species of cacti and plants were blooming. Purple, yellow and blue flowers contrasted against the gritty rust and cream shades of the ground and rocks that color the landscape. Arizona receives less than seven inches of rainfall every year. Life springs up here after even a brief shower that placates the ever-present thirst of the land. The paloverde trees, with their distinctive pale green trunks, were blooming with heavy loads of small yellow flowers. They pollinated the land with their color.
We kept walking until the narrow slopes of the canyon opened up before us, revealing the Agua Fría River before us. It was as magnificent a sight as ever a man did see. Its muddy-brown waters glistened in the sun, reflecting the day-rays like small veins of silver. I immediately felt an excitement bubble up, like a child that sees a pool on the first day of summer.
“It’s beautiful!” I remarked to Marcey. Sam had gone on down to the waterside and was now exploring along the banks.
“Isn’t it?” she said with her usual beaming smile.
My eyes began wandering around, jumping from boulder to boulder. Marcey had told me, in the form of an offhand comment, that there were ancient petroglyphs rubbed into the stones along the trail. I was excited about finding them out here in the wilderness as opposed to staring at them in a glass exhibit in some air-conditioned museum.
I then spied some unnatural-looking white lines, clear as day, against the background of a large boulder perched at the top of the northern slope. I felt my heart jump up into my throat and there pump hard against my skin.
“Look!” I yelled back at my friends, pointing up at the figures. “I see them! Up there!”
Suddenly, the wind picked up. It picked up hard. The low shrubbery rattled and there was a blinding flurry of sunrays being reflected from the water as the breeze created waves in the river where there had been but ripples moments before.
At first, I felt a momentary fear, for behind the air that swirled around me I had sensed intent. Next thing I felt was a sensation of peace, like a father’s embrace. I felt like a child again, joyful and free to explore.
“Well, that was weird,” I said to no one in particular. Now, thinking back, I don’t know how I knew the glyphs were there. My gaze had simply been drawn to them; it had felt natural, perhaps a little too much so.
I made my way up the slope towards the rocks, springing from boulder to boulder. I climbed up several larger rocks and finally stood face-to-face with the figures of deer and men scratched into the rock.
The figures of deer were etched into the stone with loving detail; their horns and legs were drawn with austere simplicity. I then saw the carvings of two people side by side, their arms and legs were instantly recognizable. It was the simplest of representations, but the most profound of all. We were humans, the glyphs appeared to shout, and we were here. It struck me that I was standing where the original artists would have stood, rubbing a small piece of themselves into the eternity of the rock.
These glyphs mesmerized me. Standing there, I felt the communication process complete itself in my mind. It was like telepathing across the centuries with these people whose footsteps have long eroded from the ground on which I stood. A brotherhood that extended across the ages: the connection between those that wouldn’t be forgotten and those willing to remember them. A comradeship forged by the asynchronous beating of our hearts.
One can feel the ghosts of memories here. They linger on in spirit just as the recollection of our footsteps through this eternal land will one day too be no more than a phantom reminder of our passing; a testament to our frail insignificance and the all-encompassing importance of our humanity with our mortal bodies and eternal souls.
How many of those ancient peoples enjoyed the sight of the water and a sky the color of a morning glory in full bloom? How many had here rested as we did? An unknowable number of memories lay here, forgotten and invisible to our eyes.
I looked towards the river where Sam and Marcey were enjoying passing the hot day along the banks of those cool waters, as these souls had done many centuries before us. I made my way back, but I wasn’t alone… I took that connection with the people of the glyphs with me. I had the souvenir of a friendship that spanned across the ages, complete with the joys of a fresh accuaintance and the sorrow of parting that characterizes the traveler’s life.
You aren’t forgotten, brothers. You are remembered.