The thing that haunts me are the handprints. Small, white, they stick on sandstone walls, their owners reaching out from within. Within a different time and space, yet their hands remain, painted onto the landscape, dry on my own hands as I paddle downstream. What did they want to leave in that mark? To tell us they were here? To tell themselves? Or was it a response to their own ancestor’s carvings above? These ominous five fingers, a shape I’ve known and replicated all my life travel with me. In a time that feels close to an end is it niece to ache and yearn for a time like the one inscribed? The hands anchor my thoughts. We cannot fight the passage of time and our internal changes anymore than we can fight a roaring river. Our society, myself included, is so obsessed with legacy. In the end all we leave are our handprints, 5 fingers guiding back to our baseline humanity. In this earth all things return and we are shortly in her presence. So cherish, each star, rapid, grain of sand in-between my fingers. I hope for this to remain, to share it with others and leave a legacy for the land, but walls will crumble, rivers move, handprints fade. When preservation is futile, we must live in cycle with the earth, not taking advantage of one stage but returning to the rhythm. My hand looks very different, domestic, concerned with leaving more, working harder, and experiencing all. We have this idea of returning to the wild as doing more, working harder and abandoning simplicity. But wild is simple, not high and mighty about the progress of man. Wild succumbs to the earth and her open hands, prepared to rock in a cycle of renewal. I give my hand to the rock, place it in the water, run it threw the breeze and plant it within the earth like a seed awaiting germination, hoping to one day sprout anew in the earth’s cycle.
I left the group along the river bed, following the well worn cracks in the clay and hoping a spot to sit would stick out to me. After an awkward interaction with a hiker, I decided to leave the trafficked stream bed for a trail on my left. I climbed up and out of the cottonwood filled valley and into the dry sagebrush not far from its banks. The trail continued, heavily traveled for this region, and I followed. I followed as it winded its way around the sandstone canyon island before me. My thoughts a mess, jumbled from our entrance into the canyon and all the things to see. I kept to the trail, until I came to a fork, one continuing around the island, the other turning right word the boulders along the canyon wall. Overcome by curiosity I went right. I continued on, more focused on my head than my feet and perched myself on one of the boulders to collect my thoughts. As I turned back to the wall, I saw it. Hidden by boulders a small Ancestral Puebloan ruin. Faced with this ancient structure my mind finally calmed. I sat there unsure if I should add more footprints to the heavily trafficked home. However enticed by the prospect of pot cherds, I went in. The ruin itself didn’t stand out much among the ones I’d seen within Grand Gulch, just some looted walls and a granary. After looking at the pot cherds placed atop a wall and the BLM info card, I turned to leave. As I turned, I saw what I had missed, in the corner behind the boulders blocking the structures were handprints, painted on in red and white. As I stepped closer I saw a second image, one much newer that has failed to leave my mind, signatures. The hundred year old signatures of the white men who “found” this place, who started the trail. These signatures loomed in my mind ever since reading a BLM pamphlet on preserving them and their heritage. Both markings considered sacred by the government. I left the ruin with the same thanks I always give. Thank you, in return I will strive to protect and care for this land like you once did and carry a piece of you within my wandering heart.
Standing before me were two signs of dedication, a handprint and a signature. The explorers who first came to this canyon also dedicated and risked their lives for this place. Although they did so in an act of colonialism and genocide, should their risk and dedication still be honored, their markings preserved? This was the home of the Ancestral Pueblo’s and in that way their dedication knows no bounds. They worked with the land and took very little leaving behind only handprints and buildings of earth. What do the signatures and the hands behind them leave behind? Destruction? Extraction? Oppression? The scene on that wall evokes the truth of our temporary conquest of the west. Handprints endure, a symbol instantly recognizable across languages and cultures. Signatures in an illegible cursive of an evolving language lose their meanings. The civilization created by the signatures is fading too, unable to see an end, but the handprints and sandstone will outlive and endure. The words I say when exiting these places remind me to hold them sacred, that they are homes of others, keeping me from treating them as my own and signing my name too. I don’t know yet in full what protecting and caring for this land looks like, but I want it to be apart of whatever I go on to do. Thinking beyond this trip, I am filled with lots of emotions from empowerment to despair about our relationship to land. It’s hard to know what lies beyond, but I do believe strongly in the captivation and awe of the land around me and am prepared to dedicate my life to it. Wherever my heart may wander, as it tends and will continue to do, I will bring a piece of this land and its inhabitants with me, allowing it to guide me and center my thoughts.