Saturday, June 13.Â As I was coming up out of Crossfire I heard voices.Â Much has happened lately in our small, southeast Utah town, so I was curious about who might be coming into the canyon.Â I saw a woman on the rocks above me, well off the trail, turning back in response to a companionâ€™s call.Â Picking up my step to be sure to meet them, IÂ caught up withÂ the two retirement-aged women—out-of-towners—as one helped the other over the arched rebar cattle guard at the trailhead.Â They had no idea I was there.Â I greeted them then asked where they were from.Â They were coy about saying, replying only that they were visiting.Â â€œYou?â€ they asked.Â I answered I lived up the road but was not originally from the area.Â â€œAre you going to see the cliff dwellings?â€ I asked.Â Thereâ€™s a nice Ancestral Puebloan (“Anasazi”) structure at the base of the cliffs, a little off the beaten trail.Â â€œYes,â€ they said.Â Â Then one of them pointedÂ to the yellow, green, and white, heavy-gauge metal, BLM sign posted at the trailhead announcing the canyonâ€™s September 2007 closure to off-highwayÂ vehicles (OHVs) and displaying the extent of the restricted area.
â€œBut we really wanted to see this,â€ one said.
â€œThis sign?â€ I said, puzzled.
â€œYes.Â A picture of it appeared in the AARP Magazine.Â They did an article on it.â€Â She said â€œAARPâ€ as if it were a word.Â I had difficulty understanding.
â€œArt Magazine?â€ I asked, thinking some artist or group interested in Ancestral Puebloan art had called attention to this canyon for some reason.Â â€œNo, AARP,â€ they said.Â One spelled it.Â â€œA-A-R-P.â€
Â â€œAh, okay.Â A-A-R-P.â€
Â â€œI just admire the group that did this,â€ Talkative Woman said.
Doubting she meant the Bureau of Land Management, the â€œgroupâ€ that erected the sign, I said, â€œYou mean, the group that got the canyon closed?â€
Â â€œThe â€¦â€ I tried to remember. â€œThe Grand â€¦ uh, Great â€¦ Old â€¦ Broads for Wilderness?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re the ones!â€ Talkative Woman squeaked.Â â€œI really admire them.â€
So these two were Great Old BroadsÂ for WildernessÂ groupies—maybe even members.Â Â TheÂ organization is based in Durango, Colorado but has thousands of members in numerous “Broadbands.”Â While the group has done admirable work and isÂ to be commended for caring so deeply about wilderness, the GOBFW’sÂ purely objective-driven actions in this area—sweeping in from out of town, working legal mechanisms, and catalyzing Crossfire’s closure to OHVs without (to my knowledge) a word of dialogue with invested locals—touched off turmoilÂ about which theseÂ twoÂ hadn’tÂ a clue.Â
â€œPreserving cultural resourcesâ€ is the reason often given for such acts, and indeed, the cultural resources do need protecting.Â But sometimes these efforts—especially when initiated by â€œoutsidersâ€—have opposite resultsÂ as defiance mounts against them.Â Certainly, at times it is not only necessary to regulate or stop exploitative or destructiveÂ behavior but it’s also measurably effective.Â However, having lived in this area for almost five years, Iâ€™ve become aware of the more painstaking, deeper work that some in these isolated communities have been doing for decades, the actual turning-of-hearts teaching that lays the foundation for peaceful and lastingÂ change.Â The kind of lesson the GOBFWs taught the locals effects change in the way that pulling a rug out from under somebody teaches that person a lesson.Â Compared to the more involved efforts others haveÂ made locally, what the GOBFWs accomplished with their “evidence gathering” activities in CrossfireÂ comes off asÂ the cheaper trick, an assertive rather than persuasive act.
Indeed, what my two new acquaintancesÂ appeared to adoreÂ here was the â€œsilver powerâ€ aspect of the project, the sword-wielding gleam the act had to it.Â They seemed unaware of the depths to which these matters run or of the effects they produce, especially in confluence with other acts.Â NorÂ did they seem aware of the tragic circumstances that had unfolded in the community over the past few days, the highly-publicized, federally executed artifact raids, code-named “Cerberus,” after the three-headed dog Greek myth assignsÂ guardianship ofÂ the underworld.Â
I thought I might try showing these ladies something of the depth of feeling along whose trail they were so casually hiking.
I turned to the sign.Â â€œAs you can see, the sign has suffered some abuse.Â Shot four times in the back and four times in the front.â€
The more talkative of the two groaned. â€œWhy would they do that?â€ she asked.
â€œItâ€™s language in response to the sign.â€
â€œDo you really think thatâ€™s what it is?â€
Â â€œIâ€™m sure of it,â€ I said.
Â â€œOh, thatâ€™s just hateful,â€ Talkative Woman said.
Â â€œWell …Â I guess it depends on how you look at it.Â Come over here, Iâ€™ll show you something else.â€
Down the trail a little ways IÂ showed them a pile of juniper logs pushed off to the side.Â These logs had once barricaded the trail—rather ineffectively—against OHV travel.Â Â Two months agoÂ someone broke up the barricade and pushed the logs aside.Â Beneath the largest log now lies the brown plastic BLM sign prohibiting OHV travel, bent to the ground, its top anchored with stones, its prohibitive language silenced.
â€œThose butt-wipes!â€ Talkative Woman said.
I sighed.Â â€œLike I said, it depends on how you look at it. Do you know whatâ€™s happened in this community over the last week?â€
Â â€œNo,â€ the women replied.Â â€œWhat?â€
I told them the short version, how just two days earlier, a small army of armed and flak-jacketed FBI agents had ended a two-and-a-half year undercover investigation of illegal trafficking in antiquities, raiding the homes of and arresting twenty-four individuals in the Four Corners area, many of whom were from my community.Â One of them, Dr. James Redd, was in my LDS ward.Â Federal agents dug intoÂ Dr. ReddÂ with language threateningÂ the loss of life as he knew it—the suspension of his medical license, years of imprisonment that could carry the sixty-year-old doctor well into his senior years, financial ruin, and so forth.Â The next morning, Dr. Redd arose, left a note telling his family they could find him at the pond on his property, drove his Jeep there and took his own life*, apparentlyÂ via asphyxiation.
â€œOh, thatâ€™s awful.Â How old was the doctor?â€ Talkative Woman asked.
â€œSixty,â€ I said.
â€œOh, thatâ€™s going too far,â€ she said.Â Whether she meant the federal agents had gone too far in intimidating Dr. Redd to the point of despair, that the doctor had gone too far in taking his own life, or something else entirely, I couldnâ€™t say.
Â â€œWhatever the condition of this community has been, these events have thrown it into crisis,â€ I told the ladies.
This gave them pause.Â The more quiet of the two said, â€œSome of these people had their collections before the Antiquities Act and other laws came into existence.â€
â€œThat’s true,â€ I said, opting again for the short answer.
Â â€œIs there even anything out here anymore?â€ she asked.
Â â€œYou mean artifacts?â€ I asked.Â She nodded.
How to answer posed some problem because itâ€™s a more complicated question than the simple â€œyes or noâ€Â form supposes.Â The answer is: Yes, there are lots of â€œthingsâ€ still out here.Â As far as the Ancestral Puebloan culture is concerned, and in spite of decades of pot-hunting and other acts of digging and collecting, a tremendous amount remains, buried in the middens of uncounted undisturbed sites and even in many ofÂ the disturbed ones.Â Â
Crossfire is full of such sites.Â I knew of several within the mile-long stretch I usually travel.Â They include rubble mounds, rock shelters, and other featuresÂ often littered on their surfaces with telltale sherds and lithic scatters, bits that provide records of trade and movement Â to thoseÂ able to read them.Â Also, many of these sites hold tight in their middens and unexcavatedÂ spaces other meaningful artifacts. Many â€œthingsâ€Â have been left elsewhere, such as in rock chambers and cracks in canyon walls.Â But what did these ladies really need to know?Â They had come here with ideas, their own and other peopleâ€™s, ideas that they liked.
â€œThings are tucked away here and there,â€ I said.
Â Quiet Lady said, â€œThey say itâ€™s a squeezed orange.â€
Â â€œThat the artifact content of the area is a squeezed orange?â€
Â They nodded.Â â€œThatâ€™s what some archaeologist said.â€
The image flashed across my mind: half a ripe orange, a mere husk of a fraction of a whole, collapsed, drained.Â More heightened rhetoric, a sound bite, a mindâ€™s-eye-catching artifact of somebodyâ€™sÂ more deeply buried intentions. Itâ€™s true that much has been lost, but it’s also true that much remains.Â I made no reply.
By now the no-see-ums had gathered and the two ladies were swatting the air and spritzing themselves and each other with insect repellant.Â IÂ leaned against a rock, arms crossed at the wrists.Â The insects swarmed me too, but from experienceÂ I knew thatÂ it takes a while for the nasty mites to work into position and bite down, and IÂ guessed thatÂ our conversation was winding down.
Â â€œWell, weâ€™re going to move on on account of the bugs,â€ Talkative Woman said.Â â€œThank you, Dearie!â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ I said, turning in the opposite direction, heading home.Â Out of curiosity, I found their car and checked their plates: Colorado.
Iâ€™ve seen pot hunting damage firsthand, sites hit very badly.Â I’m haunted by images of skulls and other human remains churned up and tossed aside—men, women, children—remains meaningfulÂ to diggers only as signs thatÂ grave goods like pots, jewelry, or other unique or marketable artifactsÂ might lie nearby.Â The exposed human remains don’t trouble me so much for their grim “to this we must all come” reminder—though there’s always somethingÂ show-stopping about coming upon human bones. Nor do they impress me for the unsettling evidence they offerÂ of the pot hunters’Â disregard for law.Â To me, what’s tellingÂ is the pot hunters’ complete objectification of a culture, the shrinking of lifeÂ down toÂ â€œthings.â€Â In reducingÂ the ruins of thisÂ prehistoric civilization to mereÂ exploitable resource, pot hunters and other kinds of dedicated collectors reduce themselves toÂ the role of predator inÂ aÂ predator-prey relationship.Â Such a mindÂ sees theÂ otherÂ culture, animal, mineral, stretch of land—whatever the object of their interest might be—asÂ existing mainly to serviceÂ his/her hunger for whatever gain or obsession they seek to gratify.Â Â In the case of pot hunters, their connections with the culture thus damaged, theyÂ further fail toÂ imagine the importance of these “things” not only to sciences constructingÂ the human narrative inÂ generalÂ and the Anasazi story in particular but also to descendent cultures not so far south of here, the Puebloan peoples of New Mexico, Arizona, and MexicoÂ to whom the Anasazi gave rise and whoÂ consider their roots—what we callÂ “cultural resources”—in this area as sacred.Â Thus pot huntersÂ fail to see the life that the â€œthingsâ€ signify.
Beyond this, collectors and traffickers in illegally obtained artifacts can’tÂ feelÂ the havoc they wreak upon their own psyches and, by extention, toÂ their cultural surrounds, because really, when it comes down to it, in our communities we act in concert with or in reaction to one another.Â What we doÂ will affects others, sometimes others so far down the road they are out of view.Â Many of the acts an individual engages in onÂ self-seeking â€œItâ€™s my life, I can do with it what I pleaseâ€ premise misdirects theÂ language of freedom.Â The entelechy of freedom—theÂ vital force ofÂ true liberation—arises not in being able to do whatever one wants but in being able to do better than one does, alone or in company with like-minded people.Â
In being so quick toÂ call the locals “hateful” and “butt wipes,” Talkative WomanÂ similarly reduced a culture to an exploitable resource, in this case getting her dig in to bolster tightly held beliefs.Â Â Just as theÂ area’s Â isolatedÂ Anasazi ruinsÂ make easy targets for pot hunters, the people of Southeastern UtahÂ are an easy target for rhetorical exploitation and ideologicalÂ Â artifact collecting.Â Â The towns here—originally Mormon settlement communities—are small, separated from each other by wilderness.Â Â Their populations are not especially vocal.Â Furthermore, as targets go, they’re politically uncomplicated.Â Amy Irvine’s Trespass, the bulk of which takes placeÂ in southeastern Utah,Â is nearly cover-to-cover cultural artifact collecting and glassed-in display, as was the GOBFW’s newsletterÂ when they touted theirÂ good work in the world, reserving the CrossfireÂ forÂ what they calledÂ quiet users.Â Â The BLM, too—I’ve heard, here and there, the set of their language as they’ve come downÂ the trail discussing enforcement matters.Â Â Crossfire’s acoustics are excellent.Â
Human language isÂ both aÂ cultural and a natural resource.Â Â If exploitation of a cultureÂ for personal gain is wrong, whether it be forÂ monetary gain,Â to enhance one’s sense ofÂ righteousness, or to advance oneselfÂ socially or professionally, thenÂ given the amount ofÂ digging language focused on this region there’s been enough tossing of skeletonsÂ and upending of lives, present and past, in and around Blanding and Monticello to go around, including from out-of-area crusaders whoÂ visitÂ higherÂ truth upon the heathens.Â
If you upend a cultureÂ to teach it not to upend another culture, then the actÂ becomesÂ more about the upending and much lessÂ about the teaching.Â ToÂ find the better way,Â find the better language.Â Creative, proactive, reaching language opens the frontiers, does the necessary work to build bridges, and produces an array of possibilities from which others might choose.Â It maps the unexplored terrainÂ of actual relation, it gets across.
As for the FBI codenaming their investigation and subsequent raid “Cerberus”: Ovid tells us that the triple-headed hound of hellâ€™s saliva was poisonous.Â When Hercules dragged him up from the underworld in the process of completing one of his labors, Cerberus in a foaming furyÂ drizzled the area with spittle.Â Foaming around the mouthÂ suggests not only that Cerberus was in a rage but also that he was rabid.Â According to the story, this poisonous spittle engendered the growth of aconite, a plant of deadly toxicity.Â The witch Medea used this plant’s poisonÂ to try to kill Theseus, her husband Aegeusâ€™ son.
*A second personÂ CerberusÂ bitÂ has taken his own life, Stephen Schrader of New Mexico.