The moon hung lazily just above the cliffs. The grazing donkey, oblivious to the moon's teasing swings to its backside, ventured nearer the ledge, delighting us with a scene so quintessentially southwest it had a slightly manipulated-for-our-pleasure feel.
The weather was hot, easily 103 or 4, maybe hotter, but we were barely aware of the day of week, let alone the numeric measure of our discomfort. Tracks in the sand told a story of four legged reptiles, migrating birds, and the occasional human visitor. A group had probably left the spot hours before. They had done their best to leave no trace, but still we could feel that this spot had quite recently offered up its soft sands to the weary bones of summer adventurers. Who were they? What were they like? Probably much like us, suburban nine-to-fivers looking for an escape from calendars and alarm clocks.
We ventured behind the camp, sifting sand through our sandals up a short path. Carefully picking our way through bramble and cactus, we climbed over a few deteriorating shelves of shale onto solid red rock. There we found a history of ourselves. Small handprints covering walls of a deteriorating household, layers of history imprinted in stone. The snakelike drawing we found repeatedly over dwellings looked significantly different from others. No menacing head, no rattling tail. What if it was an ancient house number? A locator? A way to communicate "you're here! This IS the third house on the right as soon as you round the bend in the river" to neighboring families? What of the rams? The guys riding horses? The circular figures-some surrounding people, some empty? What did they mean? Did they mean anything? Did an exasperated (or maybe it was inspired) mother hand her children a bowl full of leftover whitewash, and tell them "we're moving anyways, go have some fun, leave your prints all over that wall." Or were the small prints a family tree of sorts? Were the inscriptions "1874" "Jim was here" and "God Loves You" modern acts of vandalism, or additions to a story not yet finished?
The group could only interpret what was present before us in terms of our own imaginations. I began to wonder what would my home look like to adventurers 800 years from now? Would they find deep meaning in the shape of my couch? Would they presume a spiritual connection between the coils on the stove top and the strange sucking device I know as a range hood? What meaning would they find in my son's collection of Star Wars toys? Would the intricately designed toys be considered beautiful? Useful? Understood to be just what they are-favorite toys? Would they guess that I kept dozens of plastic grocery bags under my sink as an offering to some invisible god, or would they somehow ascertain the truth...its trash, but I feel guilty about even having them, let alone throwing them in a community dump where they will linger into infinity?
Brought back to the present by the scent of chicken pot pie in a dutch oven, I laughed a little. Secretly, I would be delighted if they thought the Millenium Falcon was a mysterious communication system, and my house number a rank.
The rag-tag group convened around the camp-kitchen...somehow still the heart of our home, so many days away from home, happy, satisfied, and joyfully debating the possible meaning of the guy that looked like an alien.