A Newly Unfolding Story of an Older History

“Poets are more like mushrooms, or fungus—they can digest the symbol-detritus.” (Gary Snyder, “The Real Work”)

“Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet.” (Thoreau, “Walking”)

7/17/2011: Steve and I start the drive to Sante Fe and our campground at 8 AM. I’ve brought my journal, some recent essays on ethnopoetics, The Mesa Verde World and Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways. The books and journal find their time in my backpack restful and sleep there; of course, too, Steve and I talk the entire 10-hour drive.

We talk of families, children, backgrounds, and histories, personal and not. The west Texas towns click by one-by-one in good and pleasant conversation, Vernon, Quanah, Childress, Memphis, Clarendon, Claude, and then Amarillo. It isn’t substantive talk for two people who make their livings in a university, but it is important because we share what matters to us and why we’ve come to believe these things matter so much. In other words, we’re offering each other what we “savagely” love in our lives and so that when we begin to take on “substantive” topics like interdisciplinarity we know something of the feral terrain of the other’s life. Outside of Amarillo, we smile as the Southwest begins when we leave the wide flatness of west Texas and descend into a canyon where the first cholla cacti appear beside the road, the mesas rise on the western horizon and monsoon rains build in the sky above them.

Steve has done most of the work to bring this group together—Steve Bardolph, Rob, Melinda, Porter, and myself. It reads like a bad joke, “So a photographer, a filmmaker, a philosopher, a Puebloan, a poet and an archaeologist go into a bar ….” We’re still waiting for a good punchline. But we know the point of the joke—what can our group, given our different disciplines, collaboratively produce about the Mesa Verde story? Give me a moment please… giggle, giggle, snicker. OK, thanks. Yet, the truth is I don’t know. I know I can produce poetry, and the photographer can take pictures, etc., but we don’t know what it means for us to all be entering the bar together and that is what worries us a bit and invigorates us as well. So begins this story.

Story is the word our group has been tossing about since beginning this project. The OED offers this etymology: Anglo-Norman estorie (Old French estoire, later in semi-learned form histoire) < Latin historia. One aspect of our use of story is our interest in the history of the Mesa Verde culture and their story. This story will be offered to us in ruins, in restored sites, in the potsherds in the sand, in the interpretive brochures, in the Pueblo stories Porter chooses to share, in the broad culture and simulacra decades of tourism have brought to the area, and, of course, in the archaeology. Another aspect is the story each of us will tell from our discipline, in other words, our story. I know I’ll be looking for the “symbol-detritus” of things—the place, the art and artifact, the idiosyncrasies and awkward archetypes, the meme of a t-shirt with Cliff Palace on it, the moment I shiver when tracing my finger over a thumbprint on a piece of 800-hundred-year-old pottery—and I will, with offerings to the muses , write poetry.

Among the many definitions the OED offers for story is “An incident, real or fictitious, related in conversation or in written discourse in order to amuse or interest, or to illustrate some remark made.” This sense of story is also what we’re using—the story that’s created in good conversation and in having to listen and ask questions to learn. This sense of story is one where you offer a thought or a photograph and realize it will be re-imagined by someone else in the group because she isn’t from your field and doesn’t have the same background. Here would be a good place to launch into a discussion of hermeneutics, but suffice it to say that this broader definition is to elucidate “some remark made” and the remark being made is not one voice but six disparately speaking in one story. However, for this re-imagination and questioning to take place, there has to be trust, good will, and people of “awful ferity.”

As Steve and I park the car at the Rancheros de Sante Fe Campground, open a beer and amble into the piňon juniper forest to smoke good cigars, I realize we’ve taken one of the first steps, creating something more than collegiality, trust enough to ask about what we don’t know and trust enough to listen well.




Mesa Verde National Park, CO





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