Friday, February 5, 2010

The Desert Part I: Sedona, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, a bit of Navajo

Me in Bryce

First off I have 2 updates of note:
1. I’ve been told a few times that I have poor grammar and that I should consider editing or at least briefly reading over my posts before posting. I have rejected this criticism and my readers (assuming I have any) will have to continue to read my poor grammar and incomplete thoughts. Sorry.
2. I’m told that the reason I did not see sea lions at fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco is that the sea lions left. No one knows why they left, but they did. I suspect they got tired of people tossing them McFish sandwiches instead of real fish. Interesting idea from Drew: try asking the people at McDonalds what kind of fish a McFish is . . .

I’ve been in the desert for the past few weeks. The desert has played a major role in our thought for quite some time. Biblically it’s the place the Jews had to spend 40 years before becoming ready to enter the promise land, its where Jesus was tempted, and it’s the place many of the prophets fled. Even the Mormons had to cross (and settle in) a desert of sorts. In American literature its been the point of some of our most famous poems, I’m thinking mainly of the wasteland but also of Crane’s In the Desert, the one where the beast eats his heart because its bitter. Maybe he is bitter after watching this again. . . Good lord. I remember watching this my junior year of high school saying, if Colin Powell says its true than I bet it is. Little did I know these guys had taken over the White House, seriously look at those names its basically Bush's kitchen cabinet. And Yea, that’s the group that in the 1990’s that said we needed to attack Iraq for its oil, but that it would take a “pearl harbor” like attack on the US to spur the American people to action. Its true, in fact all their old papers are still online. You can read them here. Back to what I was saying . . . Campbell and Jung and those types have argued that in our collective conscious the desert is a place you have to pass through to dry yourself out (lose yourself) in preparation for becoming pure and entering a type of spiritual re-birth. Its sort of a John the Baptist kind of thing. Now the Campbell and Jungian types think that this is a universal and necessary way of thinking, I tend to see it as a localized historical development, but its an archetype of our thought either way.

I’m not sure that you can get the same “drying out” process by spending a week driving through national parks and eating pre-made trail mix from Wal-Mart. But there is definitely a unique feeling walking through these desert canyons alone. There’s a feeling of solitude (bordering on loneliness) that I definitely didn’t get in wetlands of the west coast. There’s less life around. Not many plants, not many animals, not much water. Just a lot of big red rock.

Alone in a canyon . . . spooky

Walking down the Bright Angel Trail in The Grand Canyon (only got about a mile before the impending darkness made me turn around)

Zion. Sidenote for those who have been: I almost made it up angel's landing despite the snow. I got kinda spooked toward the end though (after the first round of chains) and turned back.

And yet it is inhabitable. People lived in these places for thousands of years. And many of them still live here without the extreme changes that other cultures have made in response to our colonial occupation. I guess there’s some safety to the desert. It’s the area that no one wants. No one ever really tried to take the lands of the pueblo peoples because nobody wants it (well except the Navajo who have been beating up on the Hopi). So Hooray for the desert peoples for not getting pushed off their land, killed in war, or killed by disease!!!!

The unilineal evolutionist anthropologists of the 1800’s based a lot of their theories on archeological evidence from this region. They came up with theories that said cultures develop along a unilineal path of development (some faster or slower than others). They saw the mission of anthropology as an attempt to classify each culture at a point along a stage of evolution and then use this to get a glimpse into what our own culture looked like at various points in the past. This was of course a complete bastardization of Darwin’s evolutionary theory which is infinitely multi-directional, but the unilineal evolutionists never actually read evolutionary theory and didn’t quite get it. In the early 1900’s an anthropologist named Franz Boas looked at all the evidence and discovered that you could only support a unilineal theory by leaving out key artifacts and pieces of evidence. He wrote a paper called “The Limits of the Comparitave Method of Anthropology”. A few years later the unilineal evolution movement was dead.

One prominent unilenial evolutionist, Edward Tyler, had a theory that little pieces of our barbaric past would make it through evolution and would exist like living fossils in our own culture. I think he was on the ball here. I have a few examples. My first is debutant balls. The best part about debutant balls is that even people who participate in these remnants of our barbaric past actually think it makes them special. Unfortunately, it only makes them special in the “special ed” sense. Here is another remnant from our barbaric past. And here is another. Man I try to defend my southern homeland, but this is tough, some of this stuff is just too embarrassing. Oh wait a second, it seems that the north has also held onto some remnants of their barbaric pasts. We all suck.

Anyways I gotta go before my internet runs out. Hopefully I’m purified enough to enjoy a few days of skiing in Park City, UT and Salida, CO.

I'm hoping that the yuppyized pueblo architecture and art of Sedona contributed to a spiritual cleansing.


  1. Hey, you spelled "grammar" correctly! That's rather extraordinary!

  2. hey john! if you are in boulder, co i have a friend there who would definitely let you stay on her couch. also, lisa korby is in denver and i'm sure would be just as welcoming. give me a call if you need their contact info.

  3. i don't want a razor to touch that beard until you get down here. i want you to show up grizzly adams style.