The mountain I used to prospect for several years is covered with ruins wherever there is water. Big ruins. I used to sit on one near my camp and try to imagine what it must have been like.
One summer solstice afternoon I was sitting on the cliff boundary of the ruin watching the sunset. In the basin below there’s a volcanic knob out toward the center of the plains. I’d discovered a single kiva on top of it years before and puzzled over it vaguely. What was that kiva doing there, miles away from the big houses?
But because that day happened to be solstice, I suddenly noticed when the sun went down, it vanished directly behind the point of that Kiva knob! Yon damned Mogollons used it to mark summer solstice!
A place like that fires the imagination, and I spent a lot of time thinking of those people who lived in that ruin. Some of these groups had evidently been in the same locations for 300-400 years, and suddenly their government leaders decided they had to leave. Politicians, or priests, or both, deciding what was best for them.
One day they just left. I’ve always thought it was because of that grim civil war nobody knows anything about that happened among them around the time these ruins were abandoned. Bashing in the heads of anyone who didn’t agree to migrating.
They probably watched and even hosted strings of these travellers along the trail until their own turn came.
What a thing it must have been to be one of them on that last day, saying good bye to the place your great-grand-dad, your granddad, your dad, and everyone else as far back as anyone could remember, including you were all born, lived, and mostly died.
Everyone voluntarily packed a few belongings, a medicine bag and blanket or two, a stone hatchet and a few scrapers, and left, leaving corn in the bin for those coming behind. Abandoned pots lying around all over the place measured the things they couldn’t carry.
Sometimes sitting on that mountain early in the morning it sort of overwhelmed me, the pain and sorrow in those villagers. Probably they all left in the morning one day, after a while of maybe being notified it was their turn. A few weeks of planning. What to take? What to leave behind.
Finally they probably finished the last minute packing the night before. At dawn they made a line down the basin heading south, looking back over their shoulders as long as they could, feeling so sad. Knowing they’d never go home again, wondering about the place they were going.
Remembering how it was playing on the mountain with their grandads when they were kids, remembering the special, secret places kids always have. Just looking and yearning to stay, and already missing that long home where their ancestors had roamed for 2000 years.
They’d have tried to keep it in sight as long as they could, each one stopping to wipe the trail dust off his face, pretending to catch his breaths. But yearning back at the old home place, piercing the heat waves with their eyes, straining to see it one last time, maybe crying, certainly crying inside. The kids probably screeching enough to cover everyone elses grief.
As they trekked south they were joined by other groups from the neighboring villages. The dust rose on the trail making a plume, a cloud around them. They examined these strangers who were now trail mates and wondered who they were.
Some, they probably soon discovered had a mother-in-law, or uncle who came from their village. They got to know one another better there on that hot, sad, lonesome trail away from all they they’d ever known, and they shared the hardships of the journey together for a long time.
Today, it’s just piles of rock, potsherds, holes left by scholars and other diggers for spoils. The land still falls off across Johnson Basin, sun going down over that volcanic nub that once measured the time to plant. Cow men ride their motorized hosses across the old trails, cows stomp around looking for grass, making the pottery fragments even smaller.
But sometimes late at night when the wind howls down the mountain a man might hear, or think he hears an echo of the chants, the drums, the night mumbles and whispers of lovers, the ghosts of lovers. Pulls the bag tighter around his ears and wonders.
Today on Ask Old Jules: What is Forgiveness?