Jack wrote this in November, 2005:
Comes an end to the long weekend. Had a bit of snow here last night, so I suppose we can conclude summer’s at an end, as well.
I was thinking this morning about how we tend to move across the countryside of years and geography not paying a lot of attention to what we’re doing, not looking at the tracks we’re leaving. From Saint Louis, MO, to old Fort Union, New Mexico there’s still a track made by men who were looking out ahead of them, never thinking about it. You can see that track from the moon… the Old Santa Fe Trail.
On the ground it’s hard to recognize. Just a series of gullies and washes. But get up a few hundred feet above and it’s plain where all those wagons followed that trail, moved over when the ruts got too deep and moved over again when they got too deep there.
The trail they left with those ruts carried water, which carried soil and on every incline and decline it eroded further until it’s an arroyo sometimes 30-40 feet deep abraded across the prairie a hundred yards wide or more.
Those guys cracking whips on the backs of mules and oxen never thought twice about it. They had their attention locked on the horizon. Their goals weren’t much. Getting somewhere. Selling something. Having a woman in Santa Fe, maybe getting good and snockered, and heading home. Trying to survive weather, hostiles, day to day. But you can still see the mark they made in their passing. The dreadful damage to the surface they never dreamed they were accomplishing without ever intending about it, never thinking about it at all.
We living creatures tend to leave a lot of tracks where we go.
On the North San Gabriel River in Texas, North of Austin on US Highway 183, there’s probably still a vertical wall with the tracks of some prehistoric critter on the bottom vanishing into it. You can see the trail of tracks, see where that thing paused to look at something, leaned back in one of his prints to make a double of it. Paused and walked on.
Got his picture taken without ever knowing it. Umpteeumph million years later along comes a river, washes down to that layer of rock, uncovers that moment for a while until a flood comes down the river rolling boulders with it to destroy that moment.
Makes me think maybe we humans ought to look just a bit more closely at the ground behind where we’re walking, literally and figuratively. Every moment of this life we’re getting our pictures taken. Might be worth considering whether we’d admire ourselves in those photographs stored in the land, the minds and spirits where we’re leaving our tracks.