Sunday, September 13, 2015
Chapter 3 (Updated 8/11/16)
In the two months that he had been in Moab, Dave Robinson had pretty much had the opportunity to do just about everything that he wanted to do as a newly “single” guy. He was taking in slot canyons and archaeology and petroglyph sites regularly, both during and after his work hours for the Bureau of Land Management out of Moab. However, by the time that he drove off from his former home in Salunga, Pennsylvania, in order to see if the dream job really was the stuff that the fantasies about it had made him think it would be, he realized that he was a lonely and still very much married man living several time zones away from his wife, Charlotte. Sure, he had access to many of the canyons that the desert travel writers guided tourists to with their colorful earth porn books, but it wasn’t the same to go to them alone or as an unknown part of a group hike that he had joined or arranged on some Internet site.
When they parted ways in early May, Dave had driven west in his tiny Yaris, carrying only the essentials that he would need for the first few months. He had his clothes, his computer, and his hiking stuff. Charlotte did make him take some pots and pans and utensils and plates, but that was the most civilized thing that he had other than a promise to buy an iron and ironing board when he arrived in town.
Pretty much everything else he needed other than clothes and hiking equipment was digitalized except for a few DVDs and some guidebooks that filled a single box. The rest of the stuff would be waiting for him to call in early August if the job was everything he thought it would be. If it was, he could fill the rental truck. If not, he still had his jobs as an adjunct professor teaching research writing and an English tutor to go back to in Pennsylvania, so it would be easy enough to throw his gear back into the Reliable Mobile, the name he affectionately referred to his hatchback as, so that he could drive the two to three days back east to the farm fields, forests, and smaller green mountains of Pennsylvania knowing that he had a true desert experience before he got too old to throw it all in the car and start off for something new.
At least he would have tried.
It’s not like he wanted to go back to Pennsylvania. He didn’t want to quit the job just yet either, but he also didn’t want to get into something that wasn’t going to be right for him or Charlotte either. It wasn’t like when he was in his late twenties or early thirties. He had a family to think about now, even if he didn’t have kids.
Fortunately for him, the job sort of kind of fell into his lap. One day, it just stared out at the computer screen, and he couldn’t not apply, so he submitted. A month and a half later, he got the call for the first interview. That was an interview on Skype, while the second interview was going to come with the knowledge that it would have to be in person. With that, he knew that it was going to be more than a formality if they expected him to fly into town to meet them, and it was. After an hour and a half of being grilled, they saw his talents and his seriousness as well as his willingness to professionally commit to them and their mission. They even saw his shoes were shined and his car was clean, so he was definitely a man that had all of his bases covered.
From the way that they talked, it was clear that they were people who could love him and that he would enjoy working for. He responded in kind with the hook getting set as soon as Gary Stanford, his future boss, went into the mode of a formal offer as applied to government pay matrixes. It was all Dave could do to ask Charlotte what she thought before he formally accepted the offer.
“If you know this is what you want, then let’s give it a go. If it doesn’t work out, it’s still full-time pay for three months. That definitely beats half-time summer pay.”
For as much as he was anxious to leave for the Utah desert, it wasn’t like Dave didn’t like his job back in Pennsylvania. There were some really great students he taught, but he was tired of the same old day in / day outs and rehashing the same e-mail communications to a different e-mail address all of the time. He lived for the great students, and he had seen a fair bit of them, but now it was time to do something for himself, especially since the in-class experience was now largely converted to going online, for better and worse. The same things could be done with no cost in gas money, but the personal connection largely vanished from the equation with people able to take classes in a home office while only wearing boxers or pajamas.
Hell, he had no idea what his students looked like unless he searched Facebook for them, and the only times he did that was when he just needed a face to apply to the life.
As his friend Terry once said, the adjuncting thing meant just teaching – and no meetings was a good thing. He had bosses who supported him, but as Terry also would state and Dave would agree, the only time he ever went to his bosses was when he needed them or to answer for something a student said, which were two situations that weren’t all that common if he knew how to keep things purring like a cat on a throw pillow on the couch. However, there were always the personal, mandatory responses to the semi-annual evaluations. That said, this, too, was mostly done in its final stages through e-mail. In the 21st century learning and business environment, anything that could be done digitally was. What was left of the work day, the time not connected to the computer screen, was his time.
That was the good thing about not having an eight to five day job. The bad thing was just about everything else. There was nothing steady or guaranteed, even benefits. Dave and Charlotte made ends meet, and the money was nice except in the summers when class loads diminished. Now, the things that this BLM job represented were things that he had put years into getting volunteer outdoor club experience so that he could go out to the desert wonderland in southeastern Utah. Nevertheless, like many older people, and it’s not like Dave was as old as the Crypt Keeper since he was only turning forty-five this summer, he wasn’t a spring chicken anymore.
He was just someone who needed to get something going soon or it was never going to happen, so that, too, was why he felt he had to make the jump – a part of him knew that he had to do it now or it would never come… ever.
“People just don’t rush to hire geriatrics with walkers and canes, Dave,” his mother would always say, and Dave knew it was true since he saw all too many “old” people unable to find employment after being laid off.
While he and Charlotte didn’t have kids, they had each other and their respective families, which were full of nieces and nephews. Sure, he didn’t see his family all the time, and Charlotte’s family was a routine but infrequent visit since they lived eight hours away in Ohio, but that’s a lot closer than twenty-nine hours and 2,022 miles to some nowhere desert in the center of southeastern Utah.
However, this opportunity was too good to pass up on, so he waved goodbye to family and friends in order to set out on an adventure.
Dave and Charlotte’s last night in Pennsylvania was a quiet night that they spent going out to eat at an Italian restaurant down the road. When it was over, they returned to quietly pass the night in each other’s company without saying or doing much else. In the end, the nervousness and the time apart filled the air more than the feeling of romance did. They ended up lying beside one another, just one man cuddling his “Little Spoon,” thinking about the future and talking about when they would see one another again before they fell into restless dreams of uncertainty.
Neither of them knew the answer to this question, but it was the question on both of their minds regarding the time between togetherness. A lot of seeing one another depended on whether or not she would be coming out to do any job interviews at the end of July or not. Nevertheless, July felt so far away from the early spring world of May. The peonies, lilies, and irises in the garden weren’t even really blooming yet. Just like these flowers pushing through to bloom, so many things would have to happen before they saw one another, and all of those good things would come at the end of the inevitable stream of time and action.
Seeing Charlotte felt even further away on July 17th when Dave sat in the small corner hipster café, which was called the Wooly Beard, waiting for “Wolf” Owens. For as annoying as many of the café’s customers and employees were, they could whip up some amazing pancakes, and Dave would be lying if he said that he didn’t like pumpkin pancakes smothered in maple syrup.
For tasty pancakes, he could ignore the self-righteous Millennial Generation denizens of the café in favor of his magazines and guidebooks.
On this Sunday, Abraham “Wolf” Owens was supposed to meet him to talk about the proposed archaeology dig that would soon be going on in Blackrock Canyon. Wolf was never one to hold back his thoughts, and he knew that he could talk to Dave to at least get surface level discussions of which way the wind was blowing regarding potential finds. Apparently, this included musings on the state of Willard Greer’s lands.
Robinson knew that he was liked, but he was also smart enough to know that Wolf had not endeared himself to the archaeologists of the state, which was over something that had happened way back when at a place called Mormon Creek. However, he was respected and feared equally in all of the things that he had done and was willing to do. In addition, Robinson knew from discussions that Wolf was a friend of Willard Greer, so it made no sense for him to not know what was in the canyon unless the truth of Willard’s secrecy really was the order of business on the ranch.
Nevertheless, for those in the know, Abraham and Willard were thought to be “thick as thieves,” which is how things were explained to Dave by Gary. To this, there could be a sense that perhaps, Abraham was just wondering if the police had discovered something back there in the canyon that they didn’t need to find. Whatever it was, he was definitely interested in meeting up with Dave on this sunny summer morning, which was already turning into a scorcher.
In some ways, Dave didn’t mind being the errand boy since he idolized the sixty-seven-year old man right from the first time he heard him discussing the comings and goings of the Fremont people. This was one of Dave’s first true introductions to the larger Utah area, and it was a breezy mid-May evening up in Moab with many of the locals. He didn’t know how many people total were there, but the room was beyond full. When the applause died down and people began to talk, he felt he fit in a little better. Some of the anxiety of missing Charlotte and being out in public by himself, as well as the thoughts of what would become of this job, drifted away as he hung out with a couple of hikers named Billy Padres, Kevin McGinn, and Suzie Heilman.
He wasn’t sure how he ended up sitting with them. It just seemed like there was something in Suzie’s eyes that said things to him without speaking until she spoke it all out loud in so many words.
“Sit down, Dave. You’re one with us. We like you. Relax. Just be yourself.”
Listening to these words, he felt compelled to take it all in like the obedient man he was.
The trio seemed to be a lot of fun, and they were in the process of trying to do as many hikes as they could to the kind of places he went to and wanted to go to. Billy and Kevin were really well-built and wiry, perfect for crazy ascents with and without rappelling gear. The muscles they had honed in their Army days still pushed out through their t-shirts. If their torsos were any indication of the work they were capable of doing in the canyons, then they had serious experience with descending and climbing rocks in the slots.
As for Suzie, she wasn’t that hardcore of a climber. In fact, she seemed to be more the kind of person who only went on some of the less extreme hikes for the petroglyphs, pictures, and meditation opportunities. She talked a lot about wanting to learn more about this canyoneering life, but at the same time, like Dave, she didn’t seem to have a lot of upper body strength for getting up some of the steeper ascents. However, unlike Dave, she didn’t have near the same amount of weight to haul up the rock faces. A simple comparison showed that her stomach was flat from ab exercises, and she didn’t need to be exercising to sweat it off in the same way that he did. Nevertheless, Dave knew that the stories of zero calorie chocolate iced and brownie batter-filled donuts that he told himself were all lies. However, so far this summer, it seemed like the trail was helping him to get back into those size thirty-four pants he hadn’t worn in a few decades. He was a ways away, but that number was a goal in sight, at least he told himself. The key was staying away from the mega calorie donuts, especially the ones with filling, long enough to get slim and trim enough to think about maybe next year getting into some rappelling or this summer looking good for when he saw Charlotte again.
If today was a sign of future things, all things out here were possible. In fact, after this first meeting, the four of them connected occasionally through Facebook to get out and try to figure out some of the places that were out there to see. It was nice to have regular associations again, and it made Dave feel like something had brought him here. It was almost like fate had intervened and dropped him off at this place.
This was also when he first spoke to Abraham Owens, who personally came over to talk to the group after his presentation was over. He had originally become acquainted with Suzie from their shared interest in the Native American and metaphysical worlds about a year earlier. A part of him seemed to hang on her words a little long considering how long a normal person listens to discussions about feathers, portals, crystals, and pyramid powers of the world. Maybe it was because he thought that she was a rather attractive gal for being in her early thirties at the oldest. Then again, maybe Wolf really did have an interest in some Sedona concept of spirituality.
And yes, Suzie really was a beautiful woman of Japanese descent. Her long dark hair complemented her short, thin body, which definitely looked good to any man who was being honest with the question. However, she wasn’t an exotic beauty like some bimbo with implants, a fake tan, and a ton of makeup, let alone the stereotypical and mysterious Asian bombshell. She just smiled in such a simple way that with what she brought to the table, all of the guys in the room noticed her at least twice. The first glance was for her beauty, but the second stare was the hope that she would make eye contact with them. However, for most of the macho hikers, she never seemed to do this. Here, it wasn’t like anyone could get upset since she didn’t to it as a stuck up thing, but rather, it was something that didn’t recognize her own appeal to the opposite sex in any way that said, “Take me; I’m yours.”
After meeting her, Dave would have agreed with all of this, at least as long as he wasn’t pressed into a statement in the presence of his wife. Talking to wives about female attraction was like talking about weight. No smart man did it.
For all of her slender and exotic Japanese traits, Suzie had no Asian accent all. This was, as he would later find out, because she was adopted by a family that relished in their American-ness enough to demand it of their daughter. These adoptive parents were Mormons, but she quickly realized that this religion wasn’t for her as soon as she had a chance to experience the world and get introduced into the various concepts of new age religion.
Unfortunately, it took her six more years to abandon the chains of Mormonism for good.
For her difficulties with her conservative upbringing, she would tell everyone who asked that she did her best to try to spend time with the “inherited parents.” This would either abruptly end the discussion, or she would have to tell her inquisitors how her adoptive parents dismissed her “interests,” which led to them disowning her and ignoring the calls that she made to them for the first few years of their estrangement before they finally told her in that many words to just not even try to call until she forgot about “the Devil’s trickery,” which was their pet name for her metaphysical interests.
This had truly hurt her at first, but over time, she tended to think about it less and less. Now, it was clear that she was wrapped up in being a part of a larger circle of Moabites. Billy and Kevin were cool with her because as Kevin put it, “she was a groovy chick.” Billy would just echo the words and speak about how she was “down” for the canyons, and they were equally down with her being their companion on adventures.
Dave took this to mean that they wanted to get down to business with her. Had he been a single young man with four less inches around his midsection, he might have a shot, but as a middle-aged, pot-bellied Eastern transplant, he figured he wouldn’t have been as high on this hypothetical list as these young stud suitors at the table, even with the excess amount of times that they said “dude.”
As for Wolf, he would ask her things directly and seem to stare at her to see how she replied. This wasn’t a stretch since she seemed to have that ballroom dancer’s gaze that caught her partner’s attention and didn’t let go. Nevertheless, considering he was almost twice her age, this familiarity presented itself to some people in the room as awkward, but it was clear that Wolf wasn’t looking for “young meat,” even if the hiker guys would have probably high-fived him for scoring such an “impressive young chick.”
At first, Dave thought that this could have been Wolf’s endgame; however, the longer Dave talked to her, the more he found that she gave her undivided attention and respect to everyone there, and it was clear that this was the standard operating plan for most of her friendships, be they casual or deeper relationships. Put simply, this was a woman who radiated true love to the world. It worked well with anyone who was willing to respect her a lot, and it was clear that Wolf felt more in regard to this than her younger suitors, so if he ended up with the prize, so be it, Dave felt.
Nevertheless, as time went on, it was clear Wolf wasn’t looking for this. He just really wanted to know what she thought about things and how they “jived” with the Native American sensibilities that he felt. Besides, he was married, even if his wife Clara had died four years ago. Through time and distance, the ring on his finger never left his hand.
His own personal statement about true love and commitment, when asked about where his wife was, impressed everyone there, even the two athletic desert rats.
“Time and distance do nothing to erase love if it’s real, so why should life and death offer anything other than a time between when two souls meet again in another world?”
However, for all the love that Owens was getting from the lecture crowd, not everyone felt that Owens was totally without an agenda when it came to his interactions with the younger crowd. For this, Dave knew from his boss, Gary Stanford, that it was important to have boundaries when dealing with him because Owens, as he had repeatedly said in many different ways, had a lawyer’s knack of getting privileged and secret information out of people, whether they were in government jobs or just local hikers. At the end of the day, he was a “Native American with an Indian’s politics of doing what was best for the tribe and himself. Damn, Whitey, if that’s what it took.”
Dave nodded appropriately, but at the end of the day, he was his own man when it came to making up his mind about who to trust and who not to, and like many people who weren’t raised in such racial divisions as he was finding here, he had no interest in judging this book by its cover. Besides, there were plenty of books to dislike when people started opening up their pages. Here, the more he knew Gary, the more it seemed he wasn’t very likable.
As time went by since their meeting seven weeks ago, Dave felt that Wolf would act like a second father to him, and it felt nice to have someone he could relate to out here, even if he would be silent all too much for Dave to really get a read on him. However, for the few hikes that the two men had gone on, he knew their friendship wasn’t endearing him to Stanford.
“Boundaries. We need to have a firm distance between our position as land managers and protectors and people who we might have to keep at a distance from some of our dealings.”
Dave knew that Gary was, at least for the most part, right in this, and it was always easy to go back to that teacher mode of being us and them, but at the same point, he knew that most of Wolf’s interests were in the remnants of history that his ancestors, a term that could seem broad and general to many people, left behind in the deep recesses of the canyons out behind the desert highways of this forbidding desert land.
Dave also knew that Wolf upset a lot of professional men and women off because he carried the business cards of Juan Cortez, a lawyer that had plenty of interest in discussing the finer parts of NAGPRA and the history of discrimination and violence against Native American people and interests. Much of Cortez’s discussions were designed to either quickly stop things or impede government interests in getting things done. However, he wasn’t doing it to be a jerk since he did have interests in letting the right people into the right places, but there was a side of him that didn’t mind being the heavy when it came to getting “gringos” and “honkies” away from burial grounds.
Being around skeletons was Cortez’s big fear. On the obvious hand, it was a desecration of the dead, but on the other hand it represented how, to him, a person had two spirits. One stayed around and walked the earth after the other vanished. Even though it was the culture of many Native Americans and accepted as a truth because of its place in religion, it didn’t mean that it didn’t scare Wolf to the core, too. He knew that these ideas scared many tribes as well. Some Native Americans just understood how much jealousy that the dead had for the living. As a result, tribes like the Apache incinerated the houses and property of the dead after burying the bodies quickly. Other historical examples saw tribes barricade skeletons in their homes so that they would be stuck in these places instead of getting out in the open.
Some situations called for the extreme.
Wolf was torn between ancient customs and modern traditions. He knew that the Native Americans as a whole had no agreement on the right way to do things, but he wished that more tribes would have either buried the bodies further away or cremated them. He also loved the images of the ancestral cliff dwellings, but he wished that they, too, had disintegrated into the dust of time.
“The Ghost World Kingdom is just too powerful to still exist in modern times. Besides, there are many kingdoms built on top of one another. It’s like a high-rise building with many basements below what you can see. That’s the really scary stuff.”
Because they were still there, he knew that it didn’t matter what he thought should have happened throughout the eons of history. Owens would always state how these historical places were not an amusement park for tourists from the cities to come and play in. They weren’t open season for academics looking to gaze deeply into the eye sockets of these former tribesmen and women’s skulls either. They were graves, pure and simple. Travelers need not enter into them.
And somehow, these intruders always found the ghostly remains of those haunted, mesmerizing eyes, which seemed to lure them in until they were gone and never able to come back. It was like they had stared into the fire and were now consumed in the sins of the past. The darkest souls always were.
To Owens, skeletons also weren’t meant to be stored in boxes in a basement of the local museum, with or without their heads, and their homes definitely weren’t meant to be vandalized, covered in graffiti, turned into party central, or emptied of all significant remnants so that they could be a site for local school kids to be mandated to see. He always talked about packs of kids yanked out of their brick and mortar learning centers to travel on buses to go on a field trip to learn about some token example of “cultural” history. To him, there was nothing that could be gained in the hopes that they could learn something Americanized about an ancient people from long, long ago before they were actually trained and ready to be there, learning about it from someone who believed in it and knew the appropriate cultural understandings.
“And willing!” Wolf would always say at the end of these discussions, which he would be dragged into over and over.
With this, Cortez would always laugh, and they would clank glasses in agreement to all things.
These places were graveyards with more sense of all things mysterious and nightmarish than he could begin to explain, so instead, he said nothing to potential visitors who didn’t seem to get it except to “stay the hell out!” or “go wrap yourself in turquoise until you’re down with your 1/64th Native American side, you asshole liberal.”
“The white liberal is the V.D. of the revolution,” Cortez would snicker, and then he and Wolf would laugh and carry on when the offended party would run for his or her Prius.
Just like Wolf, Cortez had as little use for most gringos as Bill Smith had for hippies. While neither Cortez nor Wolf liked Smith or many of the other ranchers of the mesas, all of them did have a lot of the same stubborn, pig-headedness about people who had no business in the desert. Anyone could travel through and do the National Park circuit, but not everyone could or should stay here – even if they contacted a realtor to buy a home complete with air conditioning and every other modern amenity, cash up front.
“Rest in peace, Glen Canyon,” Cortez would add to every discussion they ever had about the sprawling cities of the Colorado Plateau, and it was said that he would always cry a little bit for all of the things lost in that great submerging of civilizations. As he did this, he would align himself with the true desert rats; white, black or brown, and the Native Americans, since only they knew what it was like to lose such important places to jet skiing tourists and bureaucratic officials sent to “do good for the Injuns.”
Through it all, Cortez’s gringo insults would slip out often, but it wasn’t a universal term for all white men in the region. In fact, it was known that he got along well with Willard Greer and a few of the other ranchers who understood what it meant to be a man living in this particular desert, even if they didn’t play poker or watch football together. On the two occasions that Dave met with Cortez, they got along well enough because Dave showed respect to Cortez’s outlooks, mostly by shutting up about his opinion on them. In addition, Cortez respected Dave since he helped gather evidence against local college kids who were using some of the cliff dwellings as places to hold beer and dope parties.
Neither Wolf nor Cortez had any use for this modern peace pipe to be passed around, especially when some of the ancient fireplaces were getting used for modern bonfires for teenagers to hang out and get stoned at.
“When you get stoned, you give a part of yourself away to the thieves and creatures who want to exploit you,” Cortez would say, and then he would laugh as he was caught drinking his beer. Wolf would laugh back at him, drinking his own beer until the men were singing merrily about better days, whether they happened last week or 800 years ago. Nevertheless, for all of their drinking and carousing, they never touched any drugs, even marijuana.
Partying in the ancient sites, with or without substances, was something that was completely anathema for all three of these men. They clearly knew that people just shouldn’t start making themselves at home at cliff dwellings that had been covered in the dusty sleep of ages. Just because All-American Joe felt it would be some cool, transcendental experience, which he felt was well within his personal liberty to enjoy, Cortez was more than happy to tell this person or any other people, and he did tell other people often, to go and “get stuffed” over their “feelings” and asinine interpretations of libertarian desert politics. If that didn’t work, he too was willing to point and aim his .357 revolver at them.
This always worked, and rumor around Moab was that he had even fired, albeit intentionally wild, at some “disrespectful asshole,” one time. Whether that was true, it didn’t matter. The story did its job to chill people out around him.
When it came to his name-making actions, Dave had spied this aforementioned activity on one of his overnight hikes into Wild Horse Pass, a recently popularized canyon to the west of Moab. A national magazine had printed a story about how “cool” it was since it offered pictures of the constricting canyon and some of the ancient Native American remains. Of course, the magazine did this with the small print disclaimer that people needed to leave these things as they found them, but even if they were in blazing, huge neon letters, the ethics of Leave No Trace don’t apply to people who serve only their own interests, especially when the warning is buried at the bottom of the page and the readers’ minds are raging full on with “neat-o, man!” thoughts of getting in there as some “rite of passage” experience.
Unfortunately, unlike the Stampede Trail in Alaska, there was less opportunity to end up as dead as Chris McCandless was at the end of his journey. This was something Dave had read about since the site of McCandless’ pilgrimage was now a deathtrap for hikers with more money than commonsense.
On that fateful day, when Dave and his hiking buddy Harry Fultz came upon the men, the partiers seemed to be non-confrontational enough and deeply spaced from the substances they were imbibing. Thus, it seemed easy to pass by, while just sort of kind of taking some pictures of the area and getting just enough frontal images of the men and their actions in the photos. When he returned home, Dave got the pictures to authorities who utilized facial recognition software to find out who the vandals were. With this, the police arrested the offenders and brought big fines and big news to the plateau as well as a nationwide name and shame campaign to scare off any more offenders before they dared to think about doing anything so stupid and disrespectful. It’s amazing how quickly things like this can happen when the right people know the right people and social media catches hold of that.
Such is the nature of not conforming to the gospel of Leave No Trace or just heeding President Obama’s message to not do stupid stuff.
For his actions in Wild Horse Pass and in spite of his friendship with Owens, Dave was a rising star at the office and a hero / narc within the community. If this were baseball, he would have been the agency’s Rookie of the Month for his first month in office. Like his favorite baseball player, Bryce Harper, he was equally loved and hated while being scorned for playing the game of veterans by his own rules. Despite this, it seemed that the right people liked him, but there were other community members, people who didn’t understand the need for tough laws on drugs, let alone oversight by a liberal leaning nanny state for the Native American sites. This was especially true when there were so many around that to some, “it seemed like if you went out in the canyons, you couldn’t help tripping over ancient pottery and arrowheads in some worn out dwelling or other.” Many of these mega-landowners also took a disliking to the many Eastern transplants like Dave telling them what to do on their own land, and there was even a fear that Dave could end up shot, though that mostly seemed to pass, despite receiving hate mail on a continuous basis.
And what’s worse, while it was their right to have whatever stupid opinion they wanted, they always had their shotguns and itchy trigger fingers with them, too. What’s more, many of them knew the best places to hide bodies when they skipped threat and went straight to execution. Dave realized that at some point in time, he might open his front door and stare down the barrel of a 9mm pistol and get filled full of lead without so much as a hello.
It didn’t take long living in Utah to know that making people vanish was an easy task, and it didn’t take long being in the crosshairs of wacko s to think about maybe moving to Idaho and not dealing with people anymore.
All in all, what this came down to was that for the good that this did for Dave, this series of arrests came across as really bad when what he was essentially saying was that the government is allowed to take land away from good old American conservative and home grown people who just wanted to make a living here in the desert where they had lived their entire lives.
“Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do that when these Injun painters and builders is long since dust? Is it cuz I’m not some Eastern transplant with a Brooks Brothers shirt and tie and a lot of money? Fuck you, ya bastard! Make me leave!”
On top of that, there were other locals who didn’t give a hoot about Leave No Trace, and they would leave their garbage behind or flip off, tell off, or square off (or all three at once) with anyone who dared to say anything about their desire to “urinate” all over these places like they were some sick dog looking to mark its territory. It didn’t seem logical to Dave, but to some degree, it also felt like another opportunity for the white man to suppress or destroy Native American culture, the wilderness, or anyone else’s property, which they didn’t respect.
There was still enough selfishness and racism in this desert area to be palpable.
In addition to the drunken trailer trash / redneck vandals of the region, there were a lot of hippie / artsy / strange people interested in the metaphysical parts of the region. Some of them were sincere and good natured people like Suzie, who approached it as a spiritual religion, and others were misguided with conspiracies or based somewhere out of their minds on acid, psychedelics, and other drugs. Others were complete hucksters. As for Suzie, her new age interests seemed harmless to many people since they mirrored many of the ideas on shows such as American Paranormal and Historical Unearthings, the two biggest purveyors of “alternative” history beyond what the “mainstream scholars” were willing to accept. Whether Dave believed them or not, they at least were interesting television.
A part of him subscribed to the world of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan’s skepticism, and he really wanted to be smart enough about science to see the extreme joys in how much neater science was than science fiction, but a part of him just couldn’t grasp the mechanics of science well enough to move beyond the black and white space ship movies and monster flicks that he would watch at his grandmother’s house when he was a kid. Those and ghost shows like The Demon Hunters of Dodge County were exciting programming, even if they did appear to be 100% bullshit.
Nevertheless, he just loved the irrational world, so he spent more time with that than with PBS.
This wasn’t to say Dave didn’t spend time with science in passing. He did, and he accepted it for the truth of the scholars, but his mindset just never moved well enough with studying for physics, chemistry, and biology to process the knowledge. Instead, he loved history and the aesthetic qualities of the world, so he appreciated these scientific marvels for making that possible. Despite his academic deficiencies in science, he was definitely more than capable of calling bullshit on people who tried to speak science without understanding it. This aided him greatly in reading and grading student research papers in his now suspended life as a professor.
It would be fair to say, as well, that when Suzie spoke about this other scientific reality, he was captivated by her commitment and understanding of the paranormal and metaphysical realms. Sure, other guys would listen because they appreciated her feminine form to the point that they wanted to see it naked, but Dave really was enraptured by the way that the everyday and spiritual worlds could be navigated in these other ways, even though he never thought of them as “real.” Granted, he couldn’t understand it any more than he understood the chemical reaction that made photosynthesis possible, but just like with that process summarized, he got the quick overview of what this was all about and nodded in agreement.
Even if it wasn’t his spirituality, and there was nothing he could do to make it so, he appreciated that it was her philosophical / religious understanding of the universe, and listening and learning about it was pretty “right on” to him.
While he could appreciate some of the new age stuff, at least the stuff that wasn’t hippie dippy or con artist in nature, what he deliberately steered away from was all the satanic cults that frequented the area. Sure, many of them were just messed up kids looking to rebel against the rules of their parents, but some of them reeked of pure evil. This was true whether they were red-blooded Americans or Native Americans, since they were more than just teenagers and twenty-something Millennials getting stoned, vandalizing things, or committing acts of petty thievery. These groups represented a seedy underbelly that was out here in the recesses of the desert. Like some of the geysers at Yellowstone, they spent years bubbling, and eventually they came to the surface before they just blew over once and for all with every bit of their destructive forces going at once.
The biggest of these was a story about what began as a mid-concert animal sacrifice at a club called the Cauldron. Located smack dab in conservative Salt Lake City, this incident occurred in December 2014, and because of the intensity of it, it had been national news. Dave wondered how it had occurred, and then he wondered how the slender man on the stage managed to kill two people and injure four more with just a single knife before the people in the nightclub tackled him and beat him into the stage. Most people who looked at the man, Lester Grimsley, wouldn’t have taken him for much of anything, but something inside of him took on a characteristic of animal rage, and it left shock and awe and dead bodies in its wake.
In the conservative / religious communities of eastern Pennsylvania with their large populations of traditional Americans and their Amish and Mennonite neighbors, it served as a cautionary tale for the evils of death metal, which was something that hadn’t been seen since Bob Dole’s outrage at Cannibal Corpse and the PMRC’s rage against many other bands like Twisted Sister and Frank Zappa, as well as other lesser bands who were too numerous to list. Sure, Lester Grimsley might have been some dude whacked out on bath salts, but there was something else at play there, too. When Dave saw the articles and the TV blips, it was like they were placed there in the MSN headlines for him to see. Even from as far as he was from it, it scared him into some sense of what good and evil really were. While he didn’t always go to church, he was there when the homily discussed that incident.
From something that seemed to begin as just a quick little glance in between signing into Facebook and getting to his wall, this story stood out for the better part of a slow news week in between discussions of who was primed to still be there in the summer of 2016 when the two parties nominated the next great President of the United States. With seeing the choices of Trump and Hillary for the country’s leader, life was scary enough, but seeing the image of Lester Grimsley scared the bejesus out of him.
He couldn’t see any of those people who were already in office, let alone The Donald or Clinton, understanding how to deal with someone like Grimsley other than to sweep him under the rug for the peons to deal with. At best, the angrier reactionary ones would execute him quickly while the pro-lifers would reflect on how all life was sacred or it was a worse punishment if we let Lester rot in jail forever. In the end, despite being hidden away, Grimsley’s memory would still linger as people just found more ways to deify or vilify a serial killer.
Dave wasn’t so sure what the answer was, so he left it to the higher pay grade to decide. All the same, he correctly figured that most of America wouldn’t give a hoot tomorrow if someone electrocuted Grimsley today. Oh, people would get self-righteous and full of themselves over ethics, but Dave knew that most guilt-based ethics were the privilege of the rich or the young and emotional, and as far as Dave was concerned, he would be happy to see them shove their politically correct gibberish up their holier than thou asses.
As of the summer of 2016, Lester was currently sitting in Uinta 1, a maximum security prison in Utah, for these actions and many other incidents that had mysteriously come to light after his capture / hospitalization. His behavior on trial, a series of guttural screams and threats to everyone there and anyone who had any degree of power, from his nursery school teachers to the current President of the United States, revealed that he had more problems than inhaling bath salts like they were a handful of Halloween candy. By the time it was over, everyone in Salt Lake City and the trial’s lawyers, both those who were charging him and representing him, seemed more than happy to abandon him to his fate of being the subject of endless late night television jokes and life in solitary confinement while in prison.
Dave remembered a conversation that he had with his teacher friend Terry about this. It seemed odd that even Grimsley’s own lawyers appeared to not to be trying as hard as people would normally expect in a trial with death penalty ramifications. Nevertheless, the conversation, which evolved out of a news flash on the TV while they were out at a local restaurant discussing their semester, quickly went back to the coming baseball season.
Better to discuss Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, and the Cubs’ World Series chances with Jake Arrieta on the mound than to spend too much time with politics or current events.
In the end, for as sick and twisted as Lester was, he wasn’t a part of Dave’s life. Reacting to his comings and goings was about as interesting for most people as discussing the life and times of the various groups of ultra-rich reality TV subjects or the myriads of flash in the pan actors and actresses that made the daily burst of paparazzi news. Dave would often kid Charlotte about her interest in their divorces, childbirths, fashion attire, or stance on public issues in 140 characters of slacktivistic actions via the social media world. That said, it should also be mentioned that when it came to Dave’s interest in random baseball players, musicians, historic figures, and the murder / politics world that he would read about on the news, it was obvious when Charlotte tuned out.
However, there was the time around the trial’s verdict when the national news did a special on the burgeoning death metal scene in Salt Lake City. Here, they juxtaposed the conservative Mormon community with teenagers / twenty-something teens with long hair, tattoos, and face paint. The video was heavy on the doom metal / funeral dirge and extreme thrash metal sung with demon voice. The producers worked hard to dig up about 10% real information, at best, to go with the subjective images of screwed up kids / sensationalism that went with the story. This was an accomplishment for each and every one of them. To this, Dave remarked how news pundits like Kerry Morgan only ran with 5% facts. He didn’t say this to belittle her as he knew she was smart enough to know her audience, and besides, 5% facts for them was a good thing. These were people who wanted to be sensationalized to when it came to news. Facts are optional in a world of confirmation bias, so let’s just run with good and evil in terms as simple to define as kids with white painted faces, jet black hair, tattoos, and leather still exhibiting pentagrams and upside down crosses like it was the mid-1980s and Slayer really wanted people to still “believe” that they were Satanic. This was an audience that wanted to hate this man Grimsley and his murderous actions for the fact they were the work of Lucifer. And when it was over, they would clutch their Bibles in church, tighter than they did before, and they would continue to know that because they were able to hate this stuff from the safety of hundreds to thousands of miles away, they would be assured a place in Heaven for it.
There are just some places where the words of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” are still interpreted as gospel and not a cautionary tale.
TV specials like this were common in the months leading up to the April 2016 trial. Lester’s trial really came quickly by all standards, even though a year and a half is a long time for something so open and shut, especially when the defendant isn’t declaring him or herself insane. However, as the law mandated it, he was given his fair day in court. When it came, the biggest hitch was that the defense lawyers made sure that trial took place in Denver since the whole state of Utah was way too charged over the incidents that happened inside of the state. Charlotte’s reaction to most of these types of discussions about the news was to nod appropriately, but here, she reacted differently when it seemed that Moab and some of the areas around Arches, Canyonlands, and Mesa Verde were now starting to notice a presence of more people that fit the Grimsley demographic being seen in the park. At first, it seemed like it could be based on someone who created a script that was based on the popularity of the ghost and alien shows on the higher numbered cable channels, but the reality soon seemed to be looking like the details of this case were something else.
One park ranger referred to the new concerns as “assholes on drugs who were on reconnaissance missions” to find odd petroglyphs that looked like cryptids, aliens, or people with six-toed feet, even though he “most definitely didn’t buy their off the wall trip justifications” since the amount of drug, littering, and vandalism arrests increased in the same way that backcountry rescues did.
“The science fiction world has placed a shadow on what our researchers and employees view as the sensible and logical understanding of the pre-Columbian world of the Four Corners Region. This new trend of entering into sacred and historical lands to deliberately misinterpret and destroy ancient art for the purpose of sensationalizing a violent criminal is completely at odds with what we in the National Park Service hold dear.”
These images of the extra toes were common enough, and Charlotte remembered how she and Dave saw them at Newspaper Rock, which was a small highly-concentrated petroglyph area located by Canyonlands. However, she didn’t understand the coyotes that were mentioned specifically as being things that many of these “other” new groups of people were said to be looking for. With this, the conversation went from an inquiry into what Dave knew about these images (little more than nothing) to whether it unnerved him that he would have to deal with these “wackadoos,” which was the term his aunt used to refer to the motley collection of people she was forced to deal with at her job working in a local clothing outlet.
Dave just made a face to the effect of “don’t know / never thought about it / cross that bridge when I get to it[,” and with that, they went back to the discussion of their respective work days and the early spring flowers that were pushing through in the garden.
By the beginning of May, when both the end of the trial and Dave’s wait time to leave for Utah ended, the world tuned in again. Whether it was over drugs or being considered schizophrenic, Lester was quickly sentenced for being involved in the multiple murders, attempted murders, and butchering the animal on the concert stage. Some of these other magically-solved cases were robbery-related and others were assault-related. In addition, two women mysteriously appeared from the shadows to come forward to say that they had been raped and cut or carved by him.
“So you were stabbed?”
“No, he drew pentagrams on us with a knife. See?” the woman said, pulling up her top to expose a huge pentagram with a monstrous looking goat in the middle of it.
A huge gasp came from the courtroom, and the judge called the court to order again.
It was like Lester’s luck just fell through the floor and hit rock bottom in one quick swoop. When all of the charges were brought together, he had well over a decade to sit on death row during his appeals process for being a “rotten to the core animal with no respect for human beings, much less animals.” The judge who gave the sentence and the lawyers looked on at him the way that the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice’s inhabitants must have viewed Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten. In fact, the judge personally noted how he hoped that the powers that be would speed things up to do away with his ilk much faster and save this great country some money.
At the time though, nobody seemed to be willing to appeal the case as anything more than a formality, as if there were any grounds for it, and there were no complications since there was an excessive amount of video shot from multiple angles. In a world with tons of cell phones, it seems like this was a time that all of the evidence led to an open and closed case that even the staunchest of right to life supporters was willing to step aside.
In addition to these things, what the story of Lester Grimsley really did other than take one seriously disturbed college-aged kid off the streets was to resurface the stories of southeastern Utah’s “lost” past. This past all seemed to come from the myths and legends of what made people abandon their cliff dwellings and get out of Dodge on a moment’s notice. The easy, convenient truth was long-term droughts, but there were other clever and extreme conspiratorial solutions to go with those that were based in politically-incorrect facts. Even the historians who took their research seriously were coming back with strange tales of Aztlan and cannibalism and holocausts, which clearly had more historical accuracy than many of the TV tales, but which were still far removed from what most educated people were willing to accept as gospel truth.
All the same, rumors had persisted in the area for years that bad things had gone down many moons ago. Nobody really knew what they were, but Dave and Charlotte would reflect on how novel and fun some of these ideas were. Some TV shows would have people talk about an alien evil. Other people talked about demonic possession. Still others talked about this being inter-tribal hatred that flowed like some cases of modern day racism. Whatever it was, drought, the paranormal, tribal warfare, or just a need to move to a climate where there were more seasons than “hot and exceptionally hot and dry as hell,” there were serious yarns to spin and books to write about it. Granted, the paranormal ideas would sell more than the idea of a drought would, but for whatever the reasons, there was a book that was waiting to be written by whoever felt like he or she had the credentials on this given day.
A perfect example was the one less than politically correct author who stated, “The ancient Aztecs were up here long before their blood-thirsty ways descended on Mexico in those bloodlust scenes that pulled the hearts out of many a sacrificial victim. We can only imagine the reality of the centuries old crime scenes that Christy Turner investigated. Places like Awat’ovi now stand as a reminder to just how necessary it was to deal with these Indians the way we did, politically correct or not. Granted, Wounded Knee was a terrible memory, but so too were places like Cowboy Wash. Better to save civilized American lives than to let these naked heathens eat the flesh of those that their warlike ways killed.”
The arguments attempting to define these historical artifacts tended to believe so many extreme things about this paranormal desert world. In the end, it always went back to having three reasons to explain the odd petroglyphs that provided much of the modern evidence. The first was a need to be creative. This is understandable, but where did the scary images that these men and women created come from? Certainly there was a reality that they were based on, but what was it? Thus, the second reason was that these drawings were actually people in costumes. This seemed logical as well, but why would they dress up this way if they weren’t trying to emulate something?
The failure of emulation to clearly identify the reason led to the last reason, which was a person having shamanic visions that originated from the artist being on hallucinogenic drugs. There was plenty of evidence for this, so it seemed to be a great way to make sense of the situation and multiply it with sensationalism for the entertainment outlets with their modern need to be scary and science fiction at the same time.
However, as to whether it was real, nobody had a clue. There was no way-back machine to go there and figure it out, so it just seemed neat for a lot of historical, anthropological, and creative types to try to contemplate.
And Dave did contemplate it since he saw himself writing the book on Grimsley and this phenomenon in time. He joked with Charlotte about how if the stories held true and it really was something evil and horrible, then he would get rich and famous writing about it. Seeing as she wasn’t willing to give in to his desire to become a demonologist, a la the Warrens, he was looking to do something to expand his dreams of an interesting life that people could and would talk about while getting rich and famous.
And it was dreams of things like this that led him to wanting to be friends with guys like Wolf and gals like Suzie Heilman. He could learn about the hiking, the history, and the occult deal mixed with the Native American take and the New Age understanding all at once. Two people didn’t make every single one of a book’s credentialed sources, but this could be something that would help him get more information and ideas, and then he and Charlotte could find themselves on a Polynesian beach in Bora Bora, sipping cocktails and doing nothing much else. It could also see him not having to teach and to just write full time. This might also allow him to replace the Reliable Mobile out with a new four-door Jeep Wrangler with a canvas top in lime green color.
There were so many options, but first he had to have the chance to become a great writer who published a book worth reading.
That was the life, but that was also a future life in 2018 or somewhere down the line. He could wait for that since he knew he could dream about it until then, but he also had to find a way to pay the bills in the meantime.
That was the job in public relations with the Bureau of Land Management. It wasn’t perfect, but it definitely worked.
And so it was that on that first night he met Wolf, he asked about these “lost tribes of the Southwest,” phrasing it like they were the equivalent of some Biblical group thrust out of Israel way back when, and both Owens and Suzie quietly focused on him. Billy and Kevin had heard the stories, too, and they were inquisitive, but they never really needed to hear the answers, just a goal of making some semblance of conversation about some “bitchin’ ass gnarly canyon that needed conquered.”
As for the reaction to what was just said when Dave’s words came out, they were all sternly rebuked with a cool as cucumbers quote from Wolf about how not to “believe everything you hear. We Native Americans are known to lie to you honkies left and right to send you down the wrong path… because we can, you know? Besides, if there’s really evil back in any of the canyons, and if it’s real evil, not just made up evil, you’d do best not to go out there and mess with it on your own or at all for that matter.”
With that, the group laughed nervously.
Suzie spoke next stating, “When you speak to evil as if it were on your level, it gets to come whenever it wants. There’s an element of control that evil gets when you name it.”
“Dude!” Billy said, looking at Kevin. “Watch out for vampires!”
Kevin looked at her, and quickly told everyone that, “Vampires now, they’re not the cool image played by Bela Lugosi. No way are those anemic, pasty, metrosexual vampires getting in my house, even if someone else pays for the DVD and brings the beer and her hot rockin’ bod for some sweaty summer lovin’!”
“I remember some great movies from when I was a kid that warned not to let them in the door, Dude.”
“Unless your childhood was in the early 1970s or before, it’s the same difference, man. Same difference. Cool vampires end with Christopher Lee.”
Owens cut off their pop culture discussion with the last word.
“It applies equally to all of the evils of the Colorado Plateau as well as the evils of suburban society way back there in Dave’s Pennsylvania world of houses that all look the same as one another. Evil doesn’t need to be a monster to permeate its diabolical schemes on the world. If you don’t think you can trust something or someone, don’t.”
“How did you know I was from Pennsylvania, Wolf? I never told you this. Are you psychic or something?”
“No, but you did use the phrase ‘Nice to meet yous guys.’ What sensible person says that? Only a person who comes from a place where they have a war over whether it’s ‘pop’ or ‘soda,’ that’s who!”
They all laughed and went back to their conversations about Native American culture and hiking expeditions into the late hours of the evening.
For the rest of the evening, nobody ever mentioned the term “metrosexual” or any other love stories involving vampires again, let alone asked whether it was pop or soda. Obviously, Wolf knew the answer to the question was that it didn’t matter. People should just drink beer instead.
After that first night in Moab and the success of his actions against the vandals, Dave got invited to spend time with leaders on the reservation where the incident occurred and to shake hands and talk with other men from the universities and the various government organizations. This cut into some of his time in trying to see the local canyons, but it was OK, at least at first. It made him feel less lonely, and it took his mind off of some of his anxiety and depression. This condition had been there with him for all of his days. For the last few years, he had been taking meds for this, and they worked to a degree, but the only thing that really worked to get his mind off of his existential troubles was having fun things to do where he didn’t think about things like how much he missed Charlotte or if the job would work out or if he left the stove on or if Satanists and rednecks who would love to get a chance to kill him or someone like him finally had the opportunity to do so. It sounded weird to wonder if people were really hiding back in the corners of the canyons with his name on their hit list, but it had happened when he was out and about before, so he was advised to tread softly and carry a big stick, though he chose chemicals over a pistol because he didn’t want to be “that guy” packing like it was the Wild West, when it was really only a drunken asshole.
He thought of that moment and the power of a can of Mace, and he contemplated what it was like to have to defend himself when the moment came. To put it simply, this scared the shit out of him.
Since that time, driving the endless nothing between places in the desert multiplied these feelings into some pretty bad obsessions, but at least he had the bear mace.
Now, when that wasn’t going on, if he wanted, he could be connecting with all the right people in such a way that would allow him to find future promotions and to be able to write this grand historical novel that was his self-proclaimed destiny. It all sounded so good, but he still missed sitting close to Charlotte, holding her tightly, and he wasn’t sure the Colorado Plateau was the right place for them to be snuggling on the couch contemplating life when there were other great places out there, too.
To the contrary, Dave knew she liked the lands of the Colorado Plateau because they had been there several times including the year before. That was when they took their trip to Horseshoe Canyon to see the Holy Ghost Panel. This seemed to seal the deal on coming to this part of the world, but the complete absence of anything substantial for miles and miles from Moab to the canyon led Dave to obsess how she was only going to be down for a short stay here with him before she called for another move back to the flat lands of Pennsylvania. Then again, if he was really wanting to move, and she would convince him that he was, they would go back to her home lands of Ohio.
In short, this job was only something that he felt he could do until the opportunity for a great job back East fell into his lap, and when it did, he would take it so that she could have her golden years, too.
To the average person, there’s only so long someone can live without the shady leaves of a forest of maples and oaks playing host to the deer and bears and other forest critters of a world where seasons exist. Even Dave knew that was true.
In the meantime, in his empty time without Charlotte, he often thought of the feelings that flowed on that amazing day at Horseshoe Canyon. It had been his dream to be there, and then he was finally there. It had been his dream to find a beautiful and intelligent woman who would love him for who he was, and then he got to be with that woman, feeling and expressing love, through good times and bad. This was especially true on those vacation days in the desert.
Vacation time was always a seemingly perfect time since essays that needed grading, all the other have-to things, and what money that they did or didn’t have didn’t really matter. Neither did outstanding family concerns or television gossip. It was all just them, and they felt young and in love, contemplating their past and their future together, even though half of their lives had already taken place in their middle-aged existence.
It was always a known fact that the trip was going to be magical, but the dirt road into Horseshoe Canyon took forever to get back to where the good stuff was located. Simply put, there was a lot of waiting around to find out how awesome it really was going to be. The road itself was thirty miles of very slow driving, which drove Charlotte bonkers. That was hardly a time that they wanted to remember, but then, when their rental car thankfully came to a stop, still in one piece, they were there. Even after getting to the trailhead, they still had to hike down 780 steep feet to the canyon floor. Yeah, that was long, too, but the three and a half mile hike that happened after it really was beautiful.
As they walked and looked at the walls of the canyon and the vegetation in there, they reflected how out in the middle of nowhere this place was. As they walked to the petroglyphs, they thought about how all of the obstacles that went with getting into the canyon kept a lot of people out of there. These were people who might want to damage the priceless artifacts. If truth be told, they were really priceless artifacts that should have been protected by armed guard.
The art in this canyon were 2,500 to 4,000 years old, dating from the Late Archaic Period. The guide who was with them also told them that, “They are referred to as Barrier Style, which is the former name of this canyon. This canyon was used for mining purposes before Canyonlands made this a part of their National Park to specifically take in the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs. That act of protection was the best thing they could do because it made sure that the images were protected before they were damaged by some uncouth vandal. The Four Corners has already lost enough of them to paint brushes and gun shots and chisels.”
In the minds of most hikers, Dave included, “uncouth” was a nice, professional word for “bitch-ass mother fuckin’ piece of shit.” He thought of some additional strung together profanity that would rival that of Ice-T or any other first rate “player-hater,” but he chose not to say any of them in the presence of the guide. Instead, he reflected on the thoughts of what the canyon meant to history, Utah, and the Native Americans.
Those were happier thoughts.
And when he did, he realized that history has seen many places damaged, and it’s horrible and rotten to think of people who would spend days kicking over the stones that made up the old Celtic cross, which was the shape of the stone monuments at Avebury in southern England. Dave had admired the stones that were left there when he went to England in his younger days on a family vacation. He loved these stones for the architecture, and he loved them for the culture they represented. When he went to these places, he was excited to learn and be a part of it, and it was an education that he took back home to learn even more about. This was his best souvenir of his family’s trips.
Through all of his journeys, places like this helped him to commit to his goals of protecting the world’s historic resources by learning about them and sharing their wonder with like-minded souls.
Other people, however, didn’t feel the same, and for this, it broke his heart every time that he heard about incidents like religious and historic sites and museums in the Middle East being ransacked by terrorist scum like ISIS and the Taliban. However, these historic worlds, former places like the Arch of Triumph at Palmyra and the Bamiyan Valley Buddahs, were a million miles away from the history of his own country, so he did what he could to experience his own heritage before erosion and the elements got to it. Fortunately, here, there weren’t any “religious” groups that were hell bent on destroying the past, at least yet, or maybe it was the fact that he wanted to believe there weren’t any people like this here yet. To Dave, the real enemies were forces of nature, which did a number on places like the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire. The bigger concern was problems with things like the piles of trash that adorned the parking lots of many great trails of the east, such as many of the Pennsylvania entrances to the Appalachian Trail.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t those thoughts of what shouldn’t be that filled his mind when he thought back to the trip that Charlotte and he took to Horseshoe Canyon. This was a magic time when Dave’s obsessions and worries and anxieties didn’t plague him. Instead, the day was all about holding hands and marveling at real art, not the cruddy modern variety, while wandering through the mega canyons and looking up at the images of the “Holy Ghost” and all of his other assorted ancient friends and thinking about how he, Dave, had been directed to it by a book that he once read. This book, Desert Solitaire, had talked about these horrifying, yet beautiful images of American prehistory. Looking at these art works like they were the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Dave and Charlotte both agreed that they seemed to be more alien than demonic, as some people would claim that they were. However, Dave wasn’t putting that truth past the artists who left the images of faceless visitors on the walls of their canyon. Through this transcendence, he thought as well how the author, another former Pennsylvanian named Edward Abbey, must have been right about this art panel telling trespassers to not come here for their own good. These images of phantoms were creatures that were there a long time ago, but these monsters might come again, so watch out and beware! Take your pictures, and take this knowledge back to your everyday world, and while you’re at it, don’t come back because I don’t want you screwing up my private sanctuary or worse, getting yourself killed by these evil creatures.
I’ve got better things to do than go on corpse retrieval missions.
In thinking back to the canyon’s art, Dave wondered if there was something else in the artist’s intent of these works, a warning perhaps: Prepare for their visit better than we did by seeing what you will be up against and learning how to fight it.
Yeah, other than those weird feelings he took in while looking at those petroglyphs, that day was a beautiful moment in his own personal history. It was a night when Dave and Charlotte camped out under a billion stars. Eventually they fell asleep beneath the fluffy clouds of the Milky Way, thinking about all of the good things that transpired in the seven years of their marriage. The future didn’t matter because they were together, and with that, they fell asleep, two sweaty, sunburnt bodies intertwined in the desert heat with the sounds of life all around them to let them know they were just two small parts in a larger world where even though supposed life was so far away, it really wasn’t.
And here they were, and everything was good with one kiss for every star in the sky, which still didn’t even begin to equal just how much he loved this amazing woman.
But that trip was over a year ago. The time that represented now was a different reality that he looked at as a reason to have never left Pennsylvania without his wife in the first place. Back home, there were suitable stars in destinations like Elk County, a place where they could also go and share kisses for all of the celestial objects from a myriad of galaxies. Swirling in a haze of his own confused thoughts, this was his final thought as he sat waiting for Wolf to come and ask him whatever he was here to talk about.
As he drifted into that, he reckoned to himself that this time in the desert would be a few years at a minimum, if it all worked out, that is. Then he thought about how he hadn’t given up either of his jobs back in Pennsylvania, so if he wanted, it could just be a month and a half. At this point, both schools assumed he would be coming back to work at the end of August. That first day of school, the 22nd of August, was getting closer and closer, however. He knew it as he sat at the table waiting for Wolf while eating his eggs and pancakes and thinking about how he was literally able to have his pancake and eat it, too, since he wasn’t mandated to work in the summer if he had something else to do in the meantime.
Thus, he hadn’t given up his livelihood to try this daydream out.
As he gobbled down breakfast, he thought of something else. Dave knew that the conversation he was about to have wasn’t about him, but he also wished that Wolf would at least stop whatever line of questioning he came for in order to provide the answer to the question of whether or not Dave should be here or not. Wolf seemed wise enough to let Dave know if this was a good choice to base his family’s future on the BLM in Moab.
As Dave moved from the eggs to the pancakes and over to the bacon and on to the toast, the door opened, and Wolf came in with the chiming bells on the door singing out to the staff that a customer had arrived. Owens wasn’t smiling, but it was still earlier than most people tend to wake up. However, when he walked over to the table, he sat silently and stared across the room. Dave looked at him and saw how serious and alert he was. Before he could wonder what was going on, Wolf spoke calmly, with a matter of fact tone.
“Something bad happened in Blackrock Canyon late on Friday night.”
Just like that, it was at the heart of the matter. Wolf was a man on a mission with no time for small talk.
“What was it?” Dave asked, stunned because he hadn’t heard anything in the papers or in the e-mails that he would get on the weekends from his supervisors and the upper parts of the food chain. In addition, he had spent a significant amount of time working with Gary at a local Moab arts festival the previous day, and he knew that anything that happened in the Greer ranch area would be something that would have called out a major response of sorts.
“I can’t say for sure, but there is a feeling of things being out of balance in that area. I was summoned north to Fort Duchesne yesterday and told that I needed to meet with a shaman named Ouray. To put it simply, he is very in tune with the intersection of the everyday world and the spiritual realms, especially in our little corner of the world. You might refer to him as a medicine man or a healer, but I’ve encountered several medicine men and many healers in my time, and trust me, I’ve read about a lot of acknowledged bull shitters in this field, too. To put it nicely, they’re not always on the level, unless the level is parting a fool from his money. However, if you meet Ouray, then you’ll see that there’s something different with his take on what I’m discussing with you. Perhaps, that’s why when he was born that his parents named him after our great historical leader. And just like Chief Ouray, the modern Ouray was born under a sign. The same meteor shower that brought our past leader signaled the modern Ouray’s arrival. However, as he grew older, it was clear that his place was more spiritual than political, although it was also said that his future existed in a clouded realm. Anyway, I listened to his assistant tell me why I needed to come up there. As I listened, and I listened very intently, I was told in the simplest and vaguest of words that bad things were happening in Willard Greer’s former lands. Since I was Willard’s closest Native American friend, and I was a trusted member of the Ute tribe, I needed to travel up there to find out the greater details of what I needed to do in directions that would come straight from Ouray.”
“He couldn’t tell you on the phone?”
Wolf looked at the young man like he had two heads.
“I was told to get up there so I could return down here and start getting people together to get onto the land to help close it off again. He knew that since I was friendly with Willard, I would be able to meet with his family, especially his son Harvey. He figured that Harvey might be willing to let someone from the tribe back into the land to investigate, and it was best that it was a trusted friend.”
There was a pause.
“He didn’t say.”
“And you didn’t ask?”
“My place isn’t to ask when I’m brought forward to listen. Besides, I’m sure I’ll hear later today when I go there to speak to Ouray personally.”
There was another pause for Dave to process it.
“Dave, I don’t have a lot of people that I trust, but I trust you. Can you come with me to help out with this?
“I don’t know, Wolf. What good can I be? Besides, you’ve got this Ouray and hopefully Harvey and Juan and the other people from the Ute tribe who really know about this stuff.
Wolf stared off and nodded appropriately. Then he began speaking again.
“With any luck, Ouray will come down here to the site, and he will ascertain more of the facts from their presence. All I need to know until I see him is that something happened in there. Right now, I need to help smooth the way so that Ouray can tell me how to enter into the canyon to find what has to be found so that someone can perform the old rituals to cleanse whatever it is that has happened. He’s the only person I know of who can do this. However, there’s something in me telling me that you need to join me on this, Dave.”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re really going to make me say this?”
“I specifically need you involved.”
“Why is that?”
“Call it a gut feeling.”
“But you don’t even know what you’re looking for, and that land that Blackrock Canyon is on is huge, so how do you know that I can offer you anything about a specific part of it?”
“I know that I will know it when I see it. Besides, just because I don’t always see it or say it doesn’t mean that I don’t know what it is.”
“You’re not messing with me trying to get your buddy to get you a free visit back to the cliff dwellings that are back there, are you? If you are, I’m telling you that I have no authority to get you back there. I tried to get Gary to green-light a fact finding trip down there before the university went in, and he told me that he’s been told that it’s not going to be possible until at least August when the archaeologists and higher ups in Salt Lake City get in there to secure the things that they want first.”
“And that’s why we’ve gotta go first.”
“Yeah. Even then, I got a feeling like I was talking about something I shouldn’t be saying.”
Dave looked at him.
“Blackrock Canyon is more problematic than you can begin to understand, but I’ll tell you about it when we go up there to Fort Duchesne.”
“Wolf, I’d really like to, but I need to unwind around here today. It’s been a long stressful week. I’ve been going constantly with one thing or another, and it’s not stopping since all those threats came after we locked up those vandals. I just need to decompress before this next even crazier week. Thinking about having to mace some desert rat piece of shit does that to a man.”
Wolf ignored his excuses and said, “You really need to consider this. There are things here that you can learn about your job’s future. Maybe I can even get you into Blackrock Canyon. Maybe I can even do it before August. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? This is what it’s all about, right? Career and life opportunities?”
Dave paused in thought about what that would mean, and then he spoke again.
“What do you mean that Blackrock is more than I can begin to understand?”
“Ancient Indian secret. Maybe you should ask your boss. He probably knows.”
“There’s lots of things he seems to have no time for.”
“That’s Gary. Nothing is ever convenient for him except what keeps him at his job paying for his house, his boat, and his alimony to his ex-wife while keeping his current gal pal beautiful with implants and tattoos.”
Dave laughed a little, which was nice to break the tension, but the tension was still there.
“Wouldn’t there be someone else who could help you find out the essential facts if something really bad did go down?”
“Not a single person that I know of.”
“How about the guy who heads up Jedidiah Smith University? What’s his name? They are going to be heading up the archaeological investigation anyway, so couldn’t he be a good reference point to find solid help? Besides, he’s in good with all of Utah’s political powers. That’s what got him the big power gig in the first place. We might be in a cool town up here in Moab, but we’re not sitting in the corridors of power like those university and Congressional guys are. How about your buddy Cortez? Would he have more pull at getting things to happen if you really wanted to make them occur?”
Wolf cut him off by stating, “Dave, those things with colleges and politics take time for an old, weathered Native American with a lot of wear and tear on his tires to break the ice and get his point across and acted upon. I’m not looking to build a casino; I’m looking to stop an amusement park. Right now, we need to get started on something as soon as possible because the storm that’s coming is more powerful than what we have to hunker down against it.”
“But how do I tell Gary to let me go out or call in the troops when I don’t even know what we need to do something about? Besides, maybe Ouray is just hallucinating or paranoid or senile in his old age, and if he isn’t, maybe he’ll have some sway with Gary, or better yet, the university or the politicians, after you actually talk to him up there in Fort Duchesne.”
“He’s not hallucinating, and your buddy Gary is a piece of work, which you can take as me saying that he’s the last person who needs to have his grubby fingers in this Blackrock pie.”
Dave pretended he didn’t hear that, but he knew it was true.
“There’s a whole lot of somethings that are evil in this canyon. There always has been. For a long time, they just built them on top of one another because they ran out of room to find a safe new place. Hell, maybe they wanted that ambiance of old evil permeating their dwellings. I’ve seen enough to know what I needed to see, and I know what I don’t want to see again or at all. If you want to know the secret, this is it; a long time ago, something really evil went dormant. Some people thought it vanished, but something brought this thing back, and when it and other evil forces came back, they signaled to other things, which brought even more evil out into the open. Right now, it’s coming in from everywhere.”
“You’re not just messing around with Whitey on this, are you?”
“Dave, I have better things to do with my life than to play games with you. If you can’t help me, I guess I’ll have to understand even though I wish you’d step up as a man and do the right thing.”
There was something in the comment about his manhood, which really stung, and that was why Wolf said it. If Wolf couldn’t convince him to come, maybe he could force him to go with so that Dave would be there and find out how necessary he was.
“I know that you have a wife and your career to think about… mortgage payments and the hope that someday you have a son, even if you say you don’t need to have one to be content. But…” and he paused there, “I have my people to think about, too, and right now they trump the BLM’s concerns and your neuroses, so unlike you, I have a responsibility to go, and I will do so whether you want to help me out or not.”
Responsibility was another word that hit Dave. He always wanted to think he was filling his responsibilities, but he never could be quite sure. With that, he knew once again that Wolf was saying all the tough talk things to get to his right ending. Dave was hurt by it, but he ignored it all the same and went back to meeting Wolf’s eyes.
“Show no weakness. Don’t give in when you know that giving in isn’t right.” Dave thought to himself before listening to Wolf speak again.
“Nevertheless, if Ouray is right, it seems I have your people to think about, too, which is something you will soon need to think about – whether you like that idea or not. In the meantime, I need to get down to Harvey Greer and get him to let me in there. But yeah, I understand if you don’t want to be a part of it.”
There was something in the conversation, something that said Wolf was his spiritual mentor, and Dave was the stock character youthful learner, but what mission was the aging teacher taking him on? What world must he abandon to go on this trek? Somewhere between fate and Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, something he had taught many times as an English teacher, there was a serious, rational, and by the books world for him. It was time, for once in his life, that he followed that path instead of the ideology of the daydream fantasy adventures in his head, which got him into so much hardship so often.
But Dave couldn’t face that on this quiet Sunday morning. Instead, he simply felt that he needed to stand tough for just a few minutes more because he really didn’t believe that this new world was the right world to be entering into.
“I would if I could, but it would compromise my place with the agency. Besides, it’s not like I’m a ranger. I’m just a public affairs specialist. I have no real understanding of law enforcement other than having watched 24, and I doubt that those policing methods qualify as proper procedure in dealing with these political situations. Why don’t you contact the police chief down there?”
“I know Tony Lucas. The guy is a good cop, but he has no understanding of what is going on back in Blackrock Canyon, and when he does, it’s going to be a whole other can of worms that will be opened. He’ll be up to his eyeballs in shit really soon. When this instance comes to light, he and his men will be overextended beyond their capabilities and resources. When that happens, he isn’t going to have the time to spend playing in the canyon with me, which is what I think I’m going to need.”
“Well, I don’t have an understanding about that situation or any other situations that involve making sense of unknown tragedies in the recessed canyon world behind the Greer Ranch.”
With that, he needed to add his own response to the word “responsibility” and the concept of “manhood.” He needed to cut back with what was and wasn’t truth and logic.
“Besides, you don’t know what’s going on in there either.”
Wolf saw the game, but he didn’t take the bait. He would forgive the young man his failed response at retribution in his calm and wise way by nodding appropriately.
“I know the old stories enough to know that there’s a reason that they’re not spoken of to just anyone, especially the people in Blanding and Moab and all of these other dirt stains on the brow of southeastern Utah. I know that some ninety-four-year old shaman doesn’t just get a wild hair one day to call on some weathered old Indian down the way because he wants to have lunch or something.”
The two men looked at one another.
“I need to go, Dave. It’s a long drive to get to Fort Duchesne, and it’s a longer trip from there back down to the Greer ranch. I’ll be in touch with you when I find something out. You may not think you’re needed, but I think you’ll find out that you really are going to have to be involved with this situation when I come back from the reservation.”
Dave looked at him.
“And one more thing. Quit your job back in Pennsylvania and commit to staying here permanently. You’re more needed here in Utah than you can begin to imagine. Maybe when you finally shit or get off the pot, you’ll think straight again.”
Like that, Wolf walked out of the café, his boot steps reverberating as he vanished into the mystery that he had just opened up. No handshake. No goodbye. No go screw yourself.
All that was left was a certain truth that Dave would be needed, and if he were needed sooner than he was ready, he would eventually be recruited, with or without his consent. The realization that he was being driven into this great big mystery that the desert was in no hurry to reveal scared him to the core.
With that, Dave leaned back, more consumed in anxiety and desire to have stayed in Pennsylvania’s Amish country than he ever had felt at any point since he came here. These feelings of screwing up cut deep, and this one cut harder than anything he felt in a while.
“None of these things happened when I was back in Salunga,” he thought to himself.
Nevertheless, he just sat there pushing eggs around a plate as the café started to fill up with people. He couldn’t escape them or his destiny as it was clear that he was chained to the chair while he listened to the real, responsible man, who was named Wolf, drive off and vanish into the unknown destiny of his own predetermined life. As he thought about the man who could be his other dad, the sounds of the stereo started to drift into the room, and he heard the voice and guitar of some Sun Kil Moon CD play through the café’s Sunday morning air to the realization that he received his answer loud and clear, but he was still as unsure as ever what to do with it.