Fallen Roof Ruin   Pastel on paper  by Akiko Hirano

Connection

Tim Wong & Akiko Hirano

The ranger station was a small trailer set among pinyon pines. While getting her backcountry permit, she showed a photo of an Anasazi ruin to the man in uniform. “I think that’s in Road Canyon,” the man said, “not quite sure, I just started as a volunteer.” Glancing at her name on the registration, “Kuro-Koromo… interesting name!” he added. “Yeah, Black-Clothes (黒衣), people call me Kuro-e for short.” 

 

Kuro-e left the station and drove on a dirt road aiming for the head of the canyon. She left the Jeep in a clearing and started down a shallow wash. The vegetation was very different from that on the mesa top, lush and green, with lots of wild flowers. Animal trails crisscrossed the path. For a while she followed a wrong trail into a side canyon and had to turn back. After a hour following the stream bed into the deepening canyon, she saw an alcove high up the south-facing slope. She scrambled up to the alcove and found the ruin in the photo.
 

Hand prints  Photo by Tim Wong

Large chunks of pinkish red rock slabs lied scattered about on the sandy floor of the alcove. The slabs had peeled and fallen from the alcove ceiling, exposing beautiful patterns of the lighter underlying layers. The ruin consisted of three semi-circular rooms of stone and mortar, each with a single rectangular window that also served as the entrance. She peeked inside with a flashlight. One room was littered with Anasazi corncobs, its ceiling blackened by smoke. The other two rooms were empty; their back walls had patches of white, they might have been plastered at one time. On a dark rock panel above one room were a group of negative hand prints from several adults and possibly a child. She imagined the family waving hello from the distant past. She raised her hand and waved back. She always felt an unspoken connection around Anasazi ruins, almost like visiting long-lost kins who moved away to live in a far-off place. In this particular ruin, she felt she was being watched but not threatened. Perhaps somewhere in her DNA carried ancient memories of common ancestors who parted ways on the frozen Bering Strait long ago. She took out her camera to take some photos before leaving the ruin.

Granary on a cliff   Pastel on paper  by Akiko Hirano

Farther down the canyon, Kuro-e spotted another ruin tucked precariously under an overhang on a narrow ledge high up a vertical cliff. It looked inaccessible. She studied it through binoculars, then scrambled up bands of slickrock to gain a wide bench, then made her way gingerly along the ledge to the ruin. The ruin turned out to be two granaries, one made of wattle and daub, the other of stone and mortar. The mortar still bore finger marks of the builder. They were built in that precarious location obviously for keeping other people from reaching them. She carefully squeezed under the overhang to crawl over some loose rocks between the granaries to peek inside. To her surprise, the inner wall of one granary was painted with a white band of connected triangles, she counted 15 in a row. Why would anyone decorate the inside of a granary? Could it serve as some sort of a calendar or recording function? From that airy perch, she could only admire the ingenuity of the builders and let her question unanswered.

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Epilogue

One week after that trip, Kuro-e placed the black-and-white films taken at the ruin on a lightbox and examined each negative with a loupe. When she got to negatives numbers 25, 26, 27; she gasped. She remembered those three shots were taken in quick succession of the same room. While the first and third negatives showed a blank window; the middle one number 26 clearly showed an oval shape peering at her through that window! It cannot be, she thought, that room was empty and there was nobody around! She slumped in her chair in disbelief. Being a scientist, she could not accept what she saw. This must be some sort of artifact. On the other hand, she never pretended to know all the answers. Perhaps whatever appeared briefly in that window was meant to let her know her feeling of connection was more than an imagination. She remembered one time she asked a ranger at an Anasazi site about its mysterious abandonment. The ranger said, sometimes it might be better to have some mystery left unanswered. She seemed to be satisfied with that, and filed the film away.