top of page

Cliff Ruin   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano 

Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

Kuro-e lay on her back looking at the sky, the sun low over the western skyline. The slickrock felt good; it reminded her of the feeling as a child, the warmth on her back lying on the rooftop watching summer clouds. Funny how she remembered such little things from long ago. She tilted her head back to look at the orange cliff behind her. Anasazi had built a two-level home in an alcove under the cliff brow, blending so well with the surroundings as if it were carved into the rock. Its front wall built with carefully shaped stones of varying colors, its T-shape entrance set high, inaccessible. One corner of the dwelling was chamfered, forming a recessed corner with a peep or drain hole from the upper level. This dwelling was built as a strong-hold in a turbulent time, yet it was occupied for no more than a couple of generations.


What had the residents seen living there, she wondered. The cliff top had a clear view up and down the canyon. The sun would have risen from the canyon mouth and set behind the twin buttes of Bear Ears to the west. The stars at night must have been amazing. When trekking up the canyon, she passed by a petroglyph panel in a dark corner. The black varnish had been pecked to expose pink sandstone in the shapes of several spirals. The surrounding veneer had flaked off, leaving lighter patterns like swirling clouds. Somehow the panel recalled Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting. Or perhaps swirling galaxies? Of course not! She laughed at her absurd interpretations and moved on.


Spiral Petroglyphs   Photo   Tim Wong

The canyon cooled down quickly soon after sunset. She woke to find the sky turning dark. No moon tonight. Stars lit up one after another until they crowded the sky like a floating sequined chiffon over the canyon. She looked for familiar constellations. Leo the lion shined brightly overhead, Hydra low above the southern horizon like a snake. She turned around; the Big Dipper and the North Star affirmed her bearings. She could not see it yet, near the Big Dipper, a bright light was racing towards her at 186,000 miles per second as it had been doing for the past 21 million years. In a few days, it would reach Earth.

On May 19, 2023, Kuro-e read the news that a Japanese astronomer (1) first spotted the light of a new supernova near the ‘handle’ of Big Dipper. A star in the Pinwheel Galaxy almost 21 million lightyears away had exploded. Recalling the night she watched the stars in the canyon, Kuro-e tried to put the news in perspective. When the supernova exploded, dinosaurs that ruled the Earth for over 170 million years had already gone extinct for some 44 million years. Light from the explosion sped across the dark void for 18 million years before our distant hominid ancestor Lucy (2) walked the East African grassland. Lucy never saw the light, for it still took another 3 million years to reach Earth. During that time, most of Lucy’s relatives died off along with untold number of other species. Then modern humans came on stage just 300,000 years ago. Almost miraculously, they managed to survive fierce predators that were stronger and faster and migrated out of Africa to Europe and Asia. At the end of the last Ice Age, bands of these late-comers in Asia crossed the Bering Strait to the New World over 20,000 years ago. Suddenly, the 800-year-old Anasazi cliff dwelling did not seem ancient at all. Kuro-e felt an unspoken kinship with the dwelling builders who – in the cosmic calendar (3) – had just left two seconds ago to continue their immense journey.​​


Pinwheel Galaxy   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

  1.  Koichi Itagaki is an amateur astronomer who discovered the SN2023ixf supernova in 2023, his 172nd supernova find to date.

  2.  The 3.2 million-year-old female hominid skeleton of the genus Australopithecus discovered by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson in Ethiopia in 1974.

  3.  A calendar by scaling the 13.8 billion years of the universe into one year.

bottom of page