11/24: The handprints of history

29Nov09

Esteban and I slept in today, probably because we were a bit tuckered from yesterday’s adventures. “What’s close by?” he asked. “Wanna go see Montezuma Castle?” I asked.

We had a leisurely breakfast and tidied up a bit. Then, we stopped at the outlet mall on the outskirts of town. Then we also stopped at the gas station, grabbed a sandwich at Wendy’s, popped in on Ye Olde UFO Store (not open yet), and finally we headed out of town.

The trip to Montezuma Castle National Monument seemed almost comically short compared to yesterday’s epic tour of the Grand Canyon. But to me, it was just as significant.

These cliff dwellings have survived for almost 1,000 years. They were last inhabited in about 1400, and have been preserved by the desert ever since. Although many people believe they were built by the Sinagua, our volunteer guide put his money on the Hopi instead.

I’ll let the archaeologists and anthropologists duke it out.

What really made an impression on me was putting my hand on a cast made from the  interior walls, and discovering that my hand was a perfect fit. The shape of my palm, the length of my fingers, the beefiness of the muscle below my thumb—it all melted into that cast as if it were a custom-made glove.

I’ve never felt such a personal connection to a long-vanished people. It was emotionally overwhelming.

On the drive home, Esteban and I passed a fry-bread stand. We stopped and tried to make small talk with the vendor’s son while she made Esteban’s bread. The little boy seemed withdrawn, until we turned to leave. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he called out to us. I looked him in the eye and wished him a happy Thanksgiving, too.

Never mind the thousands of years that have passed since his ancestors first settled these lands, or the atrocities that some of my ancestors have committed. This afternoon it all boiled down to a handprint—and an earnest greeting from a little boy.



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