Exactly a month ago, I wrote a post about the weirdness of finding historical artifacts just lying all over the place during a trip to southern Utah, and I ended the entry with a CLIFFHANGER mentioning Pottery Butte. I’m sure you’ve been waiting breathlessly for the exciting conclusion. (Sorry for the radio silence: I went to Alaska for two weeks. That’s another story . . .)
Pottery Butte is entirely unmarked. You’d never know it was there. We only knew about it because of Kelsey’s book and also because Bob came across it himself while leading a wilderness group in the area. All Bob told me is that on Pottery Butte, there are literally shards of old Native American pottery all over the place. I was skeptical.
But, yeah, as you walk up, you start to see collections of shards that other people have collected and placed on rocks.
And then soon you just start finding others all over the place. There’s something strange about seeing pieces that have been give a careful texture:
You can’t help but think about the hands, long-gone, that so lovingly etched these designs.
Stranger still to find painted pieces:
Of course, the crazy in me wanted to immediately start trying to jig-saw the shards back into full pieces, especially when I could so clearly see two matching pieces:
But wilderness etiquette says that you are supposed to leave everything exactly as it is. This was a hard principle for me to follow; it felt as though I should be collecting and preserving these amazing traces of history.
There are lots of emotions that one feels when encountering the past: wonder, an eerie sense of overlap with the past, curiosity. But–and maybe I’m weird in this way–what I felt was a heavy sadness. Here was evidence of a people who now were long gone and long forgotten except as a group. Did any of them have any sense, as they painstakingly decorated their creations, that these objects would last far longer than their memory? We may know facts about their people, but the individual has been lost. Surely one of them had to hope that hundreds of years later, someone would pick up a piece of their pottery and wonder about them. Wasn’t that at least partly the impetus of their act? If the pottery were purely for utility, it wouldn’t require decoration.
Isn’t all art some sort of plea to be remembered, if only for what we left behind?
But does it ever work? Even if we’re lucky enough to pass on some lasting creation–a book, a photograph, a song, a piece of pottery–does it really capture the qualities about us that are key to our identity? Or do we just disappear behind what we make?