Tracing Time: Seasons of Rock Art on the Colorado Plateau by Craig Childs
Book Review by Steve Dudrow
For us amateur archaeologists, who live and breathe to protect our pre-contact cultural heritage sites, this author’s narrative is like getting free Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in a candy store!
With Childs, it is always about his firsthand experiences and this book is no exception. Written during COVID, the trials and tribulations of an unknown future are intertwined in this story of cultural writings across the Colorado Plateau.
He starts off with a profound quote by William Gibson: “Time moves in one direction, memory another. We are the strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting.” And off we go from here, we the benefactors of those before us, leaving us glimpses of their present.
My fascination with ancient handprints on rocks started with a 2016 visit to Canyonlands National Park. Childs takes me back to kindergarten where we traced our hands. He explains it is one gesture that makes us humans stand out among all other creatures, uniquely ours.
In our day and age of quick interpretations, checking email, and not wanting to miss happy hour, we tend to rush through visits to cultural sites or in fact anything we visit for vacation enjoyment. Even those of us engaged in the preservation of these sites tend to rush by, take our pictures, look for graffiti, check the amount of traffic in the area, pick up any trash and get back home to complete our paperwork.
Childs has offered an alternative: “Slowing down is what I recommend. If you can take an hour at a rock art panel, take an hour. It may astonish you how they unpack themselves. If you’ve got four days, take them. I’ve heard that if two strangers stare silently into each other’s eyes for four straight minutes, they will fall in love. You do the math.”
In summary, as Childs works his way through areas on the Colorado Plateau, the rock writings change, his friends come and go, each leaving their own thoughts on what is being said by those here before us. The book is a treasure trove of learned opinions, common sense interpretations and meanings passed down through generations of ancestors. It is definitely worth reading.