Jay Meehan: Ghost dancing
Park Record columnist
The shimmer arrived without preamble or incantation. It didn’t announce itself and it wasn’t summoned. Maybe sandals falling upon long-undisturbed Pinyon and Juniper needles set it in motion.
Although perfectly still, it caressed all the senses. A feeling of being in the presence of “holiness,” possibly a return of Yeats’ “ceremonies of innocence,” permeated seemingly sacred space. Or perhaps, just another manifestation of that particular magic-realism that hovers over the Colorado Plateau.
I woke to the beautiful cascading musical whistles of a Canyon Wren, its loudness muted by distance, only minutes earlier. With not disturbing the Samurai “wah” of my still sleeping shipmates foremost in my thoughts, I crept away from our hurriedly-thrown-together-in-the-dark campsite.
Soon enough, I became bathed in shimmer. Although the Catholicism of my youth didn’t necessarily stick to my ribs, guilt came knocking like an old friend. The feeling was that of an interloper, of not belonging, possibly even desecrating. Emerging from what passed for REM sleep in those days often enabled the Surrealism option.
So, not necessarily sensing an inclusionary component within the aforementioned holiness, the sandals continued, covertly, down toward the then still-unpaved loop road circling back up through White Canyon to the northern reaches of the not-yet-full-pool Lake Powell. The shimmer, keeping its own counsel, did not follow.
Obviously, however, a spiritual profundity of some magnitude left its imprint upon that space. Something happened there and the land remembers. This is the first I’ve come out about what I refer to in private as the shimmer-on-the-mount. I haven’t gone as far as to call it the Gospel according to Jay, but it is my story and I’m sticking to it.
What the experience left me with harkened to being marooned in an alien landscape without proper vocabulary or portfolio. I was out of my element. The shimmer didn’t know whether to, in a Jonathan Winters sense, wave or salute. When faced with ignorance at this level, they knew not where or how to begin.
And that, dear reader, is exactly where I find myself with friends who’ve bought into the Republican Party’s view on climate change and public land protection. I would refer to it as Trump’s view but, as we’ve learned, the man is completely bereft of that vision thing.
Mother Earth’s enemy in all this has, of course, proven to be pretty much, but not exclusively, the white male demographic. Not only are the sciences beyond its grasp but, also, the lessons of history. They’ve been screwed by the system and payback’s a mother.
The pendulum has swung to the right and you’d best get out of the way.
Even if apocalyptic breakdowns occur in the fabric of civilization, well, no worries! Our President will just explain to them how, if they would just kick in additional tithing to build his border wall, it’s been Obama’s fault all along.
While nosing around an expanded notion of the current Bears Ears National Monument years before its recent designation, a few touchstones were constants. The whereabouts of Everett Ruess, of course, dominated. But after scouring Davis Gulch and its offshoot canyons ad infinitum, other trailheads beckoned.
Hole in the Rock road, both east and west drainages off the Escalante River, and the Johnnie’s Hole country north of the San Juan River sang a siren’s call. The other constant in these wanderings was the desire to locate yet another shimmering in the landscape, to feel I had been “chosen,” not unlike Moses, to hear from the indigenous past.
It was about boots on the ground and cigars around the campfire. Further sightings, as you no doubt imagined, remained aloof from the pilgrim’s prayers. The depth of the spiritual side of the journey, however, deepened with time. Most all the land in question needed protection from the politicos and their extractive-industry donors.
The greedy, both then and now, in more than one context, reconfigure “rape and pillage” at will. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and the faithful who refuel among their precious stones will be the losers.
Canyon country still had much to teach me. Possibly I could work in a Ghost Dancing lesson or two. Resistance is not averse to shape-shifting.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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