Stones and Stories

Last week was my kids’ spring break, so we hopped in the car and drove to Utah, staying two nights in Bryce Canyon and two at Zion National Park.  My kids are teenagers in the 21stcentury, so by nature sedentary and attached to their computers and cell phones as if to IVs.  They are also my kids and Rob’s, so they have the added bonus of being bookish, imaginative, and mildly introverted (I totally was an introverted kid—I think I’ve grown up to be an ambivert, but I still LOVE my downtime, for anyone snickering), so they resist long adventures and would naturally choose to stay home and “chill” for spring break.  Unfortunately, for their short-term goals, I think it’s important to a) unplug, b) explore the natural world, and c) encounter and begin to understand the rest of the world.  Poor kiddos.

Bryce Canyon awoke my inner rock hound.  It is a geologist’s playground, and we soaked up both breathtaking vistas (literally—it’s roughly 9000 feet elevation, so the air was thin!) and scientific descriptions of the rock formations. “Hoodoo,” for instance, is the glorious term for the pillars of stone that form as the walls of limestone erode from walls to a line of individual spires. Of course we went to the geology talk with a ranger, where we learned about the eons of formation and erosion of the canyon as well as the strata of stone and mixture of minerals that make it so beautiful—pinks and oranges and reds of the stone against the green pine trees, the blue sky, and in April, the white snow.
But the best part for me was when he told us the legends.  He barely hinted, just teasing us with one story, really, that the Navajo told about Coyote luring all the bad guests to a spot where he promised them a banquet, but instead turned them all to stone. Those hoodoos, man. They look like people.
Because they form in rows, they look like lines of people, like families or groups of people interacting.  I usually have one eye on wildlife and find myself repeating “someone lives there” every time we see a cave or an obvious shelter that could be a den, but here I was muttering the whole time, “They look like people,” so I may have been smug when the ranger told us this tale. And I was struck by the common theme of hospitality, remembering my Odyssey, and my Beowulfand all the other tales that teach us about being good guests and hosts, “lest we entertain an angel unawares.”
Tolkien said “he sees no stars who does not see them first of living silver made that sudden burst…” (and some more great stuff, in my favorite poem, “Mythopoeia.”)  This was that kind of moment.  I could not see the stones as stones completely until I had my imaginative moment about them.  I know they’re masterpieces of sediment and erosion, but they look like people—people in line, people walking together, people with animals (some were shorter and decidedly canine-looking, or maybe I was getting carried away…).

I had a momentary affinity with those Navajo all those years ago, who looked and saw stories. I wasn’t expecting that.  Beauty, yes.  Nature, yes.  Geology, yes.  But not kinship.  That’s another reason to keep waking the kids up and shoving them in the car and dragging them out in to the beautiful world. 

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