Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia .
Where are we at? Where are we going? Soon we will all be dead, returned to the earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
The vastness of Arizona stretches out all around me, home to the nameless dead. For me the sad part isn’t dying. It’s fading away and being forgotten. There’s something to be said about blowing your brains out in your prime and living forever, instead of rotting away in eternal obscurity. There’s something to be said about leaving your mark.
I contemplate the markings at Newspaper Rock at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Birds. Deer. Wheels. Serpents. We do not know who made the stone markings, but at least their work lives on.
In the ancient myth of Enoch, the antediluvian holy man, was instructed to write the sacred secrets of heavens and earth on both stone and clay. If the world ended with fire, the baked clay would survive. If the world ended by water, the stone would live on to tell his story. Written into the myth is this deep throbbing need to continue to tell our story despite all costs.
This is why I write. This is my story.
Petrified Forest National Park is a nuclear explosion. Rock solid bits of wood litter the land landscape. Fell trees snapped like broken bone. It’s a pretty war zone. Souvenir collecting is tempting, but condemned by more than just the weight of the national park service. There is a higher power at work. Stealing bits of petrified wood carries threats of lingering curses. The information center displays letters of people who stole and lived (just barely) to tell the tale.
We eschew collecting and enjoy the curse-free vistas, bordering up against portions of the beautiful painted desert. Here the gentle rock formations are banded with brilliant reds, purples, yellow, blues, and whites. It’s hot, vacant, beautiful.
Our drive continues as we press back toward home, cutting through northern Texas. Just over the border in Amarillo is the Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation. Here mid-century Cadillacs are buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle mirroring the Great Pyramid of Giza. The sculpture is a constant work in progress. The viewing public is encouraged to add their touch, by adorning the cars with spray-can art. The cars are a constant evolution of graffiti tags in a crayon box of colors.
My addition is an ancient pictograph adorning rocks and cave walls all across the globe. This same image inexplicably appears across the American southwest, Armenia, Italy, Spain, the Alps, the Middle-East. It appears on Newspaper Rock. A squatting stick man, waste adorned by twin dots. One of the humanity’s first memes. It’s meaning lost to the ages. What was it to cause disparate cultures separate by oceans to decide to uniformly draw the same image? What was the story they wanted us to know?
Where are we at?
Where are we going?