Recently the collapse of Wall Arch; a large, natural sandstone formation located along the Devil's Garden trail in Arches National Park was in the news. The occurrence was throughly documented by articles in the Associated Press and local papers, and was also a significant topic of conversation on the Navajo grapevine. What was once a magnificent geologic feature was ultimately brought down by wind, water and sandstone wearing upon sandstone, the precise elements responsible for its creation.
The Arches before and after.
Word of Wall Arch's passing reverberated throughout Dinetah; the traditional Navajo homeland. The Navajo people believe their deities travel on rainbows, and that arches and natural bridges are rainbows frozen in time. They are thus sacred locations. So sacred in fact, that they are considered portals into the Mirage World; a place where deities dwell in harmonious balance.
These portals are guarded by Coyote, who is both the guardian of the entrance and the key holder. Coyote patrols the arches, and leads away interlopers and trespassers. He grants access only to those he deems worthy. For these reasons, the collapse of Wall Arch was of great concern to the Native American population.
Their fear is that falling arches indicate the decline of traditional Native American culture. A few years ago, it was thought that footprints of the Navajo Hero Twins had been spotted on Black Mesa. Many Navajo people subscribe to the prophecy that the Twins will return when the culture of the Navajo is put at risk, so this was a serious incident.
Because the fallen arch has been such a hot topic of conversation lately, I have given it much thought. In doing so, I have formulated the relatively simple theory that culture is lost through lack of study, practice and support. People associated with those traditions give up hope, let their passion dwindle, and before long the legacy is lost.
Personally I believe the identity of a people, their soul, is directly related to tradition and culture. Much can be learned from the old beliefs; enduring lessons of love, compassion and understanding abound. Throw in a healthy portion of service, and you have the basis of religious ideology. The demise of a culture does not occur instantaneously, as in the collapse of an arch. Portals to the Mirage World will exist so long as there are individuals who can imagine their existence.
Many Native American people believe science and technology are corrupting their nature-based beliefs. They look to the wellsprings of their culture and deny the scientific spirit of the age. Others search out the parallels and adapt; moving ever onward and upward. Each of us must find our own path, and follow it to the best of our abilities.
A number of geologists have told me that arches are inherently temporary; that they all eventually succumb to the forces of gravity and erosion, and the inevitable re-arrangement of their sedimentary particles. Take heart though, many more are undergoing their epoch-long creation even as we speak; each arch being the product of millions of years of deposition and scouring. The geological art gallery we know as Arches National Park does not seem in eminent danger of destruction.
Some may say the failure of Wall Arch has absolutely no effect on culture, myth and legend. They may say, "It was just an arch and it fell; no more no less." To a people intimately in touch with the land and her well-being, however, it was much more. The collapse signaled the passing of an old friend, and is a warning to protect the earth and acknowledge her for every good thing she represents.
With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.