The Journey

A Lesson from the Past

ByJeff Wilson

Personal Essay

My fellow backpackers and I were on the same trails that the Anasazi Indians had walked over a thousand years ago. Shards of their lives littered the canyon ground. Paintings, pottery and cornhusks were left as evidence of their ancient way of life. Even the walls of their clay homes still showed the handprints of their makers. The scenery was humbling and sacred. Not to mention beautiful. At that particular moment, our backpacking troupe was not taking in the scenery; rather, we were lost in it.

For the previous four days we had followed a trail that dead-ended at a canyon wall. The footprints that once covered the path before us were growing scarce. Our routes became rabbit trails. I was with three people whom I had just met and I didn't have a clue where we were, aside from the fact we were somewhere in Utah.

The three other backpackers were seniors and had been friends since they were freshmen. They listened to Screaming Metal, had a love for the outdoors and a passion for rock climbing. I felt awkward, like a tambourine in a heavy metal band, completely out of place. Metal music was not exactly my ideal bedfellow, and I had only rock-climbed once before.

A few days earlier, before we had gotten into this mess, we drove to the canyon entrance to find a place to camp. Darkness swallowed the road in front of us, making our progress slow and a campsite difficult to find. Eventually, I spotted a less-than-great site hidden in the bushes. Two of us unloaded the necessary gear for the night while the others scouted for a level section of ground, clearing rocks out of our bedding area. We bedded close together that night for comfort more than for warmth.

During the first few days of our hike we explored the canyon and the remnants of the Anasazi people. They lived in small, close-knit communities scattered throughout the canyon. To survive, they divided up their daily tasks. Some were appointed corn gatherers and others were hunters; some perfected the crafts of basket-weaving or pottery. They shared everything. The Anasazi depended on their immediate community for survival.

We backpacked in the same conditions the Anasazi had faced: rough terrain, little vegetation for shelter, high gusts of wind and snowstorms. At night, we gathered around the fire to stay warm or took shelter from the snow and wind in our tents. We had better gear; but, like the Anasazi, we still worked together.

When one of us bloodied his heels, we slowed the pace so that he could keep up. When one of us became sore and tired, we took a break. When one of us was low on water, we shared. My feeling of being estranged and alone became irrelevant when it came to us surviving as a group.

It was not until we got lost that I realized the distance I had traveled with my companions. I was a part of a community, for better or worse, and my survival depended on those around me. It did not matter how different I felt. I still belonged.

We were still lost, but we were lost together. The sheer cliffs of the canyon walls pointed us in only two directions, forward or backward. Together we pushed on and were rewarded by emerging from the wilderness onto a dirt road.

Letting out a sigh, I planted my feet on the first modern path since we'd entered the canyon. In the distance we could hear the muffled roar of a car going by. My friends and I walked side-by-side back toward a world where being independent was the way of life.

One day, the Anasazi Indians disappeared. No one knows why or where they went. Some people think they migrated en masse to a more accommodating land. Wherever they went, I know that their best chance for survival was together.