II. And then we drew.
We ask places to hold our stories—to hold our emotions, memories, even desires—and they do. Often that cache of stories manifests itself tangibly. They can leave a mark.
Cacti- It’s already lost its vibrant green. I can tell the deer walk by it; it is next to their trail.
Knoll- Five maple leaves. Wet, from the rains. One yellow, the others a decaying red.
Trees- Nothing, as it beds down in oak leaves.
Aspen- The basket is gone. So I make a new plate—using what I have.
I drew with a pine today. We made a self-portrait and portrait.
A mark requires friction. It requires the joining of two disparate entities in which at least one is altered. It is a visible sign of action.
They say humans are the only species to create art.
Of all physical attributes, scientists designate the thumb as a key variance between humans and other species. A thumb permits us to touch each finger, thus producing a grip that fosters power and precision. As a species, we increasingly alter our world with power, precision, and thumbs.
My professor placed a brush handle in my palm, making me conscious of how its curves and slants settled into my skin. He taught us to grip low, so bristles fully flexed into the canvas, freeing paint and crafting precise and expressive marks.
We often stood for critiques: a line of anxious beings encircling a line of our own creations. I found it was not intuitive to critique myself. I needed a mirror, an exterior surface, to see myself. Marks provided a visual of my actions—a chance for critique. I pondered my motivation for a thin stroke or transparent glaze.
While I tried to divorce myself from my marks, as a protection, each stroke recorded my movement. It was more than a painting up there; it was my story.
Marks manifest our stories.
In art I was taught to question my marks.
I’m surprised I found this place from the vague directions of the BLM office. I walked in asking about rock art in the Oquirrhs. They said this is one of the few sites that isn’t vandalized or on private property.
Now, I’m walking among boulders of memory. Among blackbirds and larks and a jackrabbit running from me. I wanted to call her back, to reassure her I’m here only for the rocks.
With their wide lines these abstract drawings date to sometime between 1000 B.C. and 1500 A.D—the work of hunter-gatherers in the Great Basin.[i]
The boulders, clothed in lines, make me wonder how many other marks have faded.
Why would people bend over a stone, for hours, striking it with another stone? To mark this spring? Or just to carve, to mark?
Art is more than sharing—it is how we process experience. It is more than product; it is process. I would create if no one ever saw, because as I modify materials they modify me.
I feel the ridges. They are longstanding and sure.
I hear the swelling songs of the lark and blackbird pierce stillness, then spread into silence. The air holds their marks, for an instant. Then their cry becomes my memory.
[i] Nina Bowen, “Rock Art Styles of the Great Salt Lake/Utah Lake Area,” Utah Rock Art - Symposium Proceedings vol. 25 (2005): 61-66. Also, see Polly Schaafsma, Indian Rock Art of the Southwest (Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research, 1986), 36. Schaafsma describes the style as the Great Basin Carved Abstract Style, which uses heavy clear lines, often pecked, with rectilinear and curvilinear designs.