Grand Canyon

Contagious Magic

Sunrise, Hopi Point (MB)
Who knew it was National Fossil day, a Wednesday right smack in the middle of Earth Science week? This is a day I don't normally celebrate, but it was extra special to learn of its existence at the Shrine of the Ages in Grand Canyon National Park. Extra special because if there was ever a place to consider the science of the earth, it is on or below the rim of the famed canyon formed by the Colorado River in northern Arizona. "Raked and blistered by beautiful conflict," as was said of the California painter David Park's work. Carved, pushed, cut, molded, thrust, eroded, split. Time has sculpted stone and the record of the ages is grand as promised.

National Parks Service photo
The special fossil day speaker was a parks paleontologist, Robyn Henderek, who studies bent twig figurines, sheep and mule deer-shaped willow or squawbush figures, that have been lying inside Grand Canyon caves for more than 4000 years, preserved intact by the arid atmosphere. Ms Henderek and other scientists believe that the desert people of the canyon used these effigies  as a sort of offering to the animals they needed to capture. Contagious magic, she called it. Contagious magic is based on the principle that things or persons once in contact can afterward influence each other.

Like most things in North America, what's old to us is relatively new, because far away in southwest France, in the limestone Grotte Niaux, hunters had the same idea about 14, 000 years ago. They painted on the cave's walls images of the animals they wanted to catch.

First Nations people have spirit animals. Catholics wear crosses.  Hockey fans don jerseys on game day, to help their team win. Walking towards the train station from the beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona library, I encountered a pumpkin seller from Utah, J.T.
He told me about a couple who bought a ghost pumpkin from him last year, then took it to the Grand Canyon, where they carved it and carried it down Bright Angel trail to Phantom Ranch. On the banks of the Colorado, they lit a candle and fixed it inside the pumpkin, and set it afloat on the river in memory of a friend who had lost his life there. Contagious magic, a kind of praying.