Visitors from the Past
Rice, chicken flavored textured vegetable protein, or TVP, as it was affectionately known during his younger camping days, and freeze-dried vegetables were the evening fare. The fireplace did not have a suitable reflector rock, so there would be no baking tonight, but Hall had some butterscotch pudding left so all was well on the dessert front. To drink, Hall planned on cherry bug juice (lemonade). It was going to be a feast. Actually every night was a feast as hungry as one gets on a canoe trip. Hall opened the TVP and began to soak it in lightly salted and boiling water. It would be a good hour before it was ready to be added to the chicken stew mix. TVP that wasn't cooked sufficiently would bounce like a small super ball if it fell off your plate and could easily wear out a set of molars trying to chew it. TVP is essentially a soybean product, packed with protein, yet is quite light and easy to carry in a dry state. There were better products today, but Hall liked to pack TVP in memory of his childhood and teenage camping trips.
The sun was behind the cliff, and although it was not yet dusk, it was getting dark in this hidden cove. Hall decided to add a few logs to the evening fire, which brightened the area considerably and cast strange shadows on the surrounding cliffs. The rice water was soon boiling, as was the TVP pot, and Hall was busy mixing the pudding until all the lumps were fully dissolved and it was ready to set up. Hall sat on a rock behind the fireplace, occasionally stirring the rice and TVP while he watched the shadows dance on the cliff. It was as if the petroglyphs had come to life. Every time he looked at the cliffs, the shadows took on different forms. They looked like dancers from an earlier time. Hall finished preparing dinner, threw a few more logs on the fire, and sat down with his plate, watching the shadow dancers as he ate. He sat mesmerized by the movement, and his thoughts began to drift. Had his shadow dancers been waiting all these years for a campfire's flickering light to give them life?
It was an interesting thought, and Hall fell into an increasingly contemplative state as his mind dove deeper into the subject of real and unreal. They were echoes of the past, waiting only for a camper's fire to relive their historic glory, footprints in the cosmic memory wave that records all events, dancing for him and all who came before, thought Hall, still mesmerized by their rhythmic motion. Hall suddenly found himself standing and dancing with them. He had learned to Indian dance years before at summer camp but had never really danced outside of the camp experience. Yet the thought of why he was dancing never crossed his mind. It seemed so natural, a connection between spirit, mind, and body. As he danced between the fire and the cliff, his shadow joined the cliff dancers, and he felt a connection with them and their past. It was a sacred moment, and Hall was unaware of anything but the communion of the dance, like a whirling dervish who was suddenly lost in the ecstasy of the moment.
He awoke the next morning lying on his sleeping bag but still dressed. He felt refreshed but wondered how long he had danced with the shadows and how he had found his way to his tent and blessed sleep. Stepping outside, he noticed that the kitchen was entirely cleaned up and put away from the night before, yet he had no recollection of doing so, or even eating for that matter. He only remembered the dance. As the sun came up over the horizon and hit the cliffs, the paintings seemed somehow more vibrant, as if only recently placed there by the artist. The sun's rays bouncing off the ripples in the water seemed to reenergize the paintings, just as the flickering firelight had the evening before.
This morning was different than the others. He felt no compulsion to break camp quickly. Maybe it was the fact that his trip would soon come to an end, or maybe he had found something that he wanted to experience a little longer, something beyond the ability of words to describe, something permanent in a transient world. He took out his journal and began to write.
Are the shadow dancers less real than I am? Surely their lives span only between each flicker of light, but if time is removed from the equation, is our existence that different? Clearly our bodies are comprised of a firmer substance than that of the shadow dancers, but again time renders us just as transient as the movements of the dancers. The question is not one of manifestation perhaps, but rather of consciousness.
Is there a level of consciousness left behind by each artist in the energy imparted to his or her creation, or is it my conscious connection that gave them life? Were those depicted on the cliffs dancing in another dimension as their shadows danced in this one? Was I a shadow in their world as they were in mine? Are we all not energy waves existing everywhere and always simultaneously in a realm without time? Is someone in their time pondering the mirror image of these questions that I ponder now? Clearly this is fantasy, but like the shadows on Plato's Cave, are they the reflection of a small piece of reality? Perhaps the biggest question on my mind is, who cleaned up my campsite after dinner last night?
Hall smiled to himself as he wrote the last sentence, not sure if he really wanted an answer.