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Past, Present, and Future in Bear's Ears

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

As humans, the one thing we share is our home. We all live, breathe, and exist on Mother Earth.

I have always felt a connection to the dirt, plants, rocks, and trees. As a kid, I lingered outside on summer evenings for as long as possible until being called back indoors. I could be found climbing trees, sitting cross-legged on the ground, sifting rocks and dirt through my fingers. My feet were always dirty from going barefoot around the yard of our midwestern suburban home. Summer camping trips to national parks were the highlight of my year: my face pressed against the car window, craning to see the mountains and rocks that would magically grow out of the ground as we drove west. As soon as the wheels stopped, I leaped out of the vehicle to explore foreign and magical places with enticing names like Badlands and Canyonlands. I didn’t know it then, but these places would become part of my ongoing story, my own history.

Bears Ears National Monument on the Colorado Plateau of Utah is a 1.35-million-acre swath of sacred and protected land. The monument was molded and shaped by a multi-tribal collaboration of the Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni Tribe. The land stretches through a labyrinth of sandstone canyons, buttes, and rivers, and it houses natural wonders like Comb Ridge, as well as human wonders in an estimated 100,000 protected archeological sites. Ancestral Puebloan dwellings here are proof that humans were here 3,500 years ago, scrambling through canyons, looking up at the stars, searching out water in the river bottoms, and finding shade in the natural sandstone caves and arches.

I went back to Bears Ears again to explore with my friend Steve. I wanted to wander, climb, sleep under the stars, and ride. For six days the rhythm of the sun and the waxing moon dictated our schedule, while the weather determined our route through the vastness. We searched for the sun in the cold spring climate, with snow one moment and warm sun the next. In just a few months, this snowy, windy landscape will turn to scorched earth, and people will look for shade instead of sun.

As people have done here for centuries, Steve and I looked for the places that suited our bodies' needs. After a day's activities of exploring, we gathered firewood to warm us when the sun went down. As we dozed off each night, the stars and moon provided a window to dream and connect with ancient people. My mind went backward and forward in this sacred and preserved place as I imagined other people lying under the stars contemplating, just like we were. Being out here living on the earth like the ancestral Puebloans allowed me to feel their presence and know that we are all connected to the past and future by the one thing we share: our home. We also share the universal human desire for shelter, safety, community, and spirituality. These needs have not changed in thousands of years.

I am not native to this land, but I am native to the earth: our home and our communal connection to each other, past, present, and future.

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