(short story, by Sha’Tara)
“I know you are keen, and willing. Good traits in a researcher. But you are missing the key ingredients. You must sit quietly, by yourself, for hours, maybe days, and listen in time. Listen to the voices of the dead, and the pre-incarnate. They are in the voices of “others” and in the sounds of the earth: the wind, the cracking soil, the moving grains of sand, the patter of the rain on scrabbly hard-pan soil. They come on the heat waves. Sometimes they get playful and paint mirages which tell stories from within your own heart and soul which your tired and bleary eyes will translate into images of desires.
If you do not learn to listen, all you will accomplish in these places as you sift through dirt and rubble is collect garbage. It will be recognizable as works of the people but it will reveal no stories, no myths, no history. These you will have to create from your own imagination and trust me on this, it will not be the same stories as what was, even if the entire world should buy your interpretations. Honest archaeologists are a rare breed but there is nothing written, either in this desert or in mountains, that says you can not be one of that small group. When you teach yourself the secret of time listening the people who made and used the objects you unearth, they will tell you their stories. Some will seem strange and some will be, to your modern understanding, quite unbelievable, but just listen. It is not your call to re-interpret the lives of others according to your current knowledge: that is sacrilege. Let the ghosts speak; let them tell their story, and accept it at face value. It may be that they lie to you, but let it be: do not add insult to injury by adding to the lies. After all, as you will discover in time, all of your history is lies. There is no truth to be found on this world, or in this universe. We know, we’ve been looking for millions of your years and there is no such chimera.”
I was young then, and I’d been experimenting with the local flora under the auspices of a would-be witch doctor who called himself George but whose real name was an unpronounceable Mexican word that sounded like apple-cotle or aptly cotli. This particular drug induced “time dreams” he had told me, and… “You should only smoke a small amount at sunset. Sit against a rock, or a tree if you can find one, and set your mind free to roam. Do not try anything, just let it all go. It is the time of the spirits and sometimes one of them will notice you and approach you with a story, or some advice. Just listen and do not try to make any judgment about what you hear, or think you hear. Put your own thoughts aside and just absorb.”
I smoked slowly, not eagerly, trying to practice “wisdom” in my folly. How long I sat against the rock that dug into my back, feeling the sand getting cold beneath me, I don’t know. Darkness came and the sky exploded with myriads of pin-points of lights: star, planets, meteors, even satellites and flashing lights of planes. Time passed and I no longer felt the cold, nor the loneliness or that deep fear of the dark unknown. I “slept” with eyes open, hearing and learning to listen. I heard small animals squeaking to one-another, some unrecognizable insects repeating endless calls; owls, even one loud shriek of what could only be some wild cat, cougar perhaps. It didn’t matter.
It seemed as if I’d become a part of the landscape, an extension of the rock I leaned against. I felt a deep well-being; a thoroughly unfamiliar certainty. I was “here” and “here” was where I belonged. This was “home” like nothing had ever been. “Here I sit, and here I remain,” I thought, against all common sense. I felt the cold, hunger and thirst but it did not matter to this “me” that was being absorbed by the land, the air, the sky, the universe, the cosmos. In that time I was no longer a body-centered, or physical being. I was a member of the cosmic races, with a part of me resting upon a planet called earth – a very small, very strange planet.
That’s when the voice came to my mind; when I heard the words I quoted above.
I have been digging up history in this part of the world for almost fifty years now. I’ve become old and bent. My skin is like that of a lizard, dry and scaly, with brown spots. I’ve loved being naked in the sun and it has left its marks on my body but I don’t care. He was my lover and I cherish his touch still. I haven’t become famous. No best seller came from my notes; no following. People came here to dig with me, and left to seek fame and fortune. Some managed it, returning to tell me about it. Some even provided funds so I could remain here, on my wind-swept plateaus digging up ghost stories; me, the crazy Canadian who should have been more at home on the snowy wilds of northern Canada, than here.
To the local people, I am “loca perdida” or the crazy one, though many come just to be with me, or to listen to my stories. They come to get me sometimes, either with a jeep, or even a donkey, and take me to a village feast so they can hear some of my stories about their ancient peoples. They seem to have no difficulty believing me, and I have wondered about that. Do they also listen in time? They “pay” me in food, or in new blankets for my tents or shelters. Good people, all of them. I’ve always felt safe here; not sure I could have managed that in cities where people crowd unhappily together, hardly ever getting to know each other though rubbing shoulders every day. How sad is that life, I think.
Here I remain. Here I belong for my body’s time being. Here I taught myself to listen in time and it is here that I will die so another archaeologist, another time listener, can find bits and pieces of my presence in this place and unearth my own story – a story that will have meaning only to her and the few who carry our vision of living in time.
How I wish I could express, in words, how blessed my life has been and how much I look forward to new digs out there in the stars, knowing that when I sit down and look up I will see more stars.