Monday, July 16, 2012

Dream Totem

In Sedona, and other spots around the world that some people regard as sacred, people build little stone totems. Here’s a photo of a common example of a rock totem:

People build rock totems to honor a place that touched them, and allow them to leave a bit of themselves behind when they have to move on.

I came across a really special one some months ago, on a trail at the Airport Mesa vortex. You might have heard about our energy vortices, and you may or may not believe in them. But vortex energy only factors into this story peripherally. As I was saying…I don’t like the airport vortex too much. It’s the most easily accessible of all the vortices — doesn’t require any serious hiking from the trailhead — and that might explain why it seems to attract the most ill-behaved of all of Sedona’s tourists.

Most of the visitors to Sedona are respectful of the landscape. But too many of the people who flock to this site don’t seem to realize that other people hike to find peace and solitude. Instead, they sit on the knoll where they’ve been told they should feel some unusual energy flow, and their screams and laughter and cell phone conversations echo for miles.

I don’t know why I went there that day. And my hike didn’t start out well. A family of three males — a father and two burly preteen boys — along with a simpering mother, had cornered a lizard in the brush and were shirking in glee. I don’t usually say anything, but the sight of the family Cro-Magnon on their lizard safari annoyed me. I snapped for them to leave the wildlife alone. One of the boys spat at me, in a tone of fierce anger, that wildlife was supposed to be hunted down. His parents looked so proud.

So...I wasn’t in the best of moods when I walked on. But then I came upon it, one of the most magnificent totems I’ve ever seen. It was huge — probably more than two feet high and three feet wide, and clearly took quite some time to construct. Its spectacular design was not a matter of stacking rocks on other rocks — no, this person had build an edifice with actual chambers.

The totem builder had also sprinkled money on all the crossbeams. Not a lot, just pocket change. I spotted one quarter, lots of dimes and nickels and a whole mess of pennies that glistened in the sunlight. While I doubt it totaled much more than a dollar or two, the sprinkling of coins struck me as such an extravagant, grand gesture

I was so moved by it that I came back every week to check on the totem. And despite wind and rain and countless people passing that way, the totem remained week-after-week.

Then this week, I discovered it gone. Someone just dismantled it, stacked the stones, and with a marker and a girlish hand, wrote on the rocks about who loved whom, and decorated them with hearts. And, yes, she took the change.

As a hiker who loved that totem, I grieved for its loss. But as a writer, I felt a need to explore the mentality of the one who had to dismantle it.

As desecrations go, it was minor. Those rocks have endured for eons, and will remain when we are just specks of dust floating on the wind. Even the early amateur archeologists who explored this area used to carve their names onto the rocks near their discoveries, and they stole the treasures early tribal peoples had left as offerings in those areas. So, maybe whatever impulse the heart-drawer felt wasn’t any more out of line than what countless others have done before her. Maybe she thought that money was wasted there, and she considered it only right to put it to use.

Even after thinking about it, I don't really understand. Given all the many rocks scattered around that area, I can't imagine why she simply didn't choose some of those loose rocks on which to draw her hearts. I can't fathom why she was willing to take all the time needed to dismantle that unique totem. Why she needed to see it dismantled.

Maybe I’m just too sentimental, but still, I don’t think I’ll be going back there anytime soon.


  1. Oddly, your story has given me pause for thought in a way that I haven't experienced in a long time. Perhaps the girl felt compelled to interact in some way with the totem, or the totem builder, leaving the hearts behind as a thank-you for the money. So many possible explanations.

    1. Cindy, I like your explanation better than my cynical suspicons. I keep thinking about it myself. I would love to know the truth, but maybe being forced to come up with alternate theories is better than the mundane truth. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Sad. I love the totems and sacred signs built by people enjoying the spiritual aspects of the red rocks. But what of those who don't understand. Who desecrate without even thinking. Who throw trash on the paths of our visions. How do we teach them to respect and conserve?

    1. Amber, read the other comment for an alternate theory. But I agree that the people who desecrate other people's spiritual expressions are sad. I think they simply don't understand what those totems mean.

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