Once upon a time, back when we lived in caves, people didn’t have much: maybe a basic set of clothes made from animal skins and a sharp tool of some kind. Our ancient ancestors spent much of their time gathering fruits and nuts and other plants to eat. Periodically, someone got lucky and dragged home an animal to roast on the fire. They probably slept on a pile of communal skins in their cavern and, in their free time, gathered a few rocks to make into tools and bits of jewelry.
Now, I’m not saying life was easy for our cave-dwelling ancestors, but it was certainly much simpler. As a student of history, I must admit that I used to think things improved when our ancestors came up with the two big ideas that propelled humans forward: agriculture and pottery. Some enterprising soul no doubt decided that the walk to the far-off place to pluck grains was getting tiresome and, rather brilliantly, decided to plant some near the cave. Since Nikes had yet to be invented, I’m sure the clan members were thrilled. Add pottery into the mix—a place to store and protect all their food and produce—and early humans probably never imagined that life could get any better.
But here’s the thing. Once they had those fields cleared and planted, a problem occurred. Other groups lusted after their fertile crops and might steal them if the people wandered too far away, say for a trip to the seaside to gather some yummy clams and oysters. (As an aside, I do wonder about the first human who decide to slurp down those slimy-looking, gray-shelled creatures, and without any cocktail sauce, to boot! Maybe his name was Mikey. If you don’t know what I mean, ask someone over sixty.)
Suddenly, humans had stuff others might want to steal, so they had to guard their little patch of fertile ground. Later, they started building homes around those cultivated plots and someone—I’m thinking a woman—starting considering what might look nice hanging on the walls. And so…our accumulation of stuff began.
I mention all of this because I’m suddenly feeling swamped by my possessions. Not necessarily the stuff I see every day, it’s those things that have been languishing in closets and drawers and the shed out back. I started considering my stuff when I was cleaning out my dad’s belongings. One item especially stood out. It was a medium-sized cardboard box, carefully taped shut with the following message written in black Sharpie: DO NOT OPEN! I was intrigued and felt a bit guilty when, after apologizing to my deceased father, I ripped it open. I could not have been more surprised. The box was completely empty. Nothing but air between those cardboard panels. I wanted to shout, “What’s up with this, Dad?” But instead, I was left with only questions.
Today, the vast majority of us have hundreds or perhaps thousands of possessions. Most of them are unnecessary for our survival. Many of them we don’t even use or enjoy looking at. With so many other things making life complicated—like all those ever-changing passwords we’re forced to remember—I’m thinking I’d like a simpler life. So, I’m now on a crusade to declutter my world.
But please don’t worry. I’m not advocating ditching everything and moving into a cave. Maybe I’ll just load up the car with some bags for Goodwill. Then I’ll feel better, and relax with a glass of wine and maybe some oysters. Here’s hoping I have some cocktail sauce buried in a cupboard somewhere.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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