The brief stop in town to update supplies allowed me the opportunity to click on Facebook to see what my friends were up to. Immediately I was met with photos of drenched and pitiful faces of dogs as the articles flood my feed about people abandoning their animals, tethered to trees, to drown in Hurricane Irma. It took hours to vacate these images from my mind as I consciously focused on the tasks at hand which dictated the comforts of my upcoming time in the desert.
Now, it’s been days since I have evaporated from society. I can feel the tendrils of sadness and helplessness soften their hold on my heart. This compassion that has taken seed in my soul when I was a child continues to weep and mourn over the travesties being played out in humanity as long as I feed it. But updated news flashes and articles on my social media have dissipated to nonexistence as I live in the wild for a short time. No onslaught of tragic stories can touch my spirit out here. Finally, I sense relief from the emotional roller coaster of politics and humanity stories. Now I can focus on becoming grounded and centered in nature and all the beauty the land has to offer.
After a full day of hiking and photography, we approach the entrance to a state park for one last experience before heading to camp. I chuckle to myself at the names of the various campgrounds and parks nearby. Horsethief Campground. Hamburger Hill. Superbowl Campground. They all seem benign and clever. But this state park is named “Dead Horse Point State Park.” I ponder aloud, “I wonder where they come up with these names? I want to know why it’s named Dead Horse!” I imagine a western story of cowboys and Indians coming together in a turf war. I create an imaginary hero that finds a herd of wild mustangs caught in the sight of coyotes and releases them from their entrapment on the end of the point to freedom and life.
We are handed our brochure and head to the point that promises breathtaking sights as the sun is sinking to horizon level in the distance. A breeze taunts my hair and prickles my skin as it plays hide and seek with the low peaks of the trees. I open the brochure to read about this park.
Suddenly my blood turns ice cold in my veins. Tears prickle my eyes. I am overwhelmed with horror as I read the origin of the name of this park. I am so shocked I read the pamphlet over again to digest the information about this recreational site. The legend of Dead Horse Point goes like this:
“According to one legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and for reasons unknown, left the others horse corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.”
We tumble out of the car and I feel the strong pull of isolation take over me. I cannot fathom being in the company of vacationing families, honeymooners, or teetering children bouncing along the ledge with happiness and joy illuminating their way. How can they enjoy the grandeur of this land amongst the graves of thousands of wild mustangs? I sit on a rock ledge beneath the shade of a tree and attempt to gain composure of my emotions.
But I cannot. All I can hear is the scuffing of hooves on the dirt and whinnies of horses growing panicked as they look for an opening in their prison. All I feel is the dry heat ruthlessly sucking any moisture from all living things day after day as rain is only promised at two inches a year on this cracked soil. I feel the desperation of life leaking from the beautiful form of one wild horse after another. I see them slowly buckle beneath the exhaustion of hopelessness and dehydration. The other horses nudging the corpses in hopes they can get some movement. Eventually, the flies take over every open cavity of the animals and swarm to feast on the smell of dead flesh.
Silent tears trickle down my cheeks. I wonder as they drop on the soil if the spirit of these beasts can taste the salt of my sorrow. My chest heaves as I attempt to pull my mourning back into my heart. My head is filled with words I wish they could hear me utter to them across the void of this canyon land.
“I’m so sorry we did this to you. I am so sorry we think the resources of this earth are here for our entertainment and muse at your cost. I am sorry we are human and therefore destined to never understand.”
I wipe my face and we decide to move on to another part of the point. It is the breathtaking view of the Gooseneck Meander of the Colorado River. Famous for providing entertainment to thousands of rafters and kayakers, it is bittersweet to rest my eyes on it. How hypocritical I feel enjoying the beauty before my eyes as I am now aware of the nightmares that we created in this very spot!
As beautiful as it is at this point, I will never be able to revisit it again. As famous as it is for movie scenes and photographed sunsets, I will not set foot here again. Maybe this is shortsighted of me. Afterall, it isn’t the only place we have slaughtered animals in this world. Festival of the Dogs occur yearly in China. The controversial Dolphin drive hunting occurs in various other places around the world. In America, we have a continuous onslaught of information about abused and neglected animals at the hands of pet owners.
It seems we are only repeating history. We think the universe is here to serve us. What if it weren’t? What if we are supposed to be here to care for the universe?
When I was a child, I learned in the book of Genesis about God creating the earth. He then created man “in His image”. I wonder, how are we exemplifying a God of compassion?
Before we even get out of this Book of the Bible, God is so angry at the human race, he wipes them off of the earth with a great flood. Then, out of compassion, he places a rainbow in the sky as his promise to never destroy man again.
I am left with this thought:
Does God feel regret?
“The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood in which unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” ~Chief Seattle, Duwamish tribe