My guest this week is poet Mary Locke Crofts who has recently published a slim volume of her
reflections of the past and present in the desert at Langtry, Texas. Langtry is about 60 miles west of Del Rio, smack on the Rio Grande border with Mexico. Her poems about this area of ancient history and rich artistic expression beautifully capture the life and loneliness of the place. You can order a copy for yourself from Amazon.com. The title is Pathways to Ancient Shelter: A Sojourn in Langtry, Texas. Learn more at www.marylockecrofts.com.
What led you to this project?
It was a graduate program at Pacifica Graduate Institute where I was pursuing a doctorate in mythological studies and Jungian psychology. As a 62-year-old storyteller, I selected the rock art of the lower Pecos of my dissertation. For a brief moment, I thought I might magically become an archaeologist and art historian, but, of course, that was not to be. I did, however, write about the history of rock art studies while, at the same time, imagining the unknowable myths of the hunter-gatherers who painted the rock art. As a result, I ultimately came to write about the “myth I was living in” as C. G. Jung termed it. It was an onerous journey.
I grew up in Big Spring, Texas, where my family owned the Western Auto Store. It was here that the wide sky and long vistas first stirred my emotional attachment and visceral response to west Texas. Langtry is 200 miles directly south of Big Spring. interest in narratives of folklorists like J. Frank Dobie had been pulling me westward to find a cabin to write in. But it was sometime after I got my house in Langtry that I realized it was the place I had been longing for. Before that moment , I had been so disturbed by the seeming impossibility of my project that I could not see it.
What did you learn through the rock art of the early Pecos?
Through my experience of the rock art and its canyons, I came to a gradual understanding of the power of the land and its history and stories. My book came from my writing about this gradual awakening. I began with books, reading all I could about the history of rock art studies. Then I
began to explore the shelters of the lower Pecos with Carolyn Boyd and others at Shumla School in Comstock. When I got out of books and into the shelters, everything changed. Books however well written and photographs however well taken cannot capture the breathtaking power and beauty of the actual paintings found in the cliff sides along rivers and creeks. For example, the panther painted thousands of years ago seems to leap directly off the canyon wall and palpably into my perception of its creation.
Where the Gods Walk
by Mary Locke Crofts
where the gods walk
with or without human awareness.
or so we hope.
Some say those who name the sacred
but others say we only discover
what is already there.
Long, long ago,
back when we remembered, and longer than that
when animals and humans were one,
before the split, before the fall,
sacred was not found and named.
All was mystery, everything sacred,
alive, listening, speaking—
all messages were crucial.
A sacred place is where I encounter the unknown
knowing the unknown is not emptiness.
It draws me as it terrifies.
Is my imagination large enough to create it,
to encompass it?
I do not know.
The sacred seems both within me
and surrounding me,
but I am not sure.
I come here to the rock art never doubting
that it was sacred to those who painted it.
What I doubt is whether I can share
Humans and mystery—
ingredients for the sacred.
What I want to know is,
if you remove the people,
does the sacred remain?
What did you learn about yourself during this process?
Gradually my perspective moved from outward and objective to inward and personal. I had rented a house in Langtry in which to work. I hiked the canyons every morning, and every afternoon wrote about my experiences with the people, flora, and fauna, past and present, of this territory. I came to accept the longing that this place evokes in me so deeply that I eventually bought the house. I continue to spend many days and nights there.
What is one of the least expected things you discovered?
I did not expect that my own journey would become integral with the paths of the hunter-gathers and with the lives of current residents. Although I could not have imagined that, it remains the most rewarding part of the project.
So what’s next?
I am doing a class for University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio in on three Tuesday nights October. The information about my presentation is at
http://www.upcsa.org/sol-calendar/2015/10/13/pathways-to-ancient-shelter-rock-art-myths-and-reflections. Ultimately, I want to continue exploring the valuable role of myth and narrative in discovering historical and personal truth.
Thank you for sharing with us today.