PARABLES FROM THE TRAIL

ROSE COLORED GLASSES

Every once in a while, one of the old cliches that I've always taken metaphorically turns out to be surprisingly literal. Such is the case of one guy who literally looks at the world through rose colord glasses.

The Ouachita Mountains, the Arkansas River valley and the Ozarks are full of caves and rock shelters, and Indians over the centuries have left pictograms in many of them. Serious scholars do keep the locations of the really good sites secret, and for good reason. Since Europeans began settling here, they've been pretty hard on the native artwork. Well-intentioned Christians have defaced them as marks of the devil, souvenir hunters have chiseled them off the rock walls to sell in gift shops. I heard one story about a guy who found one of those Viking runestones. He thought it was a treasure map, so he made a paper copy of the marks and broke the original into a thousand bits.

Needless to say the guy found no treasure, but through his greed and ignorance he destroyed one.

Even though the locations of many pictograms are circulated within the legitimate academic club, if you just want to see some cave drawings they're not all that hard to find. Step one, go into the woods. Step two, find a south-facing bluff. Step three, find an overhang in that bluff that's at least 20 feet deep. Step four, look on the back wall for traces of red ochre, because that's the favorite pigment of the artistic Indians.

They're a little faded with time and sunshine. Hundreds of years ago they were probably pasted all over these rocky hollows like graffiti in a railroad yard, but the elements bleached the color out of the most exposed pictograms so that the only survivors were the ones painted in perpetual shadow.

The ones that are easy to get to, the ones on public land are as you might expect the most degraded. If you're not looking for them, you'll walk right by them; but once you see one you can't stop seeing them. It's that red ochre color. It's not native to this part of the country. It was a commodity brought in from Oklahoma for exactly this purpose -- makeup and art supplies. So whenever you see that distinctive color, you can assume that it's not a natural occurrence, it's a part of a pictogram.

By now you're probablly getting ahead of me, so I'll rush the story along.

I took this guy to see some pictograms an he refused to see them even while standing right in front of them. I traced them with my finger, "Here's a spiral," "Here's a fish," "Here's a Romulan space ship." Nothing. He would not see it. He thought I was lying or deluded or trying to make a fool out of him. Finally, after about an hour of this foolishness we headed back to the car.

Then he mentioned he was wearing rose-colored glasses. I looked back and saw that his glasses had a deep rose tint, dark enough to be used as sunglasses. No wonder he couldn't see the red ochre pictograms. The whole wall looked red ochre to him. How can he pick out rose colored pictures from a rose colored wall?

When he bought those glasses sombody told him that the blue half of the spectrum was an undesirable and troublesome thing, like tonsils or an appendix, and could be routinely ignored at no disadvantage to himself.

His decision not to see the blue half of the world was a conscious choice, and it kept him from seeing the ancient writing on that yellow-gray sandstone wall. And the task of making him see the self-evident fact of these marks was impossible. He had little windows in front of his eyes that blocked part of what was right in front of him. He made up stories in his mind to explain why I was pointing to blank spots on the wall and describing geometric figures.

When this realization hit me we were halfway to the car. Overeager to prove that I wasn't delusional, I suggested we go back to the pictograms and try again without the tinted glasses. He would have none of it, preferring to think of me as either crazy, stupid or a liar; again making a conscious decision not to see the pictograms. He liked the world better with the pictograms being figments of my imagination. He wasn't going to invest another hour of hiking just to let me prove I'm not stupid.

People see what they want to see and don't see what they don't want to see. If you want to see the world the way it really is, that has to be a conscious decision as well. Prescription glasses allow you to see the world more accurately. Tinting attenuates that accuracy.

Note: Unlike some of the parable series, this one is 100% factual.

03/14/2005


Arkansas Travelogue home page | Matters Literary