Smoke and Ruins: Deep Time in Paquimé

Field Notes From the Big Outside

Entry into underground chamber, Paquimé complex. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The town is Nuevo Casa Grande in the Chihuahua province of northern Mexico, 100 miles or so southwest of El Paso. It is an old place with a new name. We are sitting outside a dusty cantina made of mud the color of salmon flesh. The finger traces of its builders streak the walls. The window and door frames are turquoise, the paint peeling off in blue scales.

The waitress has left us dark bottles of home-brewed beer and a basket of chile peppers, poblanos and serranos, little green sticks of dynamite. We eat them until our mouths are enflamed with exquisite pain.

Some ethnopharmacologists swear that you can hallucinate this way. But being novices, and wanting later to amble in a nearly erect manner across ancient ruins outside town, my friend Fremont and I decide to linger on the bright edges of consciousness, here in this beautiful and tragic place, where macaws in wicker cages hang above us like cackling white blooms. These birds of the jungle were sacred to the Anasazi, Hohokam and other people of the northern desert. I have seen petroglyphs of macaws carved into pink sandstone cliffs high above the San Juan River in Colorado, a thousand miles away from the nearest rainforest.

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3

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