House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest
© 2007 Craig Childs
Throughout the southwest United States and northern Mexico there are ruins from a people long gone, people remembered as the Anasazi. The name is not theirs; it was applied by the Apache later on, and has a mocking connotation – -the old ones, the rotten ones, the defunct ones. The ruins of cliffside dwellings, abandoned signal towers, and brightly colored ceramics reveal a technically accomplished people, one whose lore contained information gleaned from hundreds of years of close observations: their sites often incorporate features which mark astronomical events, events that no doubt played a part in their mythos. Who were these people, and why did they leave?
Well, they didn’t, says Craig Childs. Or at least, it’s inaccurate to say they planted their flag in New Mexico and Arizona and such places, and then for some reason decided to abandon their ancestral homes. In search of answers, Craig Child hiked and drove throughout the Southwest, venturing far off the beaten track by himself or with archaeology students, to study the land, the light, and these spaces which remain to absorb what understanding can be had. Many of the people he walked with were specialists in the region — archaeoastronomers, say, or those who can identify the region that preserved wood or pottery came from by their chemistry,
Findings from archaeological digs indicate that this was a fluid population, one that frequently moved in response to environmental stresses. The rivers of this region are fickle, alternatively flooding and vanishing The transient ancients were following the water, and an interior nether-world of gods – a place beneath the soil where water was plentiful but released slowly in mountain streams or sudden springs — appears to have been on their mind. Ritual appears to have had a role in their leaving, as well: some sites are thought to have been torched deliberately, by the inhabitants, rather than destroyed in war. Some of their locations appear to have been settled communities, while others were mere migrant camps that could not have supported a large population, but were used as a short-term residence. Eventually these people dispersed in their travels to become the various pueblo peoples, like the Hopi.
House of Rain is neither a travel guide nor a comprehensive history, but rather an attempt to make sense of one through the other. The full story will never be known, though parts can be garnered by studying what was left behind and other pieces are locked away in the lore of native peoples who (for good reasons) do not wish to share their oral histories with outsiders – even outsiders as serious and respectful as Childs. Childs is a native son of the southwest who traveled extensively within it before writing this book, and the amount of contacts he nursed before engaging in this project reveals his sincere interest in the subject. House of Rain isn’t a novelty travel guide – “Ghost Towns of the Ancient West!” – but the chronicle of one man pursuing his passion, to learn as much as he could about those who lived in and loved the same landscape he did. Those who find the mountains and vistas of the Four Corners enchanting will appreciate this tour of a civilization that was.