Through the decades of my wanderings, I have become somewhat known for being able to find two things; water and graves. In that I suppose there is a binding connection as the two represent the opposite bookends in this unforgiving desert; life and death.

When one finds graves in this lonesome land, especially those belonging to souls known only to God, some hard considerations are in order. In this case more so because these are hardly known to anyone, save for the rare sojourner way off any beaten path.

First comes a bit of inner excitement, another discovery to be shared with others far more knowledgeable in such matters. The park service keeps records on these sites, though the information can be spotty as only a small percentage of acreage within its boundaries have been properly surveyed.

But then the peculiarities come to you in regard to location, and a search conducted for identifiers comes up with absolutely nothing. Not a clue as to who lies here, when they died or why.

With this conclusion comes another. Two adults are buried here, along with the grave of a child that is slowly, inexorably being undercut by the creek below. In another hundred years these graves will be gone and likely no one will know when it happened.

You circle about, your search pattern becoming wider until it entails a few hundred square yards. There is not a single hint of any other human activity nearby, not a emplaced rock, ruin, conveyance, nail, piece of glass or deteriorating stump of an adobe wall.

The mystery deepens, the three were buried in this tucked away spot while a cemetery of some size lies not more than a mile away. During the years they were probably interned, well traveled roads were situated nearby with one being only about a hundred yards distance.

Yet the were buried here, not above the canyon and not upstream where the cemetery was situated. Was it because of body decomposition when found, or did someone fear they had a communicable infection or disease? Or was it so long ago those roads and that cemetery did not even exist?

Melancholy ponderings for a melancholy subject. That’s the thing about this country, it makes you think about those questions most people tend to shy away from. The sirens of the desert not only sing to you out here in beguilement, but they also laugh at your bountiful ignorance and ridicule your own brief existence.

As I finally turned away and set my nose in another direction, the haunting words of John Donne came to mind: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

And in quiet places such as this, the bell tolls across the centuries with not another human ear to hear.

God bless to all,

Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008
HS Teacher: 2008-2010
Author 2017-Present

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‘Graying but still game’