A hopeful story of remembrance by Stephen Mark Richards
(author, adventurer and scientist)
Adapted from chapter 16 of the true-life adventure Desert Winter by Stephen Mark Richards.
Available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.
Also part of the trilogy Conquering America available on:
Nook from Barnes and Noble
And iPad and iPhone from Apple iBookstore
I headed northwards out of Flagstaff in the American state of Arizona towards Sunset Crater Volcano. It had last erupted around 1000 years ago creating a large cinder cone. Lava had flowed from the base of the volcano forming a deep lava field which had shattered and fractured as it solidified. A road had been built through these lava fields and I stopped to inspect the deep fissures through the rugged dark-brown lava rock that had remained almost completely barren throughout the previous millennium. Now, shrubby plants and small trees were slowly starting to colonise the crevices in the alien world. Black cinder cones formed a backdrop to the scene and large sections of these cones remained devoid of plant life. There were over 600 volcanos in the immediate vicinity and together they had produced an enormous area covered in lava fields and black cinder cones.
At the Visitor Centre I asked a Ranger about the large volcanos that I had seen from the other side of Flagstaff on the previous day. She said that it was a volcanic mountain range called the San Francisco Peaks, formed from the eroded remnants of a stratovolcano. The four highest points in Arizona are in this range, the tallest of which is Humphreys Peak at over 12,500 feet high. It is estimated that over 4000 feet had been blown from its summit in a massive eruption that took out an entire side of the volcano creating a pyroclastic flow which had sped across the landscape destroying everything in its path. Pyroclastic flows are known to travel at up to 450 miles-per-hour (700 kph) and can be as hot as 1800 Fahrenheit (1000 C). Before that eruption it would have been the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states of North America.
A little further along the road, a sign indicated an ancient American Indian settlement site called Wupatki dating back to between 1100 and 1200 AD. It consisted of a single stone dwelling of the Hopi Indians, built on a small outcrop of red sandstone. The building had survived for over 800 years which meant that the people who had created Wupatki must have done so just after the most recent volcanic eruptions had occurred just a short way to the south.
Once I had climbed on top of the stone outcrop I had an elevated view out across the desert. It was so barren that I could not imagine how anyone could survive for long in such an environment. I ducked in and out of the small openings leading through to the various chambers. Deliberately formed holes in the walls showed where wooden poles had been inserted as beams to create additional floors. Some of the exterior mortar between the stones had been repointed but much of the interior mortar was almost certainly original. When I touched the mortar I could feel the indentations of the fingers that had pushed that mortar in place. If this was the original mortar then I was touching the prints left by fingers over eight or nine hundred years previously.
It reminded me of a thumb pot modelled by my father in 1976. Thumb pots are sometimes known as pinch pots because of the way they are constructed by pinching the clay between thumb and forefinger. My father had inlaid china and other clays into a primarily stoneware pot in a technique known as agateware but, rather than trying to imitate the soft translucent swirls of real agate, he created bands imitating shell laden conglomerates. In the process of construction he had left indentations from his fingers in the dark and rarely viewed interior of the pot. My mother gave this pot to me on 6th October 2004 because I expressed a love of it.
My father was quadriplegic and had been so for almost a decade. He had suffered extensive brain-trauma from many massive strokes and my mother had cared for him at home. Perhaps part of my appreciation of the pot was a realisation that it incorporated an essence of my father but I feel my mother realised that fact so much more deeply. She placed in the pot a tiny slip of paper upon which she had written a section of verse by D.H. Lawrence.
Things men have made with wakened hands,
and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch,
and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason,
some old things are lovely,
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.
Things Men Have Made, by DH Lawrence (1929)
Now that my father is dead, I cherish that little pot and the impressions of my father’s fingers all the more. Standing there in the desert, feeling the ancient indentations of fingertips in the mortar, brought my father’s creativity back to me and a feeling that it was good that he had left some small part of himself behind that I could hold, feel and remember. It caused me to wonder and hope that someone in a thousand years from now would ponder over the indentations in the clay of my father’s pot. I was struck once more by the importance of the remnants left behind in the world after the people who created them are gone and I hope that the remnants that I leave behind can match a fraction of the beauty of that small pot.
Dr Stephen Mark Richards: Adventurer, Scientist and Author
Born: Middlesbrough, UK 19th January 1961
Degrees: BA Psychology (first class with honours), MSc Informatics, PhD Human-Machine Interaction
Professional qualifications: PGC-Education, Chartered Psychologist
Adventurer and Author
Whilst still a teenager Stephen travelled independently throughout Europe and from his early 20’s he broadened his travels to include Africa, Asia and America. In search of adventure, Stephen also extended his modes of transport to include canal boats, yachts, motorcycles and motorhomes. Throughout, he has specialised in seeking out adventures that are accessible to a wide range of people and always tries to include experiences that do not require exceptional physical prowess, stamina or bravery. His books are inspirational, bringing adventure to a wide audience, encouraging some to undertake adventures while allowing others to experience them from the comfort of their own homes.
True-life Adventure books by Stephen Mark Richards include:
Tornado Spring, Wild Summer, Desert Winter, Conquering America, America through the Heart (in preparation), Hit the Hold (serialised online)
Scientist and Academic Author
Dr Richards was a pioneer of electronic book research and was developing multimedia electronic books as early as the late 1980’s. By 1991, he had created the first of his electronic books (a book for early learners) which was piloted in schools 16 years before the Kindle was launched in 2007. In the scientific papers written by Dr Richards (some collaborative) he identified key design principles as early as 1991 . Dr Richards completed his Doctorate in 1994, titled ‘End-user Interfaces for Electronic Books’. Some of his contributions to the scientific literature include:  Page structures for electronic books,  Human-computer interface design for electronic books,  The use of metaphors in iconic interface design, and  Knowledge sharing through electronic course delivery. He has presented this research throughout Britain, Europe and the USA. Dr Richards also worked in his capacity as a psychologist in research into HIV/AIDS and co-authored a scientific paper in  AIDS Patient Care.
Further details at: http://stephenmarkrichards.blogspot.co.uk/