We are the Recorders (sample)


Someone has carved “Your Name Here” in the soft

Chuckanut sandstone along the shore near here.

In this thoroughly modern era, branding meets irony

and hyper self awareness to go with an older strata

of names, initials, and dates. Yards away, there is

also a new heart with initials carved on a seaward

facing boulder. On a cement retaining wall below                           

 the wharf walk there is a new tag.




Carved and painted images are found in China,

Australia, the United States, and around the world.

A famous petroglyph titled “She Who Watches” is

near the Columbia River. Images (including one

of a parrot!) are carved on the lava rocks

(now with a dark patina) of the West Mesa

on what once was an edge of Albuquerque, NM.

There are thousands of carvings on lava flats

on Hawai’i island, and images carved or painted

on Lana’i, O’ahu, and Hawai’i island boulders.




Graffiti? Ancient tagging? No. I eschew “Rock Art”:

it is forever reminding me of art inspired by an

era’s enduring music.


There is certainly artistic rendering and excellence

in some (no, many) of the carved and painted images.


Call them petroglyphs or pictographs:

carvings in stone or paintings on stone.

The term I like best is new to me:

“Stone Poems,” coined by Harry Fonseca

(a visual artist of Hawaiian, Maidu,

and Portuguese descent) for his series

of paintings incorporating petrographic elements.




Ancient and newer carved images have been

used for target practice (shot at and bombed).

Images have been defaced, vandalized, filled with

liquid latex or epoxy and abandoned when the “molds”

failed. Images of animals have been annotated with

leashes. Petroglyphs have been submerged by water

rising behind dams. Carvings have been moved to new

public locations or to secret undisclosed caches.

Petroglyphs have been stolen from original sites for

museums, and in turn stolen from those museums for

private collections or (hopefully) for safekeeping

by representatives of First Peoples.


Others – not understanding – have added carvings

and think they are merely adding to a store of

graffiti. Some – perhaps more enlightened – carve

to gather a sense of what it might have been like

to carve rock in that place or to be part of a

conversation continued across time.


Large images in the California desert have been

damaged or worn away to nonexistence by riders of

motorcycles and ATV’s. The glyphs were once fenced

off for protection; now I fear the fencing is scattered

like kindling and the barbed wire mere wreckage,

and all from an incomprehensible, drunken anger.


I have seen images on inches-thick crowbarred- and

levered-out rock near a Hilo, Hawai’i doorstep.

I was then only a teenager, and couldn’t comprehend

what this meant: novelty for novelty’s sake, the

removal of image from place of origin and context,

and destruction.


With my own eyes I have seen bulldozer tracks in

lava panels feet away from carved images on the

Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i, and have

felt my eyes tear in disbelief and anger.


 I could write that things (and people) in the way

of our voracious appetites are (or can be) consumed.


And yet, there is also non-damaging connection.

Some immediately understand the intrinsic value

and irreplaceable nature of rock carvings and rock

paintings, and seek only to witness, to photograph,

to draw likenesses, and to record.




Can the carvings (or images) be read?

Some, certainly.


Begin with this carved footprint or this

carved or painted handprint: no, not so

different, now, from mine. Begin with:

“This is me, the maker, the carver, the

painter.” Vary and multiply the images

and the carvers and painters to “we.”


Then, continue: “we reach across time to

you. We were alive, we were here. We loved,

we prayed and hoped and asked, and we moved

through lands layered in beauty and meaning.”


Then, be insistent: “we ask that we be

remembered, and that we be respected.”


We are the Recorders.


Andrew Shattuck McBride

Parrot Petroglyph, West Mesa

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
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