Two Short Stories by Justice Greg Hobbs
by Justice Greg Hobbs
Troop 13 met Monday nights at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church, on 13th and Vine, in Denver. These scouts came from Warren Village, a community serving single parents just off of Colfax Avenue, and from the affluent neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and the Country Club, south of the park. Each winter, I would take the scouts up to the snow country so they could earn the Polar Bear award.
White bear, blue nose. It was a great-looking patch. If you survived a sub-zero overnight.
The winter campout I remember most was punctuated by "Mr. Hobb, Mr. Hobb, I lost my glove down the latrine hole."
I looked at the glove that remained on the left hand of this first-time Warren Village camper. A K-Mart or Target special, no insulation. But when a high cold wind’s blowing, there’s no substitute for any degree of covering.
Grief and terror, his look was plain. He really could not go home without that other glove.
His fellow scouts shined their flashlights down the hole. I went fishing with a couple of dead-fall sticks.
Had that glove nearly all the way up a couple of times, gagged, lost it back into the soup.
We all cheered when the glove finally surfaced, and went looking for firewood.
The Four Corners
We are standing in the fourth world. Fire, ice, and flood destroyed the three before. Rickey Hayes, our Native American guide – part Ute, part Cheyenne – says in the past fifteen years the glaciers of the sacred mountains have melted. Rivers and springs have dried up.
He counsels, "Listen to the Hopi Prophecies. Protect the earth and each other. Don’t give in to greed and the easy life."
We are climbing a steep trail within the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, which adjoins Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. The path is strewn with once-whole pots, broken ladle pieces, and fragments of corn-grinding stones.
We come to the base of the rimrock, far above the Mancos River and look up. Above us, horizontal ladders bridge the top of two impossibly-placed dwellings. Into a crack the ancestral Puebloans have wedged a vertical tree-trunk ladder to get up to them. We edge carefully around the cliff to Two Story House, which W.H. Jackson of the Hayden Survey first described so eloquently to the American public in 1874. We see what he saw, a "human eyrie" perched "in its little crevice like a swallow’s nest" 800 vertical feet above the Mancos Canyon floor.
On our way out of the canyon, Rickey stops the truck. We walk over to an etched-in-sandstone picture panel rock that Hopi elders have recently come from their mesas to interpret. Rickey points out Spider Woman, companion of creator Taiowa and the mother of the worlds to come. Next to her, is Massoua, earth-god. Then, the Four Circles of the Four Worlds are tucked within one another; followed by Rain Cloud with her butterfly wings; and Kokopelli on his back playing the flute. Sculpted into the end of the panel is the Sipapu, earth’s womb, from which the ancestors emerged to begin their four-directional migrations, settling at last within the four corners, the spiritual center of the universe.
Scholars date human habitation of the southwestern United States to at least 12,000 years ago, based on the discovery in New Mexico of "Clovis Man," who dug the first water wells, used the atlatl for hunting, and ranged among bison, mammoth, dire wolves and large turtles.
Homeland of the Ute, Navajo, and Hopi, the great Colorado River plateau extends between the Mancos River on the north, the Colorado River on the west, the Little Colorado River on the south, and the continental divide on the east – the four corners where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona join. In this era of scarce water, expensive oil, expanding war, and frantically renewed hunts for more uranium, we can look to this country for extrinsic evidence of purpose and meaning. I have a thumb-worn copy of Frank Waters’ "Book of the Hopi" I bought at a bookstore just off the Taos plaza in the summer of 1968.
Hopi means "People of Peace." At the end of World War II, when the United States dropped the atom bombs on Japan, Hopi elders began to make their prophecies public. As Frank Waters recounts in Book of the Hopi, they warned that radioactivity could return to America, destroying land and people. In that event, only the four corners heart of the continental United States would survive: Those who are at peace in their hearts already are in the great shelter of life. Those who take no part in the making of world division by ideology are ready to resume life . . . be they of the black, white, red, or yellow race.
What will happen to we the peoples of the United States? What will become of the world? I’m a judge, not a prophet. In the law of contracts and real property deeds, the "four corners doctrine" holds that a court may not look beyond "the four corners of the agreement to determine the meaning intended by the parties." But, "when the terms of the agreement are ambiguous," judges may look to extrinsic evidence for purpose and meaning.
The cliff dwellings of the Four Corners stand as the last holdout shelter of people who experienced rapid population growth, immense drought, deforestation, and warfare. Their descendents, the Hopi, counsel and warn us. Out there, on the plateau, uranium hunters stake their claims from Colorado to the Grand Canyon.
In March 2008, my wife Bobbie and I lead grandchildren Ella and Kyle, to Mesa Verde. We watch Ella, five years old, climb down the drop-hole ladder of a kiva at Spruce Tree House.
Justice Greg Hobbs has served on the Colorado Supreme Court for 12 years. Prior to that, he practiced environmental, water, transportation and land-use law as an enforcement attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the Colorado Attorney General’s Office; Davis, Graham & Stubbs; and Hobbs, Trout & Raley.