"It's nothing to do with Mongolian?" he asked. "Where people came from Asia?"
"Not unless - by chance - Juan Mogollon's ancestors came from there."
"That would be funny."
"Anyway, how much do you know about the families?"
"As I've said... only what I read."
"Then tell me that, and I'll fill you in."
He hesitated, blowing out his cheeks. Then he slowly released the air as if this was going to be an ordeal.
"Wish I had my notes," he began. "Some of the books are in my car, but not the important ones. That's the same reason I didn't bring my laptop. Couldn't risk it being stolen."
I just listened.
"But if I had to tell you what I know," he went on. "If I had to give you a quick summary..."
Again, I waited.
"Well, you know about the creation myths - the loaves and fishes."
"I've never heard it described that way, but I'll give it to you."
"Well, a supreme being - one who's never really identified - sent down - or really sent up, since they were buried in his comforting soil... He sent up his two daughters - or two of his many daughters - armed with magic loaves. And the daughters dropped pieces of these magic loaves everywhere, creating hills, valleys, daisies, pigs, you name it... until one of the daughters listened to the demon salmon - and here it's a direct parallel to Adam, Eve, and the snake... Anyway, because of listening to the salmon, this daughter went bad and kind of became the evil twin to her good sister. Still, somehow - and for no explained reason - the good sister married the bad sister's bastard son - and there's also no explanation of how the woman got pregnant. Maybe it was a piece of magic bread. Anyway, this unnatural copulation hugely irritated the almighty unnamed being, though he still blessed the good sister and the bad sister's son, and they went off and populated the earth."
I was laughing pretty hard by then. Cory's story wasn't wrong - or not completely - but it was far enough off to make it fairly hysterical. But the advantage to me was that I didn't have to explain all that to him.
"Go on," I encouraged.
He knew he was being funny so wasn't bothered by my laughing. "Do I have to fracture the next 40,000 years?"
"I'd like to hear about The Flood."
"Never mind." And I went on laughing.
"Anyway, how did your… 'family'... get here?" he asked. "Do you have any idea where they came from? That's what interests me."
Now I had to think about how much I actually knew. There were lots of things I'd never seen written down. My mother simply taught them to Sallie and me, with the idea we'd pass them on.
"What are you looking for in the caves?" I asked. "Just to guide me."
"I don't know," he answered simply.
Which left me in a hole.
"I don't know what to tell you then."
He stood up. "Then maybe it's time to explore some more. Let me continue poking around..."
So we carefully packed our garbage in his car trunk, dressed, and repeated our hike.
"Want to take one backpack?" Cory asked as we began. "Make it easier?"
"Nah. We'd both need supplies if we got separated."
"That's not likely."
"You never know."
He thought for a moment. "Anything ever happen in the caves?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not talking about animal attacks. More like a cave-in..."
"Not in my lifetime."
"Then why worry about getting separated?"
I laughed. "For the same reason I sent e-mails to three friends before we left. You never trust caves."
Still, I'd left my rifle in Cory's trunk - because I didn't think we'd need it just going to the cave. Mountain lions could get in. Bears were too big. But my family had only ever seen small animals there.
We'd about reached the tunnel when Cory laughed. "Damn. I forgot my jacket again."
I shrugged. I was sure he'd stored enough heat.
The next couple of hours went pretty much the way the early ones had. Cory wanted to see as much as possible, though instead of going for the overview, he started asking details.
"Can you tell me about the burial vases?"
"I told you... they didn't use them here."
"Then where did they use them? In cemeteries?"
"No. Mainly in their houses. Under their houses, really... from what I've been told.."
"Yeah. Sort of in an ordinary place, but protected. Right underfoot."
"But what if they wanted to keep something safe... or hidden? Wouldn't they put it in the cave, in the same kind of vase? Maybe one that was smaller?"
I had to think about that. "I don't know. I guess it depends what it was. They didn't own a lot. Just pots and small tools, like knives... maybe some blankets. And they didn't bury anything with the dead... just the body. They didn't cremate that. As I said, they just kind of folded it into the vase. But if you're talking about hiding something smaller... like medicine..."
"I've just never heard of them doing anything like that."
Cory seemed disappointed. He thought for a while, then changed tracks.
"Have you ever been to a tribal burial?" he asked.
I'd only been to couple of funerals in my life. And they were all conventional.
"We don't do those anymore," I said.
"No one I know of."
"Not even for rituals? Ceremonies? The smallest kind? Something you don't even think about that probably goes back for a thousand years..."
"Not really. After the Spanish, we all sort of became Catholics. Then wishy-washy Christians."
"And no one's been buried in this cave? Ever? Can you ever remember hearing about that?"
I absolutely couldn't.
"Then how were burial spots chosen?" Cory went on. "I mean in the houses? I read a little about that, but I couldn't find anything like instructions written down."
I laughed. "Probably 'cause they didn't have to think about it. They just dug up the floor. It was only dirt. Though there is something I've always wondered about. We know the families moved around. On top of the thousands of years of migrating, they often moved locally for safety. I've always wondered if - when they moved - they just left their ancestors buried."
"The houses had dirt floors?"
"Yeah... and they weren't very large. And they weren't really houses. We're talking about one room."
"Not in the cliff dwellings..."
"These weren't like the cliff dwellings... They weren't tents... But they were more like huts."
"They weren't like the cliff dwellings?" Cory repeated.
"I'm not even sure what they were made of. Probably thatched... like roofs today. At least, what we'd call 'thatched' now..."
Cory seemed to think the old family settlements were smaller versions of the cliff dwellings. But that was like saying our cave was a small version of Carlsbad Caverns. Those caverns are remarkable. Ours was just a room. A long, dark, room with no special features. There were no magic loaves. It was just a place people came to for safety. To keep other people from killing them. And this didn't seem to be what Cory wanted to hear.
"No one's ever found anything in the caves?" he asked.
It wasn't the dumbest question. Though it ignored everything I was telling him - 'Leave no signs.' And maybe I was wrong. Maybe you can't leave no signs - no matter how hard you try. Maybe archeologists would eventually discover something the rest of us always missed.
"No one's found anything yet," I told Cory, though I suspected he already knew this
"I just don't think these families were very sentimental... like the way they abandoned burial urns. And a lot of the people probably never made it past childhood. 10 years was their whole life. They lived on what they could. They were as happy as they could be. When they died, they just disappeared."
"But they didn't," Cory said. "I'm sure of that. Some things don't disappear."