This week for Sunday Selections I’m going to tell you about something which fascinates me – communication by writing.
I’m talking about the different physical forms here; not the creative aspect of forming the message or piece of text, but the method of actually getting your meaning across. Normally, of course, this is accomplished by writing messages, notes, and letters by hand or using a word processor, or by printing, but sometimes people will use other methods – like spray painting graffiti onto any available surface.
One of the earliest forms of communication was, of course, rock etchings or paintings.
What we used to think of as ‘art’ was often a form of communication – ‘you can find water here’, or ‘good hunting in these parts’ or perhaps simply ‘go away, we don’t want you here’. We saw a number of sites when we were in Utah and Nevada last year, and one of the most memorable was at Mouse’s Tank in South Nevada. Here, you can see many of the ancient petroglyphs with no barriers, no glass cases, just a polite notice at the entrance asking you not to touch or climb near them. True, most of them are too high to reach, but not beyond the scope of an agile youth, I’d have thought. But there they are, on huge chunks of rock just sitting there out in the desert along the path to the natural cistern known as Mouse’s Tank.
If you’re interested in the legend, Mouse was a Native American who (allegedly) stole a sheath knife from a white person, became outlawed and was hunted. The truth was probably that the theft (if it actually occurred) was an excuse, since he was a person who made a bit of a noise about his people’s rights – and why not? After all, they had lived there for aeons before the white man came along. Anyway, he was fugitive for a long while and he hid out in this canyon, using for his water supply the natural rock ‘tank’ in which rainwater collected and was held for long periods owing to it’s secluded and shaded position. Presumably, he killed and ate ground squirrels, cottontails and even snakes and lizards – wildlife abounds in this area. Poor guy was eventually killed by a posse.
And then there is this.
I see this sort of ‘code’ of spray-painted symbols, letters and numbers all over the place on roads and pavements, both in this country and abroad. I’m pretty sure it’s done by road crews and pavement menders, and perhaps those whose job it is to maintain underground utilities.
Fascinating as it is – and useful as it may be – I can’t see this lasting for decades, let alone millennia. It’s ephemeral, that’s what it is. It’s really a bit like graffiti, and like graffiti, it’s done in semi-permanent media and will fade over time – or simply get painted or tarred over.
Some graffiti, however, simply doesn’t want to give up.
This picture was taken after a whole wall of overlapping graffiti had been overpainted with thick, silver-grey paint. It lasted a few months and then without any apparent flaking or weathering, the graffiti began re-appearing!
Perhaps it’s more durable than I thought.