February 07, 2004

The thin wall of history

On Saturday, January 31, some of the class and I went to the National Park Service's recreation of Bent's Fort, an 1840s trading post located on the Arkansas River just below La Junta, Colorado.

Our guide, pictured at left, was himself a former nature-writing student, Mario Medina, an NPS interpreter who assumes the persona of an 1840s Taoseño -- a man from Taos, New Mexico -- working at the fort.

The fort itself occupies exact spot and dimensions as the original structure, as nearly as can be determined.

In his 1840s persona, Mario always speaks as "we" -- the inhabitants of the fort circa 1845. Sometimes, I think, the wall between Then and Now grows thin: at one point I caught him pointing to a crack in a wall and saying how it disclosed the presence of an earlier, walled-up door.

But wait, Mario! This building was erected in 1976 for the national Bicentennial. Ironically, it has stood for almost 30 years, which is longer than the original Bent's Fort lasted. Still, on a chilly winter day with few interruptions from the outside world, I can see how Now becomes Then, if only briefly.

This was perhaps my sixth visit to the fort, and I have taken "the tour" various times, but Mario's is the best, beginning clear back in the Pleistocene Era and discussing how ecological as well as political and economic factors led to the fort's establishment where it is.

Best news: a willow tree, described by 19th-century visitors growing under the southeast bastion, has sprouted again from its roots.