What’s Left Behind

We call them “cave paintings” because that’s where we’ve found them, but there’s evidence, in fact, that the entire landscape that humans crossed was once coated in the scrawls of early people who left marks in their wake. Unsealed and exposed, most have faded or washed away. One can imagine that when Merrill Wagner rode the train twice each summer between New York and Washington the landscape blended into a semblance of this ancestral form: lakes rushing into horizontal cerulean strokes, mountains opening themselves into vast ochre plateaus, an endless forest of trees absent names like redwood, hornbeam, and fir, identifiable with a yet-unspoken word encompassing them all—indelible strokes of colored dirt spanning from coast to coast