Art & Literature

GIS & Mapping


Base Camp

The Professor's House by Willa Cather
Excerpt from
Book II Tom Outland's Story, section III

Our story begins in New Mexico with "We brought the bunch of cattle down to the winter range in the latter part of November." And then Tom Outland, the storyteller, looks across the river at the wild cattle roaming the range "Ever since we'd brought our herd down to the winter camp, the wild cattle on the mesa were more in evidence. They came down to the river to drink oftener, and loitered about ,grazing in that low canyon so much we began to call it Cow Canyon." The cowboy / storyteller in the story decides to track those wild cattle down, and in following them, he makes an amazing discovery.

"When I had gone up the canyon for a mile or so, I came upon another, opening out to the north - a box canyon, very different in character. The walls were perpendicular, anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand feet high.

In stopping to take a breath, I happened to glance up at the canyon wall. I wish I could tell you what I saw there, just as I saw it, on that first morning, through a veil of lightly falling snow. Far up above me, a thousand feet or so, set in a cavern in the face of the cliff, I saw a little city, of stone, asleep. It was as still as sculpture - and something like that. It all hung together, seemed to have a kind of composition: pale little houses of stone nestling close to one another, perched on top of each other, with flat roofs, narrow windows, straight walls, and in the middle of the group, a round tower.

It was beautifully proportioned, that tower, swelling out to a larger girth a little above the base, then growing slender again. There was something symmetrical and powerful about the swell of the masonry. The tower was the fine thing that held all the jumble of houses together and made them mean something. It was red in colour, even on that grey day. In sunlight it was the color of winter oak-leaves.

A fringe of cedars grew along the edge of the cavern, like a garden. They were the only living things. Such silence and stillness and repose - immortal repose.

That village sat looking down into the canyon with the calmness of eternity. The falling snowflakes, sprinkling the pinons, gave it a special kind of solemnity. I can't describe it. It was more like a sculpture than anything else. I knew at once I had come upon the city of some extinct civilization, hidden away in this inaccessible mesa for centuries, preserved in the dry air and almost perpetual sunlight like a fly in amber, guarded by the cliffs and the river and the desert."