Bloody Father’s Day by Adam Copeland

Blood…

Lots of blood.

That is what I remember most.

At first, it didn’t look that bad when I saw my father tumble down the rocks. We weren’t that high off the ground, and the rocks didn’t look that perilous. His fall was in slow motion. It was an eternity from the moment I let him slip out of my grip, to the moment I realized he was still falling, rolling, and tumbling in an uncontrolled manner. At least, it sure seemed like it. In reality, it all happened in the blink of an eye.

We were climbing the backside of the picture-rocks at Wocus Bay just off of Silver Lake Highway near Klamath Falls. The lava formation had a handful of Native American pictograms protected by a chain link fence topped by barb wire. Until a couple of years ago, I had never heard of any rock paintings in the area. My father, aunts and uncles, and some cousins had heard from grandpa that such things existed, next to an old Indian burial ground, but nobody knew for sure.

The chain link fence extended far enough away to the side of the rock face, mysteriously enclosing an empty space, that it could possibly contain an Indian burial ground. The ground covered by a thick layer of pine needles, however, revealed nothing. The only sign in the vicinity offering any information was a wood panel on a tree inside the fence, but it was faded a long time ago. The only word distinguishable on it said, “public.” Most likely something similar to the only other sign in the area: the plastic and metal sign at the head of the overgrown road leading to the rocks that stated “Closed to the public beyond this point.”

My cousin Donnie, never one to let something as simple as an official sign to stop him from doing anything, stumbled across the site while searching for arrow heads. Since then, my father and I had both been to there on separate occasions to see the paintings. Now we were there together on Father’s Day, armed with cameras, on a bonding expedition.

My father’s side of the family gets together every Father’s Day weekend in the area, where grandpa raised dad and his siblings. We used to stay at Copeland Springs, the watering hole named for grandpa, who had found the spring while working as a logger. Lately, most of us had taken to staying instead at cousin Sean’s new ranch. A large tract of land he bought with income earned from his time in Iraq while working for Kellogg, Brown and Root Company.

Taking pictures through the fence didn’t take long. As I mentioned, there weren’t that many pictograms. Just a handful of symbols and stick-men painted in some sort of orange-red berry juice. They weren’t all that extraordinary, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that we got to witness something truly ancient. Something from the distant past. The sort of thing you normally only see or hear about in books or magazines, or maybe the Discovery Channel. Furthermore, these pictures were most likely made by a people whose genetic profile was shared by my father and myself. That is why we came to the Klamath Falls-Chiloquin area every year. Dad and his family grew up here as card-carrying Indians on what was once the Klamath-Modoc Reservation. It was home to them, and the annual pilgrimage helped remind the rest of us from where our heritage comes.

We are not completely certain that the pictograms were made by the local indigenous peoples. It’s possible that they were made by some other transient people as they passed through the area. I had never heard of these paintings discussed in any book, magazine or other periodical offered by the Tribal Office, or from the State of Oregon for that matter. It was almost as if an effort was being made to keep them secret. Probably a wise choice, as was the fence, to keep vandals from defacing them. But even a quick Google search turned up no information as to who made them. We assumed that it was the Klamath or Modoc, but it could have been a passing band of Shoshone (Snake) Indians. Perhaps the pictures were even older than that. Old enough to have been made by the fore-bearers of the Aztec on their way to their final destination in Mexico. I know that the Shoshone language is from the same root language as the Aztec, as well as the Hopi and Ute (other tribes well known for making petroglyphs). So, it’s not entirely a fanciful thought on my part.

Ironically, not long after visiting the Oregon paintings, I visited Mexico.  In many a museum and Aztec ruin, I was able to page through the LCD screen of my camera and compare the pictograms to those I saw in Mexico. Some of the symbols were very similar. Even the red color with which the Aztecs chose to document their bloody sacrificial history was similar. But to be fair, circles drawn in red paint are fairly universal. The handful of pictures in Oregon shared similarities to many cultures—including a kindergarten class.

There were a series of circles and a parade of stick figures with wavy lines above and below them. The stick figures tread on a trail of dots, and just above their heads were a series of bars segmented by lines. As far as my dad and I could guess, the pictures chronicled the journey of a people passing through a valley with mountains above them, and a river below. The circles represented moons, or months (the amount of time the journey took). The segmented bars could have been a detail of the number of weeks or days. The dotted line at their feet could be the path, or also could be a detail of days. Now that I think about it, another comparison to Mexico came to mind. I also visited the Caribbean coast in Mexico and saw many a Mayan ruin. In their petroglyphs, they used dots and dashes as part of their numerical calender system, made famous by the alleged “doomsday calender” that abruptly ended in the year 2012.

Ultimately none of this mattered. I wasn’t concerned with doomsday, just Father’s Day.

After taking several pictures from the fence, I suggested that we circle behind the rock formation where the fence didn’t go. There, the fence wasn’t necessary, because though you could climb the rocks, you would only end up above the pictograms and would need to rappel down to them to do any harm inside their enclosure. I suggested we climb anyway because the last time I had been there with my cousins, we had found that somebody had staged rocks in a circle and had hung feathers from scrub brush in some sort of prayer circle. Likewise, feathers and paper origami figures were hung in the trees near the fence. Evidently, somebody knew of this place and found it sacred beyond the archeological value. I was curious as to what might be found up top now.

That is when tragedy struck.

I ascended the first and second stage of step-like rocks and turned to offer my hand to my dad after slinging the strap of my bulky camera over my shoulder. I braced myself and began to pull before he was entirely ready. He lost his balance and began to drift sideways, turning in the process. His arm started to twist at the wrist, his free arm failing wildly to regain some control. Even though a shot of adrenaline spiked my heart rate and pierced by brain like a bolt of lightning, I hesitated as what to do next. Do I let go so he can use his other arm to regain his balance, or hang on tighter, keep him from falling, but risk seriously hurting his wrist?

It soon was a moot point, because he slipped out of my shocked grip, falling hard on the next set of jagged stones beneath us.

It wasn’t until after his second roll that I realized that his descent was out of control. I jumped down after him shouting, “Dad! Dad!” even as I saw his second tumble land his face square on a pointed piece of rock. He finally came to rest on his hands and knees.

As I maneuvered around him I saw the seriousness of his injuries. There was a horrible gash in his forehead big enough for me to stick my finger in past the nail. Blood flowed profusely from this wound like water from a faucet, splashing the rocks with his own contribution of red paint like a sacrifice of antiquity. A secondary gash on the bridge of his nose where his glasses had been faired not much better. I kept telling myself that there was so much blood only because it was a head wound. The slightest of cuts caused much bleeding as the body made it a point to pump large quantities of blood to the head because the brain needed it. I told myself it wasn’t that bad.

Despite these calming rationalizations going through my mind, I was still in a panic as I tried to hug him, saying over and over that I was sorry.

He gently pushed me away, warning me that I was going to get blood all over myself if I kept trying. He then calmly took off his shirt and dabbed at his forehead, which had mostly stopped bleeding by now.

After a few awkward moments, when it was difficult to look at his hurts, I helped him down to the car while making some lame attempts at humor.

I rushed him to the Klamath Falls Hospital Emergency Room.

Still shaken while filling out paper work at the hospital, I turned to him, smiled weakly, and said, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”