A Question of Balance (2012)

Now that it’s all over, everyone agrees Dr. Wright wasn’t the same after the dig in Oklahoma.  It’s a terrible waste. 

I’ve read the article she wrote about the idea of a “silk road” for trade, but that was just a popular magazine.  She said nothing about it in her scholarly works.  Professor Jenkins was her mentor; they had worked on the glyphs from the Zapotec site when she was just a grad student.  She didn’t say anything to him.  The locals in the area might have known something, but the journalists weren’t able to get much out of them: suspicious farmers and survivalists mostly.  The tribes in the area had a spokesman, but he said nothing of consequence.

There’s nothing in Oklahoma.  Even in pre-Columbian days, no one lived there.  One of the students on the dig mentioned in his blog how she seemed to know where to go.  It was all planned in advance.  Two of her former students Tweeted to the contrary.  Who knows what the real story is.  In any case, it is unusual to discover a campsite and then ignore it to dig somewhere else.

Everyone’s seen The Road on that show, of course.  No, it wasn’t built by space aliens.  Just because Europeans didn’t think of macadam until the 1800’s doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been developed by a stone-age culture.  The carvings on the stone posts were simple because they were road signs: this way to gas, food and lodging.  They were meant to be readable by people speaking any number of languages and sub-dialects.  I believe her students’ claim Dr. Wright just looked at them for a moment and knew what they meant.  Anyone could have figured them out and she was an expert.

I understand her annoyance with the University.  She sent back the first few artifacts they dug up from the village and the Board put out a press release about discovering Shangri-La somewhere near Ardmore.  The tribes were furious.  They weren’t too happy about the dig in the first place and – here we go – the White Man putting their ancestors on display yet again.  I know the artifacts are old, but I don’t seriously believe they pre-date the Clovis culture.  There’s a lot of money in the casinos and oil; the tribal lawyers would have made mincemeat of any claims of a city dating back that far. 

The tribes would not have reburied the codex she discovered.  After all, it was only the fifth one known to exist at that time.  I don’t condone what she did, but I can understand her fears.  Her housekeeper confirms the book was kept under wraps.  No one called the house about it.  No one came to visit.  If someone wanted to buy it, I’m sure there would have been additional arrests once the ATF finished going through her computer.  Maybe she did just want to read it.

The story is compelling, of course.  All end-of-the-world stories are compelling.  They have to be, or the faithful wouldn’t stay faithful.  The fringe websites have it all figured out.  The City Builders fell out of balance and were swept off the face of their earth by their gods.  I don’t know if every building they erected has a matching shaft.  A number of shafts have been found, but the data are preliminary.  Were they constructed to maintain the balance of the land as a ceremonial gesture or did they have some more mundane use?  No one knows yet. 

You can’t place too much faith on what you read on the Internet.  They make it sound like Dr. Wright was hypnotized by the story and urgently tried to calculate whether or not the modern world was in balance; save us all before it was too late.  I have to admit, I do like the idea tornadoes hit trailer parks more often than regular houses because they have no balancing basement or crawl space. Still, even the tinfoil hat crowd knows for every skyscraper towering a thousand feet in the air, we have half a dozen tunnels under the streets.  Personally, I think she was gathering data to compare and contrast urban planning across the millennia.

Her students say Dr. Wright was still approachable, even at finals.  The department secretary says she stopped going to her office sometime in the fall.  Dr. Emery says she spoke to him about building skyscrapers without deep pilings.  He was surprised she had read his monograph; it was pretty technical.  He also remembers she wouldn’t take the elevator.  Her neighbors noticed her digging holes, small ones at first.  Around Christmas, one of the Johnson boys – they have twins – fell into one.  Dr. Wright apologized, but she didn’t fill it in. 

The feds found she bought the Primacord in February, but waited until springtime to get the fertilizer.  She must have decided by then she was going to blow up the Cobb Tower.  I don’t think she had anything personal against James Cobb.  He just happened to be there the day she drove up in the rental truck.  I believe her court testimony.  I do think she only planned to blow up the building and stopped because there were people around.  The security guard said her hands were on the detonator when he approached the idling truck at the far end of the construction site.  She had plenty of time to press the button. Obviously she wasn’t a terrorist.  The government never had a case.  The jury only took fifteen minutes to determine she was insane. 

I believe Dr. Wright serves as a cautionary tale; even the most rational of us can get too wrapped up in our work.  The Cobb Tower will be topped off next month.  I see the official dedication is set for December 21st.  I hope once she sees the tallest building in the world has not ushered in the apocalypse, the psychiatrists will be able to help her.  We need more people like her.


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