A group of us, as late high-school boys, once decided that we wanted an unmediated experience of nature. So we stripped our clothes off and ran naked through a field. We came to a muck pond in the field. The pond was unseasonably cold, and predictably mucky. One of us, a lithe boy with reddish hair who still climbed trees, jumped in. He stood up in the middle of the pond, the water at his knee, and in the space of a second sank at least a foot. When he did, he yelped. He staggered and tore through the pond. At the edge, shivering and dripping with muck, he said that he’d touched something that felt like an arm—something like skin.
Our group found it difficult to both be naked and to have a serious discussion about whether or not to explore the reddish-haired boy’s claim. The spirit of adventure hummed around us, and we did not even have clothes to keep it off. We waded into the water.
The body we discovered was between 6000 and 8000 years old according to the scientists. At the time we knew only that, after an hour of digging, we’d uncovered the body of a young girl. The scientists told us that she had been perhaps 16 years old at her death. Minor volcanic activity in the area had moved her body closer to the surface of the water.
When we got her free of the muck she did not float. We moved her like a stone to the pond’s edge. We sent a younger brother back to get our clothes. While we waited for him we admired her face, still fully articulate. We could not say whether or not it was beautiful, but we all felt a kind of wonder looking at it. We didn’t know how old she was, but it was clear to us that we were experiencing some kind of collapse of time. Unmediated access to complete difference, as though everything separating us from her had become as permeable as spider-web.
When the younger brother returned with our clothes, we wrapped her in our shirts.