Mary Beth Writes


Long before ladders were about partners terrifying their partners to clean the gutters, ladders were about defense, religion, and honey.

Have you visited cliff dwelling sites in the US’s SW? You probably already know people didn’t live 24/7 in those homes carved high into those beautiful and terrifying cliffs. Mostly people lived, hunted, fished, farmed, and did their daily round of activities down along the valleys and rivers.

But what do you do if warriors from other tribes come around to get you, your family, your food supplies, or you? Climb the ladders and pull them up. What do you do when river floods? Climb the ladders and wait it out.

There are cliff dwellings in China that are nearly 2000 years old. There are cliff homes built into an escarpment in Mali. It isn’t easy way to live, but it does allow one to be safe without too many weapons. OR to farm where there are floods, without being decimated by the floods. Cliff dwellings make more sense than oceanfront golf clubs in Florida.

The technology that makes cliff dwelling possible is ladders.

(Look closely right in the middle. Someone is climbing ladders to a cliff dwelling. This is Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico.)


Religion starts with a prophet who tells you to be kind. Within about five minutes clergy and local pols realize if you can scare or awe the populace, you can get them to do stuff that is not in their best interest. (Not sure if I ever summarized all religions this well, this briefly, and this cynically.)

Humans seem to have an internal religious drive to go up or go down. (Why we invented heaven and hell?) Ladders enable priests, magicians, and builders to create spaces that are scary or inspiring -  sometimes both at once.

Archeologists don’t know if every Mayan temple is built on top of or adjacent to a cave, but they think most are. Priests hauled sacrifices of animals and sometimes other humans up those edifices to cut out their beating hearts to appease the gods. They also sacrificed people deep inside caves. There is a cave in Belize that seems to have been used for the sacrifice of hundreds of children that had probably been kidnapped from up to 200 miles away. They can tell by scientific analysis of the teeth that show those kids were not local.

Why were they so brutal? Mayan myth says people were first made of corn so if one needs to appease the corn god, the way to do it is by sacrificing corn children. Then, hopefully, it will rain enough for crops to grow.

Between 900 and 1200 AD there were 18 multi-year droughts in what we now call southern Mexican and Central America. Before these droughts decimated Mayan culture, there had been nearly a thousand years of jungle slashing that obliterated more than half their forests. Why did they cut down their trees? To clear the land to feed the hundreds of thousands of people required to build the temples. To burn live trees into ash which was the main component of the bright paints used to paint the temples. What happens when you clear forests? Trees that used to catch the moisture and then release to the sky to make the clouds that rain – those trees are missing. The system of the give and take of water is destroyed. Weather goes nuts and long droughts happen.

How do people respond? Sacrifice people and humans who are not from right around where we live, to appease the god/s who must be angry to make these times so tough. How to make a show of those sacrifices? Use a ladder to haul people down into the bowels of the earth. Build stone ladders to the sky.

How did they build St. Peter’s in Rome? Ladders and scaffolding. Have you read Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King? This novel-like book talks about the monumental task and genius required to invent the scaffolding to build the Great Cathedral in Florence.

It begs this question. Are cathedrals and temples awe-inspiring? Or are they monuments to the thousands of lives lost, trashed, and wasted to build edifices that enable the already powerful to remain that way?

Before ladders were tools for ordinary people, ladders enabled us to be intimidated by ourselves.

But then there is this.

The lead photo is a 10,000-year-old cave drawing in southern Europe. The picture is a guy climbing a ladder to collect honey. You can even see the buzzing bees!

Left to our own devices, we ordinary blokes know what a ladder’ is for. Get up into the treehouse to get away from your mom, your homework, and the icky neighbor kid. With a stepladder you can store chocolate truffles in the picnic basket on the top shelf where kids and partners never look. Ladders enable people to collect more holiday decorations than anybody needs, because after the season you can put the lights and Victorian villages back in the attic.

With a ladder you can get the most amazing thing a human had ever eaten up until that miraculous day in human history.


What have you done with ladders?

Have you wrestled a rented ladder on top your car to transport it to the place where you and your son will hang paper lanterns to decorate for your daughter's wedding this evening? 

Do you clean gutters? Have you painted a celling? Have you shoveled snow off your roof or tuckpointed your chimney?

Have you used a ladder to get further away from noise and closer to the sky?



Once, during the lockdowns, Juan Carlos and I took a drive up the coast to get out of the house for a bit. He wanted to take photos and thought it would be a good idea to bring my 8ft ladder to get some better shots. He never used the ladder on that trip, there wasn’t a good opportunity, so we just said we took the ladder out for a field trip.
Mary Beth's picture

I'm laughing. This is a great story.

I’m laughing. Have you hid chocolate truffles in a picnic basket on the top shelf? I now know more about ladders than I did this morn.
Mary Beth's picture

Possibly ...

Notice that the handsome fellow in the car is checking the rope by crawling halfway out the window. Why doesn't he stand outside the car, you ask, and look at the tier down properly? Could it be that he closed the door first and THEN put the rope through the car?
Mary Beth's picture

So many ways to have adventures.

Add new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The Lies We Live By


Aristotle wrote a lot of important stuff, very little of which I’ve read. But this Aristotelian idea is cool and I don’t know why we are not taught this in high school. It helps untangle the importance of what we read and watch.

Fat Tuesday & Valentines Day & Ash Wednesday (says it all)


I think today has to be a Three Things. You probably don’t even know I have Three Things scaffolding in my secret writing toolbox of organizational tools, but I do. Sometimes it’s how thoughts present themselves, you know? Things to say, but not for too long.

(Now that I've finished and read what I wrote, I guess this is five things but some days, in our expanding universe, the math just works this way,)

Successful & Failed Artists


Last week I finished reading Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard. (I discovered this book via Librarian of Burgos Instagram because I am her fangirl now.)

If you like to read a book that has a recognizable plot of sympathetic characters moving forward through a problem to a solution– you will likely not enjoy this novel. Heck, I’m not sure if I ‘enjoyed’ it.

Animals of Winter


Last week I invited you to submit pictures of animals who are visiting your life these days.

The Republic of False Truths


I set a goal for this year to read one translated modern novel every month. I’ve been following ‘Librarian of Burgos’ on Instagram and this woman keeps hyping and explaining books I’ve never heard of, which intrigues me mightily. I think she might be a reader’s reader. Anyways, she is European, has transcendently luminous skin plus several master’s degrees and a doctorate in history. Sometimes she even recommends books that are not, sadly she says, not yet translated into English. Cracks me up.

Who's In Your Backyard?


It’s been a wowser of a wintery week. We had the deep and blowing snow last Friday which turned into the heavy-as-concrete snow on Saturday which turned into a deep and frozen crust on Sunday - and here we still are. Last week’s snow still limns the trees and branches. A foot of snow still covers every roof. When I walk (why yes, I’m still going out for strolls) it’s a matter of life and limb navigating the jagged piles between sidewalk and street. I do use my “Alpine” walking stick these days.

Change is coming but not today.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska animals anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books Boxing Day boy scout Bread breakfast BreakfastClub BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote crime CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering deer democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep distraction dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola Grief groceries Guadalupe Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len lies Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples pizza poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites sci-fi ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet St. Louis staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress SUBSTACK Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing Three Things ThreeThings TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone Zebra
Ad Promotion