Friday, October 30, 2015

Growing up, and Living in Bluff

The rugged landscape of the Four Corners region suffuses its occupants with a unique perspective. Ours is a beautifully harsh world of majestic mesas; vast, vertical canyons; and twisting, swirling sandstone. To those born into it, the land is rich in texture and mystery. This home of the Navajo provides room to expand one's personal space and explore life's unanswered questions.

Picture of Twin Rocks Trading Post
Twin Rocks Trading Post in Bluff Utah

At Twin Rocks Trading Post Steve and I are often asked, "What are you doing here?" Being of rather smart and caustic natures, we have developed a litany of answers that never adequately addresses the question. It does, however, force the inquisitor to stop and consider what he or she has said. There are those, however, who are sincere in their questioning, those who simply cannot understand why anyone would choose to reside in such an unforgiving environment. They see only heatwaves raising from blistering asphalt and feel the penetrating bite of blowing sand.
Although we face the oppressive sun and stinging soil from time-to-time, we are trained by persevering neighbors to see things through their eyes and to appreciate these circumstances as glimpses into the mythological world. The inherent beauty of the occasion is, however, not always readily apparent. A mirage for example is seen by the Navajo as a window into the land of supernaturals, and spring wind storms are believed to be a side effect of rambunctious Wind Yeis at long last released from their winter containment.
As one might expect, growing up in Bluff was an education in its own right. We learned in the same public school system as the rest of America, same curriculum, same textbooks. We were, however, also introduced to other cultures with strange and unusual beliefs that ran counter to what we were being taught in the classroom. When I look back on our school pictures, I see a minority of white faces surrounded by the happy, mischievous, earth red faces of Navajo and Ute children. To be sure, we were tested in the classroom and on the playground.  As a result, we learned many lasting lessons.  The photographs nevertheless bring back happy memories.

Included in my scrapbook of memories are Navajo women in brightly colored satin blouses adorned with turquoise jewelry and full velveteen skirts, stoic Navajo men wearing tall black hats with rounded crowns flashing silver. We were the wild, liberated children who were frequently left to their own devices. I specifically recall a Navajo man walking down the highway, making time to an unknown destination. He was followed by his wife, who, even though she retained the family wealth and right of discipline, was always in the rear, never leading. As they passed our yard, I fell in behind the tall, stern man and his gaily clad spouse. For my efforts, I earned a harsh, disapproving look from the Hasteen, but received a brilliant welcoming smile from his mate. For a short time I followed in their footsteps, a rag tag boy, imagining an adventurous trek with Native guides. I was all too soon lured away by another distraction, but distinctly remember the woman’s friendly wave of farewell and her husband’s look of acceptance.
The Ute people also taught us many lessons, usually relating to pugilism. It was always interesting to deal with their devil-may-care, fun at all cost, attitude. Their sense of humor frequently had a biting edge, and they always appreciated a well executed gag. We spent many hours sneaking up on these cagey characters, attempting to relieve them of an object of interest and knowing full well that identifying an avenue of hasty retreat was in our best interest. The local deputy once caught us antagonizing his inmate through the outside bars of the holding cell and threatened to provide us similar accommodations if we did not quickly disperse. The thought of being incarcerated with this unruly individual made us scatter and steer clear of the jail house from that point forward. The inmate never let us forget it, and often invited us to, "Come visit."

Bluff was and is a wonderful place. So, if I have to answer the question, "What are you doing here?", I would say, "I am here because this is where I belong, this is my history, my emotion and my heart. Navajo people believe they come from the earth; that Mother Earth gave them life and that she continues to provide for them. They know one day they will return to her. Until that time they choose to remain close to her, and so do I.

1 comment:

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