Thursday, June 8, 2006

Positive or Negative

As Barry and I accelerated across the Navajo Reservation in the green and silver comet known as Subaru, I gazed in my customary amazement at the vast, open distances spreading out in all directions. Straight ahead lay Kayenta, Arizona, the windy, dusty town on the southern border of Monument Valley. On my right, the twisting sandstone spine christened Comb Ridge snaked its way northeasterly towards the Abajo mountains. In front, on all sides and in the rear view mirror, the broken landscape flowed up and down in an unending belch of striated red earth.

Monument Valley, Utah

Approximately 35 years ago, Duke and I had traveled this same road. As his eyes began to droop, he asked if I wanted to drive. "Yes," I answered tentatively, wondering whether he knew my secret. Since I had never driven on the pavement, and since I was more than a little worried what might happen if we passed a police officer, I was anxious. There was, however, virtually no traffic, and, unbeknownst to my father, I had already gained a significant amount of driving experience on the back roads of Southern Utah in Pinky's '55 Ford pickup, which sported a high-speed transmission and an Oldsmobile Rocket engine.

When Duke and I exchanged positions in the cab of that old Dodge pick up, I placed the truck in gear and continued our westerly travels. Peering over the dashboard and out from behind the windshield, I could barely conceive how we would ever exhaust those extremely long stretches of highway, which seemed as big as any of my dreams. With Duke snoring, I crept cautiously across the Reservation at a modest speed, becoming more confident with each passing mile. I was extremely proud that Duke had the confidence to sleep so soundly while his young offspring piloted the vehicle, and wondered how he would respond if he awoke upside down. In later years, I would realize that Duke always slept soundly, and that my self-esteem may not have been fully merited.

The stark beauty of this land captivated me years ago, and I continue to be awed by its abstract nature. Travelers through this part of the country often stop by the trading post to express similar emotions. Others, however, say things like, "Well, I have been traveling several hours and have not seen anything!" Aside from wondering why those blind people are allowed to drive, I am struck by the extreme divergence of opinion regarding my native land. There does not seem to be much middle ground; either you understand the land's unusual character and love it, or you cannot begin to comprehend why anybody with a shred of sanity would live here.

As Barry and I sat in a Flagstaff, Arizona Red Lobster restaurant later that evening, eating fried shrimp and crab cakes, I was still thinking about how individuals respond to the Four Corners region in such disparate ways. Looking at the pictures of boats plastered on the walls, I remembered that Navajo people believe everything has both positive and negative aspects. My mind began running through a laundry list of opposing terms, good, bad; male,female; water people,desert people; north,south; east,west; Mogollon, Hohokam. On and on it went, until my brain disengaged and I remembered a Crow Canyon Archaeological Center trip a few years ago.

The group had come to the trading post so Barry and I could talk with them about contemporary Navajo baskets. During the discussion, Barry snatched up a weaving containing a positive-negative design and began talking about the Navajo belief that everything has both male and female, positive and negative characteristics to it. Harry Walters, a Navajo scholar traveling with the group, jumped in to clarify. Harry explained that the right side of an individual is believed to be the male or warrior side, and the left side is considered the female or compassionate side; each with both positive and negative facets.

Stating that this part of Navajo beliefs did not fit well into the traditional Judeo-Christian thinking of good or bad, right or wrong, he illustrated the point by saying that a snow storm can be an extremely positive thing in this desert environment, but things can quickly turn out badly if you go outside unprepared. In Harry's opinion, it was all a matter of how you manage the circumstances. Whether the outcome is positive or negative depends entirely on you.

Navajo Basket

So it is with this land in which we live; one person sees the positive beauty in the broken, jagged landscape, and another sees only a dry, windswept desert. It seems Harry was correct, it is all in the way you manage yourself under the circumstances. I am as stricken by the vast beauty of this land today and as overwhelmed by its vastness as I was on that day Duke gave me the wheel and allowed me to begin navigating it on my own terms.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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