Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thoughts on Bluff

It is strange to me how my mind sees the past, and how my perspective has evolved over the years. When I think back to the Bluff I knew as a child, and compare it to what it is today, I realize that I view things from an entirely different perspective. Having added a few years to my resume, I am more aware of my surroundings, and more tuned into this small town and her colorful history. My journeys through Bluff cause me to feel as if I am caught up in a whirlwind. At times, my agitated, spinning thoughts, emotions and memories turn like a whirligig. The spiraling particles of people and circumstances remind me what once was, and cause me to question why and how things have become what they are

Navajo Pictorial Basket

For me, focusing on the past is like folding back intangible pages of time and viewing watercolor images from a different world. There resides a surreal dimension I cannot comprehend physically. I do, however, allow myself the luxury of considering the implications of their evolution. Remnants of the Ancient Puebloans make me wonder about a people that existed in the harshest of climates. A stunted harvest of corn and a malnourished rabbit may have seemed like a royal banquet to those pint-sized and short-lived early inhabitants of this stark river valley.

The Navajo people, who came much later and have continued the struggle, refined the art of survival and, amazingly, devised a rich and diverse culture to direct future generations along the Pollen Path. When I was a child, our family was fortunate enough to associate with these thoughtful people, and we learned a great deal of wisdom from their mythology. I can remember lying on a stumpy, clumpy patch of lawn next to our home and looking up into an incredibly vibrant night sky. There was more red earth under me than green grass, which made for an extremely uncomfortable mattress. The heavens were attraction enough to comfort me, however, and I overcame the discomfort of the uneven soil. The sky was magnificent; as sharp and crystal-clear as only a Southern Utah sky can be. I remember looking into the vaulted heavens and considering what my Navajo neighbors had told me about how the night sky came to be. They said that during the creation of the universe, First Man had begun the process by placing certain constellations with exacting precision; until Coyote stumbled onto the scene. Disrupting First Man's project, Coyote scattered the remaining stars in a haphazard manner, destroying First Man's well laid plans and creating the Milky Way. This was my introduction to the concept of chaos and order.

I realize the importance of family, and remember the time and effort our parents invested into raising us as self-reliant individuals dedicated to the well-being of the family. Those lessons have endured, and provide our families with a web of support that furnishes a load of love, protection and comfort. As a young person, I was confused by how the Navajo people valued the "mixing of blood". I could not grasp their concept of kinship. Their "grandparents" are what we would call a great aunt or uncle; aunts and uncles are referred to as "mother" and "father"; cousins are "brother" and "sister".

What I did not realize then was that our English translations of family relationships do not feel right to the Navajo. They believe aunt, uncle or cousin do not do justice to the closeness of "blood ties". I now feel the Navajo terms for close relations seem a little more intimate, and do more to embrace the family unit. I am sure these incredibly close connections were essential to survival in a world of extreme hardship, and the tradition has carried through.

The Mormon pioneers who settled this wandering river valley had similar feelings concerning family. They have all realized the necessity and value of the family unit on many different levels. I have learned to appreciate the time and effort those tenacious characters put into building Bluff and expanding their relations. Their efforts went above and beyond what most were willing to invest in this unlikely endeavor. All I need do is take a walk on Cemetery Hill and read the markers to grasp the magnitude of their efforts.

Having read a number of books on local history by authors such as Albert R. Lyman, Robert S. McPherson, and a thesis by David S. Carpenter has provided me with insight into the Mormon perspective on Bluff as well. These thoughtful forward-thinking and respectful writers have placed in my head information that causes me to envision pioneer figures trudging about town in animated fashion; Bishop Jens Nielson bent and limping with hardship and age committed to preserving the town and its mission; "Aunt Jody" Wood the midwife hurrying in the footsteps of Posey to attend to the Ute's stricken wife; and many others.

I also see the ghosts of Brother Thales Haskell, the prayerful interpreter, and his Navajo tracker Jim Joe galloping south on the trail of stolen horses. Like dry and dusty autumn leaves caught in a dust devil, I catch only brief glimpses of these historical figures before they disappear into the upper reaches of gnarled cottonwood trees. The trees, too, are remnants of those ancestors of Bluff, planted so long ago in an effort to shade the pioneers in the heat of summer. Their twisted, bent and gnarly forms remind me of the hardship suffered to establish my birthplace.

Turning the pages in my mind back and forth, revisiting the past and evaluating the present helps me develop a better understanding and appreciation for my place in the universe. Ancient images flood my mind much as the San Juan River ebbed and flowed and raised a ruckus with the lives of the early inhabitants of Bluff. I often visualize myself back on that scraggly lawn looking up at the vast universe and wondering at its beauty. I am surrounded by the warm, rich darkness, faced with the magnificence of nature and embraced by the love of family, friends and those extremely vertical sandpaper cliffs of my home town.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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