Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer Musings

The toasty hot days of summer have settled upon Bluff. On scorching days, I often find myself looking upon the talus slopes, ancient ruins and antiquated rock houses and wondering at the tenacity early Bluffoons must have needed just to survive. Reminders of historic and prehistoric inhabitants abound in San Juan County; the rough and tumble remnants of their sandstone and mud mortar dwellings are scattered about the town and countryside. Looking upon these old dwellings reminds me of age-old tradition and culture.

Navajo Heavy Weather Rug by Eleanor Yazzie
Navajo Heavy Weather Rug by Eleanor Yazzie

Often I find myself drifting out onto the wide, warm, red porch to sit in the evening's golden sunshine. Like my father before me, it is common for me to nod off in the comfortable setting and dream. As the shadow of the towering Twin Rocks blankets the trading post, I relax in the glow and contemplate the history, life ways and influence people of the past have had on our fair community.

As young boys, my brothers and I explored nearly every canyon, nook, cranny and corner Bluff had to offer; our sisters were not so adventurous. Craig, Steve and I wandered this small river valley to the east across the "Holy Land" of Saint Christopher's Mission and the often precarious Swinging Bridge. To the west we roamed as far as Sand Island and the thought-provoking petroglyph panel pecked into the vertical sandstone cliff by people we then referred to as the Anasazi. The same San Juan River that often attempted to flush early Mormon settlers to the Gulf of Mexico provided a formidable border to the south.

The northern boundary of our range of territory was the towering red rock cliffs. We tested the bulwarks often, and scaled the walls a time or two. Occasionally, we found ourselves wedged tightly in some deep, dark crack or precarious ledge with no obvious way down. Luckily there were three of us. We became accomplished at search and rescue; surviving the hazards and pitfalls our surroundings offered by relying heavily on one another.

As we grew to know the land and her people, both past and present, we came to realize that Bluff was a mecca for a wide variety of vibrant and complex cultures. A number of early American Indian cultures honored a life force that dwells in the earth, sky and water, and within all animals and humans. Anglo societies embraced variations on the monotheistic theme. The Mormon people arrived through the Hole-in-the-Rock and settled Bluff in the Spring of 1880. St. Christopher's Mission was founded in 1943 by Father H. Baxter Liebler, an Episcopalian priest from Connecticut.

Navajo Fire Dance Basket by Lorraine Black
Navajo Fire Dance Pictorial Basket by Lorraine Black

There were also more reckless influences left over from Texas cattleman, fortune-hunting miners and outlaws seeking asylum in the far reaches of the American Southwest. Each and every one of these factions added to the hodgepodge mix of thought and ideas discoverable in modern day Bluff. Cultural parallels abound if one cares to look closely. Throughout my upbringing, I have come to realize that each and every influence and belief system has a positive aspect. Each has a special uniqueness or interpretation on a theme that may help them, and us, to better understand our own personal being.

Growing up in Bluff has allowed us to learn and grow from diverse groups of people; those who hold to the belief that ceremonial practice, tradition, culture and, yes, even myth and magic are integral aspects of daily life. One has only to re-engage the spirits of the past; their thoughts, beliefs, experiences and secrets are accessible through the written word, rock art and storytellers. For those in search of a more earthy spiritual experience, simply look to the upper reaches of the red rock spires and listen.

My brothers and I have learned that life is a journey; an educational process gleaned from pleasure and pain. We now tend to seek out moderate adventure, embrace diversity and enjoy life as best we can. Continuing education has been the key to a better understanding of our world. The rich and varied history, tradition and culture our special little community has to offer provided a great start. If you come to Bluff, we hope you realize and enjoy the beauty of the landscape, richness of character and unique characters our distinctive community has to offer. We feel Bluff has an unusual spirit that must be encountered in order to be understood.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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