Friday, March 26, 2010

Settled in Bluff

Recently I have had reason to read and re-read several books about the pioneers who settled our little river valley. As a result I have grown to appreciate those who have gone before even more. My studies have been a lesson in faith, dedication and tenacity, and a reminder of just how spiteful and cantankerous this land can be upon first contact. It is hard to imagine the effort it took to creep across the shifting sands and crawl through vertical rock clefts just to get here. The scrapes and scars acquired from such a journey would have been evident for time and all eternity. Then to settle in the middle of nowhere with a whole lot of nothing to help you survive and only your brethren to lean upon. Well, Bluff must have seemed a lot like Purgatory.

Navajo Changing Woman Basket by Elsie Holiday

Looking out from the Kokopelli doors of the trading post, I see spring creeping into Bluff and extending across the upper benches. For me, it is a time of wonder, a time to witness and appreciate the gifts Mother Nature provides. Changing Woman is young and beautiful again; youth and vitality are in the air, and she inspires and refreshes our attitudes. With the aid of sinus medication, I look forward to a green carpet of grass upon the red sands and the arrival of cliff flowers at the seeps where vertical slickrock meets talus slope. The bright warm days and cool nights enhance my well being. My guess is that the pioneers felt this way as well, but for them spring usually brought a rabid and unmanageable river; a torrent of runoff bearing silt and
sludge which came crashing downstream. The river seemed able to tear asunder the tremendous effort expended excavating a ditch and building head gates and cribs. At risk were the essential farmlands, crops, fruit trees and even home sites. Hopes and dreams were often flushed down stream to the mighty Colorado.

As I sit here writing, "Aunt Kathy" is out front, armed with Round-up to inhibit the advance of noxious weeds. The pioneers had no such chemical aid. There are reports that the weeds grew so high around town that livestock could be lost for days while only a hundred yards from the shed.If this were the case today, we might have to attach bells and whistles or a GPS implant to Steve just in case he wandered off. In the not too distant past, the grass of spring brought with it Texas and Colorado Cattle Companies forcing their caustic long horn cattle across the countryside to eat as much forage as bovinely possible. Navajo shepherds pushed their flocks of sheep and goats north across the variable Reservation boundary of the San Juan River. This was tradition with the Navajo, and they had fed their sheep thusly for generations. Their flocks had to be fattened before the heat of summer dried the grass into nutritionless stickers. Who were the settlers to tell them otherwise?

All elements knew the Mormons to be meek and mild, choosing to avoid conflict and promote good relations. They elected to feed the Native Americans rather than fight, and showed patience toward the rowdy cowpunchers. In today's society we tend to negativity and intolerance,
Bluffoons included. One thing we can learn from the past is that with careful thought and consideration we can work through our issues. Much can be accomplished when common ground is established, the goals and dreams of everyone fulfilled with concentrated effort. It also helps to settle on the most uncompromising land left in the western wilderness, since most of the competition eventually gives up and walks away, shaking their heads in disillusionment at the high cost of settlement.

We now anticipate the Holy People of the Navajo to let loose the Red Wind Yeis. During the winter, the Supernaturals contain the youthful beings in a Hogan located in the center of Monument Valley. When they are set free, the Red Yeis have a nasty habit of raising a red ruckus
and forcing the earth up to meet the sky. In the "good old days" our ancestors could expect dust and grit in every aspect of their lives. Red pearls were known to have grown from grains of sand, inescapably implanted in warm, moist areas of the body. Those implants went undiscovered for years, laying down layer upon layer of human nacre until, one day, at some of the most unexpected times, a thing of beauty, a gift of the desert gods sprang forth. These 'Red Pearls' are now extremely rare and valuable. Seriously! We are fortunate enough not to have to deal with such things in this day and age. Modern building materials help keep the blow sand at bay and consistent bathing rituals keep it out of delicate areas of our bodies. It's a good thing too,
because, as with most things of rare beauty, there is a price to pay. Those darn pearls could become terribly irritating and uncomfortable before they emerge.

Those early Mormon settlers did eventually discover treasures in Bluff and San Juan County. They found peace, solitude and room to grow. There was wonder and a stark beauty here amongst the scattered red rocks, pinion forests and shaded canyons of the high desert. The lofty
and majestic Blue Mountains allowed them life giving water to expand their territory, to grow cattle and sheep to feed and nourish themselves and, most importantly, plenty of space and time to populate and lay claim to southern Utah. Their relationships with the Navajo grew as
they came to know and understand each other. The Navajo were a creative, industrious people producing some of the most exquisite rugs, baskets and jewelry the pioneers had ever seen. The local co-op bought, traded for and sold much of the local art, giving the people an outlet
for their creativity. It was not unusual for the settlers to decorate their homes and selves with local crafts. Turquoise and silver was as much a part of the settlers' life as it was the Natives. The art of the people was gifted to visiting friends and dignitaries alike and was adopted into the culture of the pioneers.

Those first settlers gave up much to come to Bluff; they sacrificed comfortable homes, good businesses and close family ties to build a better world for those who followed. The pioneers were a diligent people focused on the future of their unique culture and the ties that bind. More sweat and blood was shed to put down roots in Bluff than most can even imagine; their story is heart warming and tragic at the same time. Those people were not my ancestors, but I feel a common bond because of where I was born, raised and work. Without their efforts I am not sure there would even be the town of Bluff. Without one of their descendants I would not be blessed with a wonderful, incredibly hard-working and tolerant wife and marvelous children. I, for one, appreciate their sacrifice, their tenacity and commitment to building such a place as Bluff.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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