Friday, May 6, 2011

My Life as a River

When I arrived at Twin Rocks Trading Post and was introduced to Navajo history, legend and belief, I immediately became frustrated with the lack of continuity I noted in various explanations of the same ceremony, rite or process. My background and training had left me wanting everything straight forward, fixed and certain.

Goose Neck River

It was some time before I realized that lack of conformity in the stories did not necessarily indicate inconsistency or incompatibility. Rather, the various themes were indicative of how each individual interpreted that particular tradition, and what part of the experience was most important to him or her.

Since the Navajo people did not have a written language until 1939, their history was transmitted orally. Therefore, for example, a mother’s story flowed to her daughter and then from the daughter to the granddaughter , evolving with each telling. Thus the endless variations.

Having been raised in a family of Western thinkers and taking my formal education in business and the law, I had been led to believe life is linear. Consistent with this philosophy, you are born, go to school, find a girlfriend (maybe two or three), graduate from college, get a job and start a family. Then the kids grow up and you retire. There did not seem much deviation in the progression, so I followed it accordingly.

At the trading post I learned that many Native American people believe life is circular, cyclic. As Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux Holy Man said, “You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours . . . Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”

Meaning no disrespect to my parents, my educators or Black Elk, I must disagree. To me, life seems more like a meandering river then a circle or point to point journey. As much as I have tried to keep my life on the straight and narrow, it always seems to be cutting a new channel or overflowing its banks.

For a while I was able to follow the guidance of my parents and teachers; I grew up, went to school and got a job, a wife and a child. Then life took an unexpected turn and I found myself in Bluff, without the wife and child. That surely did not fit into the preordained plan, and my linear life began raging out of control and pioneering a new, completely unexpected path.

Since that time, I have often gone to Goosenecks State Park, which is located just west of Bluff and is one of the deepest river meanders in North America. As the San Juan River made its way through Southeastern Utah it cut deeply into the bedrock, bent back on itself many times and eventually made a strikingly beautiful mark on the land. Standing on the edge of this massive ravine and looking down into the deep trench, I have from time-to-time thought, “Yes, that is a perfect illustration of my life.”

In its countless layers, which have been etched over eons, I envision a record of my own journey on this earth. I can see patterns of Navajo rugs, baskets and turquoise jewelry Barry and I have purchased and sold at the trading post; I can vaguely make out images of my wife, children and artists who have sold us their unique creations; and I glimpse friends and acquaintances who have come and gone.

No, I do not see my life as a direct line in the Western way of thinking. Nor does it appear to be a circle as the Native Americans propose. Instead, to me, it looks to be linear or circular only in an indirect, curving bending, swirling, snaking, sometimes straight, sometimes circular, river like manner.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

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