Friday, February 13, 2015

Traveling the Rez or Point of Reference

I had an opportunity to travel across Dinetah this weekend. I wanted to attend a trade show in Phoenix so I talked my wife into going with me. There are those that do not enjoy traveling the reservation, but I do. For me it brings the myth and legend to life. Here at the Trading Post we hear the cultural tales, as represented through the art. It is a special treat to see that which inspires the artists in person. Trips such as this allow me the opportunity to take in the high desert scenery and consider the People's interpretation of mountains, mesas and monuments.

On Friday we left the house before dawn. Before departing we said a little prayer to the Great Spirit, geared-up and sped on down the highway. As we traveled across the upper mesa, the Moon was full and bright which lit-up outstanding elements of the countryside with a blue/white fluorescence that charmed us with its winsome elegance. Surfaces perpendicular to the night sky, such as stubble fields and stock ponds, radiated in the magic of moon glow. On the other hand elements back-lit by the orb of night, such as upright Cedar pole fences, lone Juniper trees, out buildings and even a crooked windmill, took on darker, shadowed tones. The bearer of the Moon is considered to be a man of age and wisdom. The Man of the Moon is someone who is calm, collected and compassionate; someone we should all endeavor to emulate.
Navajo Monument Valley or Bust Basket - Lorraine Black (#232)

Before long we passed through Bluff and over the bridge spanning the San Juan river. The San Juan is also considered to be a male, a long and lean antiquarian individual with hair of white foam, who guards and protects Navajoland from hostile invaders. As we thumped and bumped our way across the bridge, I prodded Laurie, "It's a good thing you are not in a contentious mood this morning ", I paused a moment to test her reaction. Seeing none, I trespassed further; "or we would have never made it across the bridge." She inhaled noisily, paused, breathed-out easily and said, "Be a Man like the Moon, be not sarcastic!" She is getting much more difficult to provoke these days, no fair, no fun.

As we gained ground on reservation lands the monuments there offered- up strange and cumbersome shapes. We knew them to be representations of strength and power where supernatural spirits dwell. Navajo people often leave medicine bundles or gifts of precious stones at the base of some of the most unique of these monoliths. They strive to gain blessings similar to those attributed to the deities upon the rocks. I contemplated stopping and contributing some offering of my own, after all remittances of might and magic could prove beneficial. I opted out though because, after that last comment, I thought Laurie might take advantage of any short absence and leave me behind. And truly, as our good friend Kent said, speaking of spirituality and/or cultural beliefs: "You are either in, I mean all the way in or it does you no good--you must believe." So, since I am but a spectator in the ceremonial ritual of the Navajo, I decided against it.

Laurie and I traveled along the southern or backside of Monument Valley, through Kayenta, Tsegi Canyon and Long Squaw Valley. To me the landscape is impressive and varied, to look into those magnificent canyons reminded me of a conversation I had with Robert S. McPherson. Bob is a scholar of Navajo history and The People themselves. He has written several books on these subjects, give him a Google and read his books, you will learn much. Anyway, Bob and I were speaking of how Kit Carson impacted the Navajo and, more specifically, how the U.S. Army motivated the Ute people to impact the Navajo. Much of Bob's interpretation of history was gathered from interviews with individuals with close personal ties to the subject matter. His commentary concerning campaign's and skirmishes rattled around in my head as we passed through the country near where the interactions occurred. Looking at the landscape, I doubt it has changed much.

Before long Laurie and I stopped at a large convenience store in Tuba City. Anyone recall Leroy Van Dyke's, 'Who's gonna run the Truck Stop in Tuba City when I'm gone ...?' Sorry, I digress. Most of you wouldn't remember it anyway, the song is ... old. We stopped-in for a refreshment break, it was Pepsi time! Just as we drove-up the Rez dogs appeared. If you have traveled the reservation you know of what I speak. Emaciated canines that hang around anyplace where they might be favored with a scrap of anything. It is a sad situation at best. As with the landscape, all things have their place in Navajo cultural tales, including animals.

The earliest ancestors of the poor mongrels we saw here are represented in a Navajo Chantway myth. This particular legend revolves around the creation of dogs by the Holy People. The animals were sent out among the Earth Surface People to test whether they could live with humans, or not. Some hounds were treated well and others were abused, which caused dogs, as a whole, to be highly skeptical of humans and in many cases altogether apathetic. "You know", said Laurie as we emerged from the rest stop, hesitating a step to toss a handful of Bugles in the direction of one of the cur's, "It often depends on how you treat others that decides your fate." "Uh-huh", I considered, "point made."

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team.
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

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