It is not that we are unfamiliar with this divine being. Indeed, as kids Steve and I were in constant contact with her. Just after school let out each summer, our own mother shaved our heads and set us loose to rampage around Bluff. In order to rebuild the thick calluses on the bottoms of our feet, which had softened while we attended class, we also jettisoned our shoes. In the rough and rocky terrain we inhabited toes were more effective than rubber soles.
Summer was a time to search out and explore all aspects of our surroundings, and few adventures were overlooked. Craig, Steve and I were masters of our small universe. We dug forts deep into the red clay; lay in the cool, moist sand under shaded culverts; and scaled the sheer cliffs which give Bluff its name. It was an idyllic childhood, one that offered great freedom and independence. To this day, as I stroll the dirt streets of Bluff I often come across reminders that open windows onto the past. On those occasions, it is as if for a moment I return to that time long ago and become an unrestrained youth exploding onto the landscape.
Recently a brief thunderstorm struck Bluff as Steve and I worked at straightening up the trading post. He is Mr. Clean, and gets wound up when the dust gets thick and fingerprints obscure our glass display cases. I, however, am Hasteen Casually Cluttered and not easily offended by a messy desk or disorganized back counter. We do our best to accept each other’s idiosyncrasies and always collaborate to get the work done.
As the storm erupted I walked out onto the porch to enjoy the rain. The smell of moist earth and feel of static electricity grabbed my attention. As I absorbed the scene with all my senses, I noticed a car pull up in front of Twin Rocks Cafe. It rolled to a stop and out scampered a woman I had first met over three decades earlier. She flashed a bright smile, waved energetically and disappeared into the restaurant.
Turning my gaze southwest towards the old Bluff City Trading Post location I could distinguish only a small part of the building through the wet leaves of an ancient cottonwood tree, the driving rain and a tangle of swaying branches. In an instant I was transported back almost 35 years to a similarly wet morning. On that particular day in history, when the clouds opened up I had just completed my daily chores of cleaning glass, sweeping concrete floors and arranging displays.
My older sister Susan and I ran Bluff City together, alternating opening in the morning and working together during afternoons and evenings. I clearly remember being imminently proud of myself for doing such a fine job and maintaining the spotless standard Susan demanded. As I admired the results of my domestic skills, I began to worry about setting such a high mark, wondering how that might affect future projects.
Hearing a vehicle come to a halt in the gravel parking lot outside, I walked from behind the counter to the open door and immediately recognized Archie Jones. He was approaching with a small cluster of his numerous children. Archie was a bit of an antique at that point, tall, thin and stooped. On his bony chin sprouted a dozen or so quarter inch long wispy white whiskers. He always smelled of earth and juniper smoke, a somewhat pleasant perfume once you acclimated to it.
Archie was a real character; he had a bright, happy smile and a gleam in his large, sleepy brown eyes. It was rumored he had three wives and a boatload of kids. I knew he was always short of cash. That was why he frequented our establishment. We ran a pawn business, which made modest cash loans, secured by turquoise jewelry, saddles, rifles and various other easily stored items. Archie's word was solid gold, so we never hesitated to provide funds to tide him over until the next check arrived.
His family literally flooded into my newly scrubbed and mopped store. I gave them a frustrated look as they shook the moisture from their clothing and tracked mud throughout the facility. It didn’t take long to figure out what I would be doing for the next several hours. Archie noticed my consternation and shrugged it off with a smile. The fact that precipitation had come to our mostly dry climate was too important to let small matters adversely affect his mood. I guess he thought an explanation was in order, because he walked up to me and began articulating his thoughts.
Archie spoke little English, and my Navajo was mostly unintelligible. No matter, his young daughter, the same one I had just noticed darting into Twin Rocks Cafe, stepped forward. As if on cue, she began deciphering her father's words. His nearness, aromatic scent, sincere look and tone of voice demanded attention. I could tell by his attitude he wanted me to appreciate what he was saying, and that the message meant a great deal to him. Touching his weather worn face, he stated, "My skin is red like the earth. I was born through her, she is my mother." I listened intently, focusing on his animated face, fascinated by what he said. He continued, "All things come from her. Be good to her and she will be good to you." His young daughter scrupulously interpreted, and his message, spoken through a shy child's soft voice, had a definite effect on me. I wanted to know more. Archie, satisfied he had made his point, stepped back and ended the conversation. I finalized Archie’s pawn transaction and the small tribe exited into the waning storm.
My mind switched back to the present, from the scent of Archie to the fragrance of the now falling rain and static energy flashing. Mine has been an interesting journey into the traditions and culture of the Navajo people. I find their message as motivating and thoughtful as any belief system I have encountered. Theirs is a unique perspective, their eyes see through a different lens and their hearts feel deep emotions. I embrace their ancient view, which treats the earth as a living, breathing and giving entity. Respect for the natural world is vital for its survival, and for ours as well. When I am in close contact with the soil I feel more at ease and draw strength from Mother Earth’s natural beauty. So when our customers find a little red sand sifting from their packages, we hope they realize we are just sharing the secret to our quiet, calm, genteel world; the secret of our mother the Earth.
With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve Priscilla and Danny.