Friday, July 14, 2017

Deesdoi (It’s Hot!)

As I drove to Bluff early Tuesday morning to open the Cafe, I noticed a pink blush extending across the entire eastern skyline. It was as if the Sun was taunting me, playing a game of illusion, hide-and-seek, or threatening to rise as a band of light rather than a big yellow orb. Working with the Navajo people has caused me to think of the Sun as a sentient being, rather than a ball of hot gaseous eruptions.

There was a coolness in the predawn breeze flowing across my fingertips as I drove south. I inhaled. The smell of burnt wood was in the air, and I assumed both the aura and aroma I witnessed were caused by the terrible fire ravaging the woodlands on the southwestern side of the state. The assault on my senses made me think of Fire God, the Navajo deity credited with cleansing the Earth by fire. Leave it to Navajo culture to explain how natural occurrences we view as negative actually have a positive side to balance things out.

I arrived in Bluff before sunrise, let the staff in and began slinging hash and cleaning tables. It wasn't until late morning that I emerged from the Cafe and realized how hot it was outside. As I stood on the porch looking out onto the parched landscape, a bead of sweat formed at my temple and rolled down my jaw line. Shaking my head and wiping my chin, I walked across the porch and into the refrigerated air circulating through the Twin Rocks trading post.

Entering my office, I pulled David Carpenter's master’s thesis from my bookshelf and began reviewing the life and times of Jens Nelson, the first Mormon Bishop and an original settler of our small hamlet. Viewing the pictures of early Bluff, I marveled at the hardship those hardy settlers endured while attempting to settle this desolate outpost, evade federal marshals looking for polygamists, and pacifying the Native neighbors they displaced. I looked out of the picture windows at the heat waves dancing off the hard-packed earth and imagined living and working out in 100-plus degree heat for two months each year.

The Navajo and Ute people were mobile; when it got hot they pulled up stakes and headed to the high country. Not so with the settlers. Bluff was established as a self-sustaining community. This meant that every citizen dug in, stayed put, and did everything in their power to help the others survive. They attempted to manage an unmanageable river, raise cows and sheep on short grass, and grow crops in an alkaline soil that had a bad habit of locking up tighter than a wedge. No Bull!

When the temperature soars into triple digits in Bluff, things get hot and stay hot. The rock houses of that period, along with the surrounding cliffs, absorb heat all day, until they match the surrounding heat index. The nice thing about the high desert is that the temperature can drop 30 degrees during the night. Not so with the super-heated red rocks; they radiate stored energy late into the night. Uninsulated as those homes were, they simply became ovens.

Trees were scarce; shade was a rare commodity. I would venture to guess that more than one feud broke out based on crossing boundaries as the sun tracked one direction and shade the other. The lack of indoor plumbing; labor intensive, exhaustive days; uncomfortable, restless nights; and struggling to keep more than one family happy must have caused many a rugged pioneer to suffer the effects of heat stroke in more ways than one. Life was definitely much harder back then than now.

Modern-day Bluff still provides its inhabitants with plenty of hard work and sacrifice. The river no longer attempts to flush us down stream at every opportunity. We manage the heat with refrigeration and cold drinks and get plenty of rest and relaxation. The Native Americans have accepted us to the extent of aiding and benefiting our business, and I have only one sweet, gentle creature keeping me lined out and working towards the common good. Iina ei nizhoni (Life is good/beautiful!).

No comments: