Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day in Navajolands (photos)

We celebrated Earth Day deep in the outback of Monument Valley, somewhere between Utah and Arizona. In Navajolands, every day is Earth Day. Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, or Monument Valley, is the "open area between the rocks." There are certainly strange rock formations everywhere.

Earth Day from Rock Door Canyon, mid-earth. View from our cabin at Goulding's Resort. Sentinels or gargoyles? We arrived in the wee hours, on a whim, we made a mad dash from Las Vegas, so the sentinels were a surprise.

We no sooner moved in, then we had to move out. A glitch in the booking system. No room at the inn. Our cabin was rented out from under us. Not a lot of choices for places to stay in Monument Valley. It was either Goulding's or the Navajo luxury hotel monstrosity called The View across the valley. And both were booked up. Apparently because of a glitch, we were lucky to get the one night.

However, we were temporarily homeless, literally with no place to go. We'd come so far... We sadly packed up our gear, and as we drove down Rock Door Canyon, saying our goodbyes to the incredible land, we passed an old woman hobbling hellbent down the deserted road to what looked like the road to nowhere. 

We managed to return the little old lady to her home, despite the fact that she didn't know where she lived. She had dementia, but told us she lived in a house with hay out front. We drove around and eventually found the place, it had a trailer-load of alfalfa hay parked out front. I screamed: hay! Hay! Stop! A bright alfalfa mosaic on the red, red sand. Like Christmas.

We returned the old woman to her family who happen to also run the Dinė Health Clinic. One thing led to another, as we chatted, they asked if we'd like to stay on longer. Like, yeah! It was as if the gods had answered our prayers. We were homeless. We return an old lady to her home, on our way out of "town," and are offered shelter for the night.

We're staying in the clinic, up-canyon, and will play music tomorrow for the elderly Dinė shut-ins. The clinic is built in the shape of a hogan. An octagon. Earth household.

April 23:
We've been staying in the Navajo Dinė Health Clinic behind the cinder-block post office (N 5th St.), where everybody comes to load up on water. There's a pump in the parking lot. The old spring and catchment system dried up, or the spring altered its course. So water is carefully guarded. I found myself waving to everyone. It was kind of like a line party. All the trucks are equipped with permanent water tanks. Everyone waits patiently for their turn.

There seems to be a good water table in Anvil Valley, we passed the main well. It's patrolled every two hours. The well is well guarded. Water thieves everywhere. In a land of little water, water is everything. Drought is an eons-old way of life here. It's been a particularly dry four years on the Colorado Plateau. A land of little rain: 7 to 16 inches, part of a larger 22-year drought cycle. Ironic in that water formed much of this land.

Our host friends bought a trailer-load of hay for his horses, and now everybody comes by to buy hay. An accidental business, but there's not enough forage grazing for horses or cattle. Sheep do OK in this arid landscape. Alfalfa puts puts some fat on the cattle and horses. Many rail-thin horses wander the bluffs around Anvil Mesa. You can tell the feral horses by their haggard stance.

The place where we were staying after we were kicked out of Goulding's Resort, would make a great AirB&B if you've friends who want to visit.  It's behind the USPO. Look for the flagpole at the top of the canyon. But no one has wifi. So It's hard to reach people.  Over 40% of Navajo homes don't have running water, or indoor toilets, let alone, internet or electricity.

Someone said there's also a woman who also rents out a log hogan near Goulding's. Her last name means silversmith in Navajo. She plans to reopen the Oljato trading post. Her mother was a famous weaver.  Was it Salee? We saw a documentary on Salee at Goulding's. But I don't know her last name.

You can see the Anasazi handholds in the cliff.  Near the Artist's Point, I noticed handholds on the mesa cliffs, more handholds at Rock Door Mesa too. Mygawd, they climbed straight up. Handholds on the face of this earth. A ladder to the sky. Colorado means tinged with red, as in to blush. An astonishing embarrassment of riches in an otherwise parched landscape.

Practicing my Navajo:
Hello: Yá'át'ééh
Goodbye: Hágoónee' ("okay/alright then")
Thank you: Ahéhee

I am amazed by the glottal stops in Navajo, the accent marks do it little justice. I've been here just long enough to properly greet people and say thanks, and goodbye, but not much more.  I've shaken more hands in the past two days... 

April 24: Yá'át'ééh! This morning, we met an 89-year-old Dinė elder, Jesse Holiday, and sang for him. He's a shut-in, doesn't get out much, wheelchair not much use in deep desert sands. So the world comes to him. I said something in Irish: Conas ta tu? and he repeated it in Spanish. Jesse Holiday has a modern hogan, sheetrock octagon. A traditional house is attached.

A fan of Bruce Lee, Jesse was an artist/sculptor, and was also in several John Ford movies. Lots of homage to The Duke here. I reckon all the horses here are descendants from the western film days. Last night we watched She Wore a Yellow Ribbon at the Goulding's Theater. It was a noisy movie house. Everybody was exclaiming whenever they recognized a monument. Look! The Mittens! We sat through two showings.

My friend Ken Bullock said those lightning flashes in the chase scene were very real. "The camera crew didn't want to shoot during the storm, but John Ford told them, Do it & I guarantee you an Oscar for cinematography. And they got it."

Another friend, Erik Painter said
"The Searchers was filmed there too. All the native people who are extras are not Comanche but Navajo. They are all telling jokes and insulting the director in the background in Navajo. They all are from around there."  

That afternoon, we went to the Seventh Day Adventist school and sang Celtic songs for the kids, who sang Jesus Loves You right back to us in Navajo.

We were planning to visit Oljato, the place of the "full moon spring" near the eastern tip of Lake Powell, but a fierce storm blew in. The lightning storm was zapping everything so we headed for Anvil Mesa and visited a petrified forest. Downed logs the size of sapling redwoods, turned to stone, as if they had gazed upon Medusa's eyes. Some trees looked like swamp cypresses. Another era redolent of water.

The brewing storm had us shrieking in terror as we stood patiently in line waiting for the obligatory photographs. An arm of lightning, the size of a tree limb, struck right behind the oblivious photographer. Talk about using a flash. He didn't even notice. Thought it was his camera. We were very animated in that photo, I'm sure. We headed home as fast as the jeep could carry us over the deep sandy roads to Rock Door Canyon. The thick odor of ozone and petrachor filled the air. But no rain fell.

Not liking the wind. Angry. Angry. Sand lashing at our every pore. Inside my ears. Between my teeth, in my crotch, everywhere. 

Took off my black bra last night, only to find the cups loaded with red sand (sand found its way through several layers of clothing, I might add.) Erik Painter said: "That kind of storm is called a male one. It's also COLD! As I packed my bags one last time, I gave my sweaters and leggings to a girl... 

Apparently Wednesday flea market is the place to go in Kayenta. Kayenta is the hub if you want to shop, get money, gas, etc. It's also the way out of Navajolands. Next stop, Tuba City. Maybe next time we'll get a chance to visit the Code talker exhibit at the Kayenta Burger King. The owner's father, King Mike, was a code talker.

Appropriate the wind's howling like a banshee, as there's a funeral in Horse Canyon. Sad story. A young man was killed in a head-on collision on the dirt roads that lace Navajolands, so everybody's been potlucking it. We got caught up in the swirl of neighbors. Almost like an Irish wake. We ate traditional greens last night. Yum. It tasted like dock. They couldn't tell us the names of plants, only in Navajo. So we drank Navajo tea, nodded and smiled. Nodded and smiled.

We didn't get to say goodbye to lots of folks. In retrospect we should've gone to the funeral too, but we were too shy. We abruptly entered into these people's lives, and left them the same way. It felt so wrong.

Erik posted: they believe that when someone dies, no matter how good they were, the residue of what was bad stays with the bones or grave site. This is called a chʼį́įdii (chindi). All the rest of your spirit is made of different parts which go off and become parts of new beings. There is no unitary soul. In older times they did not have graveyards or burial grounds. No one would knowingly visit a grave. It would make you out of hozho, spiritually and physically sick. Most very traditional people would not go to Anasazi ruins. There was no way to know where the dead were. (a little like why Orthodox Jews don't go on the temple mount.) Contact could make you sick. You would need an expensive and lengthy ceremony to be healed.

Nizhónígo háádíílyįh.( have a restful night)
Są́'ah naaghai bik'eh hózhǫ́ (according to the principles implicit in the universal order and the continuous reoccurrence of the completion of the life cycle moving into old age be in harmony/ beauty/ balance/health")
hózhǫ́ náhásdlį́į́ʼ
(harmony/beauty/balance/health has been restored)
hózhǫ́ náhásdlį́į́ʼ
hózhǫ́ náhásdlį́į́ʼ
hózhǫ́ náhásdlį́į́ʼ
Get up at just before sunrise and run to the east for me!

Instead, we ran contrary-wise to the west at sunset. Towards Wupatki.

There were lots of horses wandering on the road. No cattle, though. We were lucky. I really had to haul-ass from Teec Nos Pos's trading post. Didn't want to be caught out after dark. The road's an equal opportunity bloodbath alley after dark for both biliganna and Diné alike. I prayed to the four directions, just in case.

see the Navajo Water Project
The Navajo Are Fighting to Get Their Water Back
from Facebook notes, revised 4/23/16

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