Friday, June 15, 2018

Finding Home: An Authentic Indian in a Cowboy Town

The best part of the petrified forest and the painted dessert is neither. I am always most interested in the human footprints.
Finally home after six days on the road, I'm feeling overwhelmed.

I felt pretty good on day 2 at the Grand Canyon!
Physically overwhelmed to be certain. My body was giving way by the last day or two, past the point that I could mask weakness through the usual mix of caffeine, morphine, and adrenaline.

Although I kept offering to drive, I was thankful every time my husband turned me down. As much as I loved our trip as adventure and a chance to escape from my everyday boring sick life, my everyday  boring sick body had been ignored long enough.

So today at after two o'clock, I'm finally up. I've been up and down for food and shower and laundry, but it has definitely been a podcast listening sort of day--focusing on the voices of historians in Ben Franklin's World because I'm done sleeping, but not ready for anything else.

But I am also overwhelmed in amazing ways. Over the next few weeks I'll be processing my trip emotionally, visually and academically. All will be part of my personal history, but much will also be posted here as blog entries.

We travelled so far and saw so much. Here's a brief Facebook summary my husband posted which expresses it well.

Crazy roadtrip of 2018 stats -
6 Days
1,828.6 miles driven
22.1 MPG Average (v8 baby!)
35,151 steps taken
1 Jackrabbit almost hit
1 (we think) ferret almost hit
2 prairie dogs almost hit
4-5 Squirrels almost hit
1 antelope standing in the way until we stopped moving
Completely lost count of how many lizards we spotted on our walks.

North American Pixellated Ravens

He didn't count the ravens because they were our constant traveling companions. 

I'm addled enough by fibromyalgia to experience my own form of magical realism, so I like to think it was the same raven following us throughout the four-corners region. The fact that I occasionally saw nests and groups of ravens does not discount my idea of a "Guardian raven" following us around and leading us home. Maybe he was even the local raven that lives by our grocery store along for the adventure.         

Despite many attempts, I never got a good raven picture. There are a few reasons for this. 

(1) Black animals are notoriously difficult to photograph well.
(2) Birds move pretty fast. 
(3) The zoom quality of my iPhone camera is crap. 
(4) By the time the ravens actually posed for us, in the Petrified Forest, I probably couldn't hold my phone or myself still long enough to take picture.
(5) Supernatural beings are notoriously difficult to photograph at all.

You may be relieved to discover that the bulk of this blog will not be about ravens, but about home. Home may well be the theme of many of the blogs about this trip because the four corners area, inhospitable as it appears, has been home to overlapping groups of people for at least 10,000 years.

Tower at the Grand Canyon--inspired by native culture
I first realized I had left home when we stopped for gas in the White Mesa Ute reservation. This cute little Mexican girl ran into the restroom as I walked out. Then I looked around and realized that she was probably not Mexican but Native American like everyone in the store but me.

The gas station/convenience store was also an eight lane bowling alley and there was a school bus outside that probably accounted for the twenty young men bowling. I'm having linguistic fun trying to use Ute youth in a sentence, but I can't remember the name of the school district and honestly don't know if they were Ute, Navaho, Paiute, or from a tribe further away.

While I was inside, my husband got a kick out of a young man driving in to gas up with music blaring from his truck in typical young man fashion--in this case traditional native singing and drumming.

I've grown up with a natural fear of "the other," extending to travel on local tribal lands, but saw nothing but friendliness. (And some of the best cell phone signal on our trip.)

I will be less nervous in the future, which is good because I long to study the towns left by the Native American's ancestors and learn more about what they did to create comfortable homes in the desert. If I ever become less shy, I would also like to interview native Utahns about their lives and homes today.
Also inspired by native culture:Holbrook, Arizona--inspiration for Pixar's "Cars"?
Maintaining homes in  a dry place isn't easy. Most of the small towns we travelled through in Arizona looked like they were dying. I know many Utah towns that suffer the same way. People come in to buy cheap land on which to build big dreams, but the harsh sandy winds erode the dreams along with the signs painted to promote them. 

Small town museums can be the best places to learn about layers of people who try to make a place their home. We learned a lot in the museum in Springerville, Arizona by talking to a man who had retired there after a career in the Tucson area. He thought it was the most beautiful part of the state. (Maybe we haven't seen enough of the area to not disagree.)

He taught us that the volcanic cinders that make up most of the soil make farming too difficult for more than small, subsistence gardening.

This unpromising soil became the home to ancestral Puebloans who built a settlement nearby over a thousand years ago, then moved on for unknown reasons before the Navaho arrived five hundred years later, soon followed by the Spanish explorers.

After the Mexican American War, two parallel settlements were built by Basque sheep herders and Mormon Cattle ranchers. Despite combined economic interests, two towns remain, each proud of their independent heritage.

The museum houses possessions of a wealthy Parisian woman, Renee Cushman, who moved to the area to become a cattle rancher. Because she died childless, she donated her amazing rugs, paintings, and furniture to the museum.  I marveled at the difference between her new home on a the wind-swept, quiet, high desert after growing up in a bustling elegant city.

My husband pointed out that the woman who runs (and hopefully owns) the hotel we stayed in in Springerville is in a similar situation.

Like many in the hotel business in our part of the country, she is from India. Because I am not nosy, I didn't ask why she left India, why she chose Springerville, or whether the older man reading the newspaper and the older woman helping with the baby were her parents or her in-laws.

I complimented two of the things she planted to grow a home in the harsh Arizona soil. She has trained a plant in the hotel lobby to grow up one wall and cover the ceiling. It is gorgeous and makes the poor Antelope head on the wall look even more exotic and out of place than it did in the wild. I should have taken a picture.

I did take pictures of one of her two well-tended rose gardens. They are in gorgeous full bloom and show signs of daily care. Whatever brought her to this lonely foreign place, she is determined to cultivate a home.

THE PODCAST took a vacation when I did, but next week will be a poem about a sunset with reds and golds so fantastic that the great masters of the Renaissance drop their brushes. They and Emily would need medical help to recover from the golds and reds of the Navaho reservation near Monument Valley.

THE KNITTING went better than expected. My left arm still hurts, but isn't any worse after lots of driving knitting. I almost finished the piece I expected to finish before leaving, but ran out of yarn. I know the brand and ordered more, which should arrive any day. 

Other than the crucial finishing work, I finished a shawl of my own hand-spun yarn and own invention which is inspired by the broken geology through which we travelled. Some time this week I will tuck in the loose ends and block it. It may eventually appear in my shop. I'm calling it Ravenland.

I've also started one of the two projects I actually planned to make on this trip. It may be finished in a few weeks. What makes that less likely is the yarn I just received from Mountain Meadow Wool as part of a subscription. These are the colors of the southwest and I'm aching to start playing with them. 

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