Something a little different this time round.
I’m off on my vacation, and I thought I’d try to take you along with me.
I spend every day walking over the land, so, for my vacation I plan to……. walk across the land. With a grand total of 65 cents in my pocket, the luxury cruise to Hawaii will have to wait. For my vacation though, I’ll leave the flock behind.
My plan is to walk from the hogan to “town”, the bustling City of Flagstaff, a distance of about 100 miles as the crow flies, though why any self-respecting crow would want to go to Flagstaff is beyond me. Being on foot, and taking into consideration canyons and gorges etc, it will be a little further for me.
There are a couple of reasons I risk boring you with my vacation diary. One being that if possible, by describing the land and what is upon it to you, I may be able to make things a little more “real”, and in that way maybe shift into action some of you who remain voyeurs of the situation here. Its a long shot, I know, but worth the chance. Another reason is that I am sure the journey will give me plenty of opportunities to add to your understanding of the background and effects of the continued genocidal relocation process. My own particular interest in this trip (other than to get a break from sheep, corn, emails etc) is in the number of fences/borders that I will have to cross. Artificially imposed barriers. I’m interested to see what differences exist on the differing sides of the fences.
So I call this piece A Walk Across The Altar.
Black Mesa is an approximately 4,000 square mile chunk of sandstone that rises from the surrounding Painted Desert. Apologies if my geology is a little sketchy, I’m a sheepherder, not a geologist. It is said by geologists that at three different times in the past there have been oceans here, and that this has caused the 3 different layers of sandstone. The Mesa tilts a little to the south, being closr to a thousand feet higher at its northern end. Consequently, the water runs off towards the south and southwest, and over the centuries has cut drainages in this direction. Where these drainages leave the mesa, a series of “fingers” of high ground have been left. These peninsulas are where the Hopi people now have their villages.
My journey begins in the westernmost of these drainages, then I head east over the ridge, whose highest point is called Big Mountain, into the next drainage which I will then follow southwest in the direction of Flagstaff, civilization as we know it.
For a variety of unimportant reasons I make a late start, not heading off till lunch-time. No plane to catch, so what the hell. It’s mid-May, and hot, and my pack is heavy, but I console myself with the knowledge that as time passes, and I eat and drink, it will get lighter.
To set the scene for the next few days, I have to tell you how quiet it is here. It’s normal for me, so I guess I take it for granted, but most visitors comment on it (at least once they stop talking). Not quite silent, as the wind sometimes whispers (sometimes whistles too), the occasional crow caws, and like almost every spot on the planet now, huge chunks of metal filled with people growl overhead. It’s quiet enough though that the steady rythmn of the creaking of my pack and the scrunch of my steps is all there is to listen to. Here at 6000 feet, its high desert, so my boots are constantly on rock, sand, or dry powdery clay. There’s plenty of plant life, but everything is spaced out, a consequence of the competition for the scant rainfall. Incidentally, this spacing of the trees and grasses means there are never any “forest fires”, or grass fires. Plenty of single trees get ignited by lightning, but the flames cannot pass from tree to tree. This doesn’t stop the Corporate Hopis from declaring “Fire Emergency” whenever the People are planning a gathering such as Sun Dance, and the HTC wishes to discourage support or witnesses on the land.
Within the first mile of walking I have seen 3 kinds of grass, snakeweed, sagebrush (aahh what a smell after a rain), yucca, prickly pear cactus, greasewood , juniper, salthbush, ephedra, cholla cactus, navajo tea, hedgehog cactus, and a few bushes I don’t have names for. A diverse community of plants. Its been a couple of months since it has rained, so all the annual plants that flourished in the snow-melt have died back. Once the summer monsoons get here, there will be a profusion of new plants.
As I climb a gentle rise the trees, juniper and pinyon, become more numerous, so I stop regularly to sit and soak up the shade they offer. It’s hot, though I can’t give you a figure, as I don’t have a thermometer. Same reason I can’t tell you what time it is,…. don’t have a watch. My guess would be about 80 degrees and 2 o’clock. Another mile or so gently downhill and I come to the canyon. Its a decent size canyon, deep and wide, and I opt to take the road across rather than huff and puff scrambling down the rocks and cliffs.
It’s a hand-made road (used to be a wagon trail), made with picks and shovels, and sweat, and sometimes horses to move the big rocks. Technically these are named “unmaintained roads”, but that is a bit of a misnomer. A couple of years ago we had a visitor who came in a brand-spanking-new rented Sport Utility Vehicle. Come time for her to leave, and we couldn’t get it to start, so the rental company sent out a flat-bed truck to haul it away. Charged the driver a small fortune, because in the small print of the rental agreement it said that coverage did not extend to unmaintained roads. (What is the point of renting 4-wheel drive vehicles if you can’t take them where you need 4 wheel drive?) I wrote the company and tried to correct their misinformation. Every Fall, after the summer monsoons have scoured the land, w go out with shovels and picks and repair the damage caused by erosion, build little gabbillons to prevent further erosion, and fill in the low points and pot holes with the woodchips and bark bits from the past winters firewood chopping. ( EVERYTHING is recycled here). All this work most obviously makes these roads “maintained”. The rental company didn’t buy it though. (A proof-reader took issue with the statement that everything gets recycled here, so let me qualify that. Most stuff we use comes from the land. If there is anything left over after we have benefitted from it, its returned to the land. However, some stuff does come in here from outside. Compared to “out there” a very small amount, and most of it is in the form of packaging. Even this stuff gets reused after its initial use has been exhausted. As an example, let’s take the humble coffee can. Once emptied of coffee, the can makes an excellent container for all manner of things from food to nuts and bolts. The coffee can can be used to transport material from A to B. I use one this way to take water from the barrell to the plants in the garden. If you make a hole in the bottom of the can, it can be placed over the opening of a water barrel, and function as a funnel when pouring in buckets of water from the spring. If you cut the bottom off the can, it fits perfectly to extend or repair stovepipe. I’ve seen Hopi farmers use them to protect early corn. If you cut the can down the side, you now have a piece of sheet metal from which you can fashion a multitude of things. My stove door is made this way, as is my ash shovel. Eventually though, after a long and useful life, the can becomes bent and rusty. Then it gets thrown away.) But I digress. Down in the bottom of the canyon it is a whole different world. A different ecosystem due to the prevalence of water. A profusion of growth, larger trees and bushes, many of which do not grow up-top. The sandy floor of the canyon is dry now, though the water still runs below the surface, as evidenced by the Cottonwood trees growing here. Impaled in the sandy floor are hogan-sized rocks that have come tumbing down from the eroding walls of the canyon. Come the monsoons, and this will be a raging river, if only for a few hours, and gradually these rocks will move inexorably downstream, breaking into smaller pieces as they go.
Climbing out of the canyon (gently,… it’s steep), I veer off the road and take a horsetrail. I don’t expect any traffic, but I prefer the privacy away from the road. Also a horse trail is usually a lot shorter route to somewhere than a road. Down in the side canyon to the left are some remains of Anasazi dwellings and some petroglyphs. The whole mesa is covered with them. Half the time I’m out with the flock I’m walking on pottery shards. It is said by archeologists that these sites were abandoned about 800 years ago. Claiming sole descendency from the Anasazi ( a notion that is contradicted by the evidence), the Corporate HTC claims that this therefore makes this land theirs. I don’t know,…. a lot happens in 800 years,…. it’s an awful long time to wait to ask for something back. But then the coal under the land had no value till this century.
Topping out of the canyon, its now a long flat stretch of plain to where the ridge starts to rise. At least it looks flat, but is in fact ridged and cut by drainages. About a mile across I come upon a sad and eerie sight. An abandoned little stone house. Used to be the home of someone who is now relocated. This abandoned house is somewhat unusual though in that it is still standing. Usually after soemone has been moved off, the BIA/Corporate Hopis come in, remove doors, windows, anything off value, and then demolish it. Don’t know why they haven’t done that to this one. Don’t know where the previous inhabitants are now either. Statistically, the chances are that they are dead, Suicide, depression, alcoholism, heartbreak, and a huge increase in the incidence of life-shortening illnesses are the norm for relocatees. Experts in the matter warned the government that this woulod be the result, but they went ahead with the relocation program anyway. Can’t expect human life to stand in the way of huge profits.
I move on, across a couple of washes and a small canyon, and am about halfway to the ridge when I see a group of horses run off. Good looking horses, a couple of adults and a juvenile. A casual visitor might think these were wild horses, but they’re not. Just free. Whenever they are needed, one will be rounded up, worked for a while, then let go again. Some years ago I had a job looking after some horses “out there”. They were Arabian, and apparently very expensive. They were kept in little steel cages, and their food had to be weighed and given to them at specific times otherwise “they get sick”. Maybe once a week, if they were lucky, they got to run circles round a corral for an hour. They were nervous and tetchy. The horses here have to work hard for their living. When there is snow on the ground there isn’t a lot of food, and at dry times of the year like now they have to travel long distances to get water, but there is no comparison in the look in the eyes of these horses to those expensive arabians. If you can get close enough, you can see the stars in their eyes.
A little further, after 3 or 4 hours of walking I come to an abomination. The first fence. Steel posts and triple strands of barbed wire. Your standard western fence. Like the probably millions of miles of such fence that cover this Turtle Island, the fence exists to control cows. There never were any fences on this continent until relatively recently. There were no fences on the Altar until the feds gave the land to the Corporate Hopis. This particular fence delineates a Hopi Grazing District. On the other side of it, all the people have been moved off. Now there are just cows owned by the absentee Corporate Hopis. Just across the fence is a windmill and stock tank. The fence insures that the animals of the people who live here cannot get at the water. All around the ground is denuded of vegetation and covered with cow pats. It stinks. Not far from here is where Roberta Blackgoat and others were arrested and jailed for non-violently resisting the desecration of some grave sites. This whole land is covered with stories. And songs.
Heading on up the slope the trees become more numerous again. Off in the distance to the southwest, Doo’ ko’o’sliid (San Francisco Peaks), the 12000 foot high sacred mountain is clearly visible. On the north slopes there is still some snow visible. Flagstaff lies just on the other side of the peaks, so they act as the landmark I head towrds. I should be there in 3 or 4 days, though they look an awful long way away.
I pass the remains of a summer shelter. Originally it was a circle of green boughs set in the ground, now all that remains is the weather-blackened skeleton. There is no telling how old this structure is… In the Dineh way, structures are meant to decompose slowly back into the earth they came from. The land is covered with the remains of summer shelters, hogans, corrals, sweat lodges, etc. ( The whole land is overlaid with an complex web of stories, songs , and prayers, ceremonies, history, place. This web does not appear on any map. Warmaker cannot see it, but is instinctively afraid. .Sometimes the only clue that anything was there is a subtle change in vegetation. On of the saddest experiences is driving over the land with an Elder as they point out such-an-such used to live there, my relatives used to live here, again and again,Every few miles.The Dineh have been erroneously labeled as nomadic. (The Dineh are “nomadic”, … the Hopis “migrate”?). In the old days the people moved around the land, following the rainfall and grazing, ensuring that the land stayed healthy. Now they are forced to stay in one place. A couple of years ago someone sent me an interesting report. Using satellite image analysis, scientists studied the state of the land in western asia. The area covered was Russia, Mongolia, and China. In Russia and China, the State controlled the grazing, with fences and permits and Science. Sandwiched in-between was Mongolia where the people still followed the traditional methods of grazing. The evidence was irrefutable. The land in Mongolia was in much better health. The difference is that one system attempts to “control” the land, the other to work “with” the land. And so it is here. If the people were allowed to live the traditional way, the land could support much more livestock. A neighbour has just had some of his stock impounded, yet there is plenty of grass around.
Another hour or so and I reach the top of the ridge. There is till a couple of hours of light left, but I decide to stop for the night. I’ve come about 12 miles or so today. Along the top of the ridge is the fence between HPL and NPL, and I’d rather stay on this side for the night. I’ve described this fence as inscribing a prison, but it also serves to keep Babble-On out. I feel safer on this side of the fence…. protected from the insanity that seems to be prevalent “out there”. I drop my pack, and instantly feel light and airy, settle down with my back against a tree and savor the fact that there is not one single thing I have to do, but enjoy the silence and the expansive view.
Across from me is a clump of yuccas. It is a plant with many names. Spanish Bayonet because of its sharp pointed leaves that explode out from its base. These yuccas have stalks rising up 3 or 4 feet from the base. Soon flowers will appear on the stalk, and then they will turn into fruit. The young stalks (looking like asparagus), the flowers, and the fruit are all edible. The goats go crazy for them. When the yucca is shooting and blooming the goats make a mad dash for them as soon as the corral gate is opened. Nothing will deter them from this delicacy. The yucca has many other uses. The leaves, when pounded into fiber make excellent cordage. Sandals and ropes made from it have been found in the old Anasazi ruins. Another name for the yucca is Soapweed. Its root, when peeled and pounded in water produces excellent suds. I don’t use anything else to wash my hair.
The sun sets to the west over the kaibab plateau north of the Grand Canyon, and the land darkens. As far as the eye can see, and it must be at least several hundred square miles, no lights come on. If you were to fly over here at night and look down, you’d see one of those black areas. You might think there were no people there. That it was wilderness. Wilderness seems more and more like a strange idea to me. That Land and People don’t belong together. When the visitors first came to this continent they saw wilderness. Partly that was because it was inconvenient to see the inhabitants, but partly, I think, because was the land was not damaged, fenced, ploughed. The inhabitants “inhabited” the land. The Visitors had a history of changing the land.
I always feel good looking back over the land . It’s a little island of non-USA. Its closer, I think, to places such as Chiapas, East Timor, the Amazon, than it is to the U.S. Its free land. Lived on by sovereign people. When “Sovereignty” is taken to mean asking Uncle Sam for permission to build casinos, I think the word “sovereignty” is debased., but the truth is the people here have never signed any treaty with the U.S. Sure, some Navajos east of here got rounded up and put in a concentration camp. A few of them signed a treaty with Uncle Sam, but they could not speak for the people here. Life carried on here in the traditional way. Why do you think it is that few of the Elders speak english? They never went to school. They were pretty much left alone until the 1960’s when the opening of the mine bought roads. According to the dominant society, the People shouldn’t be here. Not only do they contradict the notion that the Indians “disappeared” a century ago, they are also standing in the way of the continued rape of this sacerd Mesa. The plan is to invade. Reno’s Goons and the Men In Black. Heavily armed of course. There are little old ladies who don’t speak english here. Obviously far more dangerous than a little Cuban boy,
My thoughts return to the real world, and I watch the stars appear. Just one at first. Then another. Then they appear faster than can be counted. The end of another good day. As I lay in my bag, the night sounds increase. Being desert, and being summer, most critters round here are active in the cool of the night. In the quiet the sound of their movements are amplified…. a bug sound as big as a mouse, a mouse as big as a cat, a cat as big as a bear. What other people share the Altar with the 2 -legged, the sheep, the horses and cows? The sky is ruled by the Eagles. There are several kinds of hawks, owls, and of course, huge crows. Nighthawks, Bluejays and many other species, all the way down to hummingbirds. Among the 4-legged, Deer are numerous. How numerous becomes clear after an overnight snowfall. Deer tracks are very similar to goat and sheep tracks, so it is hard to tell them apart, but going out with the flock after a snowfall we cross dozens of tracks made during the night. Moving down in scale come the coyote. You see them rarely as they prefer to keep their distance from the dogs and the 2-legged, but many nights their chorus is heard. Mountain Lion and Bobcat live here too, but they tend to keep even further away. Never seen a skunk, but their uniques scent wafts by occasionaly. Never seen a porcupine either, but I know they are there…. one time one of the dogs came home looking like Father Christmas…. his whole face covered in 2 inch white spines. Rabbits there are a plenty, both the big eared Jacks, and the ground-hugging Cottontails. Rodents include species of mouse, squirrels, ground squirrels and prairie dogs. The insects on the ground and in the air are too numerous to list, even if I did know their names. Lizards of various sizes skitter around, and of course there are several species of snake.
As I pass into sleep, I ponder how impossible it is to feel alone in such a community of life.
Many times I wake momentarily though the night, and check the journey of the full moon across the sky. A reliable timepiece and calendar that needs no batteries.
Back home, in the real world, the days are long. Couldn’t get much longer, Solstice will soon be here. Curiously, or not, the chores that need to be done manage to fill the daylight hours. The flock go out before sunrise, taking advantage of the cool of the dawn, then they’re back in the corrall by 9 or 10. Then for the two-legged, there is water hauling to do. Garden to be watered. Wool washed. At 5 in the evening when things are starting to cool down, the flock go back out till sunset. Got a big surprise yesyerday, as I approached the corrall I heard the unmistakeable sound of a little one, and sure enough a new born goat was there. Its been a few months since lambing was over, so I’ve got to call him Surprise. And then, the next day, he is joined by a new-born lamb. Surprise Too.
Its been hot.
The outhouse got blown over. It was held down with wires, and has stood for over 3 years, but a little trickster/dust devil flipped it right over.
Several times, clouds have built up during the day. Just a few whisps at first, then the next time you look they are small clouds, which join together. By the end of the day a dark, heavy mass has formed itself. Once rain fell, but evaporated long before it could reach the thirsty ground. Last night I watched the full moon rise from behind a storm to the east. Tendrils of lightning danced below. For months the sky has been a placid blue dome above, but now the sky is animated. Powers far greater than my puny self are at work. It feels improper watching Father Sky and Mother Earth engage in foreplay, so I come inside. As I now write, thunder, and then spots of rain come in through the smoke hole.
Ho Hum. Same old, same old.
But then, what the hell do I know,… I’m just a sheepherder.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
Thanks for giving me your time by reading this
Your prayers, support, and correspondence are invited