Navajo Culture

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekend Journey across the Navajo Nation (Part 1--Page to Kayenta)

It’s been over a week now; the sun is low; the sky is faded; I’m tired.  The post I so looked forward to writing remains undone, scattered notes gathered as we made our way across the Navajo Nation for Marci’s Grandma’s second 90th Birthday.  The weekend was just what I’d hoped for, but as is so often the case when writing travelogues, no matter how brief, by the time the trip is over, you’re too tired to record what went down, and then the next morning real life sets in and before you know it, the journey is seeping into your unconscious like desert rain sponged up by parched ground.  Sure, it will spring up again, triggered by another thought or memory, but what good does that do now.  For now that memory is dry, cracked, fragmented, curling up, and flaking away into the hot wind.

Recovery takes work, energy I’m not sure I have right now.  I think I’ll post a few of the better notes that I do have, a few photos, perhaps fill in some holes and call it good.  It won’t be the work I envisioned, but it won’t be totally gone either.

Notes exist when either Rio or Marci was driving.  They don’t exist from when I was driving for obvious reasons.  But photos snapped through dirty windows help.  As we only had the weekend and 956 miles to cover, there simply wasn’t time to stop and compose, either the photographs or the writing.  It truly is a journal written on the run.  

Since we left Dry Creek as the sun was setting Friday night, I begin the record the next morning as we were leaving Page, Arizona. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

9:40 a.m.

Page:  Gateway to the Navajo Nation.   Antelope Canyon, a narrow, slight-undulating groove gouged in the gently slope slanting down toward Glenn Canyon and Lake Powell.  From the highway, it is almost imperceptible, not much wider that a narrow wash or sidewalk.  But inside, it is a cathedral of light, among one of the most photographed spots on planet earth.

I know this road as well as the back of hand, but just like I don’t know the names of the countless creases in my aging hand, I can name very few of the folds, creases and scars of this weathered land.  This is because I’m Bilagáana, and as much as this space pulls my heart-strings, it belongs the Diné, who do know the name and history of every dimple and pock mark, many having , or water, as part of the name, water being so essential in this high desert of sand, monolithic stone and juniper.

One of the many stone monuments for which I don't know the name, U.S. 98.
10:19 a.m.

Grasslands are more a part of red-rock country then you would think.  High-open spaces of gold dotted with scattered Juniper, and with just a little elevation climb, the juniper thicken to dark clumpy forest.  Pinion join.  Then a drop—the land falls away in forested folds towards the knees of Black Mesa, a long line of clouds trailing along the top.  Crossroads Trading Post:  Saturday is flea market day, the heart and soul of the Navajo economy.   Too bad we don’t have the time to stop for mutton stew.  Damn, I haven’t had mutton in such a long time.  I can’t wait to eat at the birthday gathering.

10:33 a.m.

I love how often stone is at the surface here: not rock piles, but massive whale-backs of bedrock.  Sometimes they rise out of horizon like enormous sea-monsters arching their back, but just as often they remain mostly submerged in the sand, a crest of rippled rock forming a broad, low hill.  I’ve always wanted to build a Villa Savoy-like home in such a place, a white ship floating above red, rippled stone on concrete pilasters.  There’d be no grass to water, just cool, slick undulating stone to walk across in bare feet in the morning—a beach house on a frozen beach.  Wonderful!

A whale-back hill near Tsegi Canyon, U.S. 160
11:00 a.m.
Between Tsegi Canyon and Kayenta.  Rock is the drumbeat of this land: monoclines, anticlines, volcanic plugs, monuments, buttes, swells.  

Cliff faces headed east of Anasazi Inn and Tsegi Canyon on U.S. 160

Photographs and After-the-Fact Narrative

It was probably 11:30 when we pulled into the Chevron in Kayenta.  Kayenta is the cleanest, most prosperous of the large Navajo towns (Kayenta, Tuba City, Chinle, Shiprock and Windowrock).  I don't know if that is because it is the gateway to Monument Valley (and therefore receives more tourists dollars) or because it has a unique, more autonomous government than the other large towns, or most likely, a combination of both.

That may take some explanation.  Politically speaking, as well as traditionally speaking, there are no towns on the Navajo Reservation.  Unlike the Hopi, Navajo have never gathered in towns.  In the past, there were no villages.  Instead, there were clusters of extended family units.

Most of the reservation is still that way.  Towns are few and far in between, but there are lots of clusters of homes on family lease sites in between.  It's not near as rural as it seems.  There just aren't many towns.

And again, I use the term "town" loosely.  Politically, with the exception of Kayenta, there are no towns.  Even Windowrock, the capital, is not a town.  Instead, power is held at the chapter level (the equivalent of a county government), and what appear to be towns are no more than incidental proximity of families, which leads to the need for schools, hospitals, which then fuels a local economy, such as gas stations and grocery stores.

However, these communities have no autonomy from the chapter and have no power to self-regulate, such as establishing taxes, raising bonds, deciding zoning or promoting tourism.

Kayenta is the exception.  With a population of 5,189, it has the only municipal-style government within the Navajo Nation and has a 5-member elected town board which hires a township manager (Wikipedia).  It officially became a township April 30, 1997 for a five-year-trial after 17 years of planing.  In the 2003, Kayenta obtained official permanent status as a municipality (Kayenta Township).

From appearances, it seems to have worked.  Though still a long, spread out strip along the highway, like the other large Navajo Communities, it is cleaner and looks more prosperous, even on the backstreets.  Of course, as Monument Valley is only twenty-five miles away and is one of the most photographed spots on earth, it would have a more robust economy with or without township status. Still, Chinle has Canyon de Chelly National Park and is not near as vibrant as Kayenta so I tend to think local control has a positive impact.

Church Rock, a volcanic plug about 5 1/2 miles east of Kayenta on U.S. 160
is one of the many rock monuments in the Kayenta area.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Weekend Journey across the Navajo Nation (Part 2--Kayenta to U.S. 191 + Alice Walker and Tillie Olsen)

By Alice Walker's standards, I'm no writer.   I believe I read an essay where she damns Tillie Olsen for claiming in the preface of I Stand Here Ironing that she (Tillie, herself) was unable to write when younger because she was too busy being a wife and mother.  Alice says that's complete hogwash by a lazy, undediticated (and therefor undeserving) writer.  Alice then goes on to tell how she (Alice, herself, quite the martyr for her art), raised babies all day and then wrote all night.

Now, I'm almost sure what I claim here is true and I'd verify it, if it weren't raining and if the books needed were not in the shed, which is crammed floor to ceiling with junk.  In other words, I could cite sources if I weren't so lazy.  So, even though I once had an enormous crush on Alice Walker and rushed from Dallas to Austin and screamed at my diabetic carmate, "No--damn it!-- I can't stop to get you food right now, you'll just have to die or we'll miss Alice!"--even with that passion, I must side with Tillie here.  Sometimes I'm just too stinking tired to write.

Life crowds in, takes over.  And unlike Alice, I'm okay with that.  Sexy as those dreadlocks are, it would have never worked out.  It's 9:24 and already I'm up way past my bedtime.  So, I probably won't get this posted before the end of February, which is sad, because I need all the views I can get. (Last Saturday I jumped up thrilled at the number of views I'd received and my son broke into laughter--"Dad, I can get more hits on facebook by posting 'huh, what?")

So, anyway, here's the second post on our trip across the Navajo Nation.

Petrified dunes & red bluffs east of U.S. 160 & Indian Route 59 

Okay, perhaps I'm not quite over Alice yet.  Just now, I was thinking about how to explain that one of my favorite parts of the reservation (U.S. 160 from the turn-off to Indian Route 59 to Red Mesa) is geographically speaking the least eventful area along the route when a poem by Alice Walker came to mind that says it perfectly:

"But think about the time
you saw the moon 
over that small canyon
that you liked much better
than the grand one--and how surprised you were
that the moonlight was green
and you still had
one good eye
to see it with."

And that is what I often find with landscapes--the subtle haunts me more than the grand.  This area is almost a wide valley edged by a low, red mesa to the north and a low, gray mesa to the south.  I say almost because it's not that uniform but broken by small swells and shallow canyon washes.  Still, picture the Mississippi drained dry and that's about what it is.  Low, petrified dunes piled up long, long ago, then frozen by time, march across a wide valley edged by low bluffs.

It has a subtlety to it--a slow unwinding letting go.  "Let It Grow" by Eric Clapton is perhaps the musical equivalent.  These things astound me:  gentle contours, a winding wash, rippled stone, time, distance, God, love.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Weekend Journey across the Navajo Nation (Part 3: Rock Point to Round Rock)

Every time I've planned to do a series of posts on one topic, I've failed.  Perhaps this will be no different.  I lose interest, get side-tracked and leave the story incomplete.  But in this case, I hope not. The Rez is close to my heart and schedules and finances keep my old home at bay.  Though this trip was way too quick--not more than a drive by--it meant a lot to me.  It seems it should be recorded even if I'm no longer fully there, so I'll try to do it some sort of justice.  I once wrote to say things magnificently.  I got a few gems and threw away a lot of crap.  Now, I write to say things adequately. It is enough to say, "I came, I saw, I thought, and here is my record."  Just imagine the tapestry we'd leave behind if everyone had the need to record the journey of their days.  Facebook, to some extent is just that.  I hope future generations will have access to that cultural goldmine, but I doubt it.     

These two rocks south of "Rock Point" together look like a cartoon whale to me.
I'm not sure if the community is named after one of these or a smaller rock north of "town".

Red rock, as a whole, is different in southern Utah than in northern Arizona.  In Utah, high plateaus, still mostly intact are gouged by deep, winding canyons that cut through and shred the edges of massive tables of rock.  In northern Arizona the plateaus, as a whole, have eroded away and left islands of rock.

There are, of course, lots of exceptions.  Canyon de Chelly cuts deep into the still very intact Ft. Defiance Plateau.   The Kiabab, though torn by the Grand Canyon is still there, cohesively major.  And so my argument may here fall apart, but at least visually, there seems to be less canyons in Arizona and more lone stones.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Four Corners:  El Capitan, Monument Valley, Church Rock, Rock Point, Round Rock, Red Mesa, Ship Rock, etc.  Red Rock buttes and deep gray volcanic plugs rise out of broad valleys abruptly.  Many of these in Navajo mythology are the monsters slain by the hero twins.

As we made our way south and east on US 191 and India Route 12 I was amazed to see again my old stone friends.

Close up of the tale of the "whale"
Rock Point?--I don't know.

My favorite rock on the Rez is what I assume to be Round Rock, a massive butte between the communities of Many Farms and Round Rock with a flying buttress arch on the west side and a deep red gouged vegetation-less skirt reminiscent of NASA pictures of Mars.

Round Rock?--I don't know

As the rock is more rectangular than round, I've never been sure if it is the rock for which the community is named.  It does have a round eye of the needle hole through the arch on the north, but that isn't visible from "Round Rock".  There is a much less impressive rock closer to Round Rock that is round, so that may be the rock for which the town is named.  I once picked up a hitch-hiker and asked him, but he didn't know--or just as likely, wasn't willing to divulge that information.  I understand that.  The white man wants to claim everything and make a profit off it--especially after marginalizing a culture.  Okay, even though we tried to exterminate you, we still would like your culture and your religion logged in our books.  There have been far too many books written about the Rez by bilagáanas who spend a summer and interview a few elders without really taking the time to absorb the culture.

Personally, I feel the Navajo are quite capable of writing their own books, should they want to.  And even after eight years living there and sixteen years of being married into the culture, I feel inadequate to be more than a travel writer when on the Rez.  So, I will restrict myself to being a tourist and will let the Diné story be told by the Diné .  It seems only reasonable.    

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tupperware, Moss & Ice: A Bilagaana's Views on Life from the Navajo Nation (and "Poem for Jody" by Simon J. Ortiz)

This is the introduction to a collection of poems, Tupperware, Moss & Ice, that I compiled in 2004, my fourth year living on the Navajo Reservation.  We continued to live there another four years afterwards.  Dry Creek and the Navajo Nation are the two places in my life that have felt like home. Everywhere else, no matter how nice the place, no matter how good the people, always just felt like a residence.  Everyone has one or two spiritual homes, places they know they can just slide into and be. Dry Creek and the Navajo Nation are mine.

Tupperware, Moss & Ice

Traditional Hogan, Navajo Village Herritage Center, Page, Arizona

Thursday, December 9, 2004.  It's a little after 5:30, and I'm headed up a two-lane paved road through Lukachukai, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation.  On the left is Totsoh Trading Post, a wonderful old concrete block building, and one of the last of its kind, a real trading post, selling canned goods, great sacks of Bluebird flour, a few choices of vegetables and meat, as well as lanterns, shovels, metal buckets, Pendelton blankets, and caste-iron frying pans.  It's owned by the grandparents of one of my students, Danielle. Two of their other granddaughters were also my students in the past.  There is a wood sign outside, "Pinions Sold Here," and a great big lighted spruce tree in front of the adjoining house.  It's near-dark, and the big, old-fashioned gum-drop Christmas lights delight me.  The Lukachukai Mountains are not much more than a gray outline against the darkening sky.  Up ahead is the green sign pointing to Lukachukai Community School. I pass a trailer of another student, Ailene, and turn onto another paved road.

Up ahead is the school, part of what I call the Tupperware world.  I've never been in it, but I work in a school much like it, and I know that world well.  It's relatively connected to the outside world in that it has electricity, telephones, Internet, plumbing, and is part of some larger bureaucracy.  It is accountable to No Child Left Behind.  Even though it has Navajo Culture and Navajo Language classes, it is less connected to the local community, and perhaps it is even somewhat sealed off from it.   While in that lighted, heated building, it is very easy to forget that many of the students had to heat water over an open fire when they bathed for school. They dress like kids in California, listen to the same music as kids in California, and to some extent, even talk like kids in California when they are at school.  It is part of their world.  But, it is not all of it.  The school is a giant Tupperware jar thrown in the brush--a plastic , insulated world warmed and cooled by electricity, surrounded by teacher housing, which is also insulated from the Reseravation, surrounded by fences, each home possessing an indoor toilet and shower.  In short, like all schools and hospitals on the Reservation, it is a world within a world, much like a foreign embassy.  Whether it's a good or evil world I'll leave to the judgement of the Navajos.

However, I do know that I enjoy teaching in such a world.  Sometimes, I even enjoy looking through state standards, designing rubrics, and grading papers.  More often I enjoy the students, and if truth be told, I love them--even the ones who won't do the work I want done.  I don't know if I love them because they're Navajo, or just because they're children, or maybe just because I turn a few of them into my little writing disciples.  The Rez is the only place I've ever taught, and so I don't have much of a world view of my profession.  I have no itch to leave, and so I probably never will expand my view.  These are the children I know and love to teach.

Just before the school, I take a left and enter the Navajo world.  It has been snowing for a week, has been very cold, and the dirt roads have been packed with snow pressed to a smooth polish.  But today it warmed. Lukachukai is considered lucky, for its soil is more sand than clay.  Even so, the slushy snow and mud oozes beneath my van's tires as I slip in and out of the grooves.  It is hard to describe these roads to an outsider.  I grew up in rural Utah, but it was no training ground for Rez roads.  At home, the farm roads are gravel, which compared to these, is like driving down the Interstate.  I fish-tail around a corner, hit an especially deep pot of ice, water and mud, which splashes up over my windshield, before I dip down through a wash. I admire the rutted, sandy, deep-grooved wash banks the best I can through my mud-smeared windshield. Then, it's up the other side, where this morning, one of the buses came uncomfortably close to me as it literally slid on by.

I head on up towards the red cliff-faces of the Lukachukai Mountains that I read about in a poem by Simon J. Ortiz long before I ever moved here.  I was reading in a bar in El Paso, feeling very lost and alone, when I came across "Poem for Jody."  I was in a bad situation in my life, removed from home and family, and it so simply and gracefully stated a love for place that afterwards I knew I was going home to rural Utah.  In trying to make it as a writer, I had become something I'm not--urban, cynical, and worst of all, excruciatingly shy. To this day, I don't know what happened; I knew some great people in Dallas and El Paso.  Still, somewhere along the way, I'd lost myself.  I had become a shell.  Then, when I returned to my roots, slowly I found me. Exposed soil and sage are deep within me.  Bare trees and red skies are who I am.  Frozen puddles and rutted road--I don't know why, but I can't breath without them.

I honestly believe my greatest worldly accomplishment is that I have now lived without seeing smog for six years except on those rare trips to Phoenix and the outside world.  I know that fact in no way changes the reality of the world--I drive 40 miles a day just to take Everest to and from the babysitter, and I contribute more than my fare share to global warming--but if life is meant to be walked in beauty, I have journeyed to the right place.  The moon is up, tufts of snow glow along the tops of the cliff-rock, and even with moonlight, the stars shine unnervingly sharp.

I turn into the babysitter's.  There's two homes here.  One belongs to Amos, one of our school janitors.  He also works in the kitchen.  He works sixteen hour days and always seems to be happy.  I often wonder how that is possible, but that's at school, in the Tupperware world, where everything is distorted by what is plastic and opaque.  As I get out into the cold evening and walk between his cottonwood and Russian olive trees to the small house with the smoke swirling out of the stack, I know why he's happy.  This place.  It's the ice, the clarity, stars sharp and bright, earth wet and sound.  You can smell it, feel it, reality.  It's what most of the world is lacking--shit on the boots, mice in the car, ice-pelted sagebrush--a smell heavenly strong.  There is a rhythm to bringing in the fire wood that can't be duplicated by running to the mall again.

Next to him, in a wonderful trailer with with a full porch that's been added to it, lives his son, Bryan and his wife, who both work at our school.  He's a teacher and his wife is our ELL clerk.  Amos also raises a grandson and granddaughter, Richelle and Leroy, who are my students.   This is the moss--family, comfort, the cozy known.  I used to make fun of it and about voided my soul in trying to separate myself from my own version of it.  But we all need it--clan, family, roots, tradition.  Our society is severely sick from the lack of it.

I knock.  The door swings open, and out rushes my son, Everest.  He jumps into my arms as I go inside to fetch his lunch bag and talk briefly about work Richelle and Leroy need to turn into me.  And somehow it all matters--all of it.  I walk back on the wet, sandstone walkway, out the gate, through the mud and then take one last whiff of the fireplace smoke before getting in the car and driving back to my school compound about twenty minutes away.

On the way back Everest and I don't say much.  He's too busy looking at the stars.  I'm too busy looking at the stars.  I'm also thinking about how I'll explain the title of this collection--Tupperware, Moss and Ice--without voiding its meaning.

The Tupperware World is the plastic world we operate in most of the time.  It is the schedules, duties, work and pay checks.  I'm not sure if it's good or evil.  I know of very few people, including myself, who are brave enough to live totally outside of it.  When I tried, I was broke, hungry and miserable.  Now that I acknowledge it, I sometimes even get along quite well with it.  However, it has very little to do with life, simply because it does nothing to address those nagging questions everyone has whether or not they are brave enough to voice them--Why are we here? and What do we live for?  I feel great sorrow for those too afraid to search for those answers, those who wrap themselves in the material world, believing that it is all there is.

The Moss World is our family, both extended and nuclear.  It is the noise, the bickering, the hugs, the fighting.  It is not being able to stand being around each other.  But having no family around me for a long time, I can tell you, I for one, would die without it.  There was one particular night I walked down Mesa Street in El Paso swearing at every passing car, "I want to die--and you don't give a shit!" and of course they didn't.  They couldn't  The city makes people into strangers by placing them out of context.  In a small town you know an eccentric man's history, even a crazy man's history, and so you understand him.  Ripped from context, he seems scary and dangerous.  Living without family is like sleeping exposed on a glacier on an all-too clear, bitter-cold night, when every star is sharp and the surrounding steep granite cliffs point to the void with savage exactitude.  Most of us are not made to sleep well under such conditions.  We need moss, ferns, maple, pine, the sounds of other critters, some reassurance we are not all alone in this vast universe.  I am well because I found family again--both the one that raised me and the one I am now raising.

However, I also believe in facing that void--the ice, the clarity--feeling naked before a creation so great and incomprehensible that it makes us both stare in awe at its vastness and head for fig-leaf covers and cushy comforts, where we both want to know and not know the answers to life's questions simultaneously. Personally, I believe God can only be found there, in that place of not-knowing, glimpsed often enough to keep you believing, but hidden often enough to keep you searching.

And so, my hope is that these poems point a finger towards the ice without leaving behind the Tupperware and moss.  May we always be searching and never be found.

For my family
For my Creator

Thanks to both for the second chance at living.

© Steve Brown, 2004


Simon J. Ortiz indirectly brought me to the Navajo Nation by instilling in me the desire to return to my own heritage, rural Utah, where I met Marci, a Navajo.  I don't think it's by accident that I came across "Poem for Jody" at the lowest point of my life or that we ended up living in sight of the Lukachukai Mountains.  And there is no more fitting way to update this post than with some lines from "Poem for Jody":

I was telling you
about the red cliff faces
of the Lukachukai mountains--
how it is 
going away--
and you don't ever want to go
but do anyway.

At This Moment
Navajo Village--A warm, balmy breeze blows from the south.  Tropical clouds diffuse most of the sun.  If I were to close my eyes, I would picture grass huts, white beaches and turquoise waters.  But there’s no need.  The weathered juniper post of the shade house in the foreground, the Hogan and sand hill in mid-ground, and the hulking monolithic sandstone swell in the background are enough.  And though I am lucky to be here, and have this amazing place to sit and melt into my surroundings, chances are you have your own sacred place at this moment. 
It may be a window seat overlooking the front lawn and the spread of suburbia, kids riding bikes or skateboards down the street. 
Or, it may be your office window--shiny metal boxes flooding through the last play of light and shadow on downtown’s concrete canyons at the end of the work day. 
Or maybe it’s midnight.  Something has gone wrong in the OR.  You’re the unlucky housekeeper called into mop up the mess.  Although there’s more blood than usual, it’s the same old routine.  There’s the CD player on the medical cart.  If you’re lucky, there may even be some Fleetwood Mac or Eagles to play.  The Dance.  Gloves on, you unlock the wheels and move the bed.   A metropolis of red spreads out from the center of the room, a galaxy spiraling out towards the cold edges of existence.  Even here, mopping up what remains of someone’s life, there are patterns to contemplate, meaning to see in dots, blobs and code.  It’s not that you’re heartless; it’s just what good would it do now to do more than witness?
It is not where we are that keeps us from entering the moment.  It’s our useless battles with the mind.  I ruined most of my day obsessing over the fact that neither Marci nor I had noticed there was a posting for an elementary position in my hometown.  I’ve been checking for openings obsessively for months, but not the last couple of weeks.  It posted two weeks ago and closed two days ago. 
Nothing can be done.  There is only the moment.  Marci talks to a couple from Germany outside the female Hogan.  Sunlight ignites her blue blouse and ricochets off the silver of her Concho belt.  There is the distant sound of traffic.  A single bird chirps, and as always, light plays on the sandstone folds of the rock behind.  

 We needed that job, but losing this moment won’t help things. 

The Navajo Village; Reflections on El Paso, Juarez, Many Farms; Sustainability, Windows and Light
I want to write today about sustainability, windows and light.  This didn’t come to me all at once, but slowly, as the sun cut its path from east to west and darkness settled deep across the landscape.
Yesterday, we had a special fundraiser for the Boy Scouts at the Navajo Village and it was bitter-cold, which is unusual for Page, especially this time of year.  The two hogans were warm, oil barrel fireplaces humming in the center of the log-rooms, shafts of rain, sleet and snow filtering down through hole in the roofs at the center of the room, sputtering off the top of stoves in short bursts of steam. 
But outside it was intense--especially after a bitter-wind drove the clouds away and a yellow light cut across the landscape, igniting the rocks behind.  It was uncomfortably beautiful.
Large Hogan after the storm passed

Tony, Everest and Tomas dancing in the cold.

Then night fell hard, quick.  I worried about my flowers and assumed today would be much the same.  So, I was in no hurry to get up and go outside this morning.

When I finally did, I was quite surprised:  warm sunlight, stillness, birds chirping, a perfect spring morning.  As we were going to church, Marci commented, “Why couldn’t it have been like this yesterday?”    That would have been nice, but I know from experience, not near as memorable.  There is something about hardship, especially the elements, that draws us closer to the essentials of creation.  My most memorable moments camping were at the time the most unpleasant--tent whipping violently in the night, vegetables frozen in a solid block of ice at the bottom of the cooler in the morning--these are the moments I relish later, although they were most uncomfortable at the time.
I can’t help but wonder if the same is true with our lives.  Will we look back from eternity and cherish the moments of death, unemployment, spiritual uncertainty most?  Those moments where we were forced to grow?  I think perhaps so.
This brings me back to sustainability.  A few days ago I was looking at other sites.  Most left me empty, which doesn’t say anything negative about them--just something about me.  They provide very practical information on topics such as reusing rain-water or composting.  Both things I want to do.  But most of the sites don’t provide that slow, reflective talk, which loosens the mind and allows unknown treasures to drop.  To me, it is that dialogue with our creator, ourselves and each other that is at the center of sustainability.
I did, however find one sight which approached what I’m looking for.  I’d like to share it, in case you are looking for something similar.  It’s called Backyard Agrarian and is found at  What really impressed me was the site’s description of sustainability:
Backyard Agrarian living isn't about any one thing. It's about how all things are connected. It's about going through life day after day, making observations and continuous adjustments. It's a new way. It's about how we feel in times of birth, death, frustration, joy and how we respond and act  and how we see the connections between our human stuff and what's going on around us. This blog isn't about any one topic. It's about day-to-day thoughts on exploring an agrarian-minded world view.

I know that’s what sustainability is to me--what I need to be sustained physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Not one thing, but multiple. 

This brings me to windows.  I was rereading Kent Nerburn’s, Small Graces, which is probably my favorite book, when I came across the following passage:

Whenever I’ve had to move from a house, the memory I have carried with me--that has most animated my spirit --is always the memory of the light, and the way it cascaded in through the windows and illuminated the passing moments of the day.

That immediately brought my own flood of memories:  the light igniting the chipped paint on the window seal in my fifth-floor apartment in El Paso, the spread of the international city of Juarez y El Paso del Norte glittering below on both sides of the border.  There was also my window at the budding Cinco Puntos Press (where I worked as an undergraduate student) which overlooked the bridge between Mexico and the United States.  I often stayed late during a very unhappy time in my life because there was something about the stream of shiny metal boxes flowing between the countries that made me feel better. 

Or what about the morning light outside our apartment in Many Farms?--a monolithic sandstone butte glowing on the horizon through lacy curtains, the foreground still in dark, blue shadows, Semi-trucks lit-up in yellow lights at the 7 to 11 station across the paper-littered field. 

Views from our house at Dry Creek, March 19, 2012

These small graces get us by.  I now leave you to your own.

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