Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sublime Solitude

Nested in the rolling desert is a trim single wide and a shed.

Connecting the Grand Canyon to the Four Corners are two-lane roads that traverse Navajo and Hopi country. For the second time in three months, I’ve driven those roads. In September we drove US 160 from the Grand Canyon to Chambers, took a right through Tuba City and on to the Four Corners and Shiprock. As I expressed in an earlier post, I was more enchanted by those 150 miles of stark emptiness than by nine days at the Grand. More recently I drove to Bluff, Utah after photographing Mesa Verde and Hovenweep. As I drove to Bluff on San Juan County Road 162, I saw a part of the Navajo Nation I’d never seen. It was as captivating to as the Navajo Trail, perhaps more so because it was even less populated. And that’s saying a lot. It was on that short stretch of road that I came to understand the chest filling appeal of the Navajo homeland. It’s well established that I am drawn to forever vistas. It’s the number one reason I give for choosing to live in Taos. But there’s more to it than that.

Scattered homesteads flicker below a wall of red rock.

Tonalea Sundown

Navajo Handmade Jewelry Here

The Four Corners and the Navajo Nation’s expanse and epic skies dwarf those of my chosen home. That big empty, those towering mesas, buttes and outcroppings reduce the mark of man to insignificance. We are dwarfed by the immensity of the earth and the heavens. I was once again enchanted by the vast emptiness and by the spare habitations strewn like specks against the towering immensity of the place. The Navajo Nation boasts a population density of 6.6 people per square mile on a sprawling reservation that's larger than Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined. Manhattan sports 77,781 per square mile. It's hard to grasp. In Navajo Country the immensity of Mother Earth puts us in our very small place. That juxtaposition of the forever and the ephemeral is breathtaking

Nestled into the arid landscape are Navajo and Hopi homesteads, so small they’re easily missed. More often than not they’re trailers or manufactured homes with a corral, and sometimes a Hogan. Seen out of context they speak of poverty and desolation. But, looking more thoughtfully at the hardscrabble tableau, there’s space and grandeur in every direction. That’s the kind of wealth you cannot buy. One can imagine simply being and contemplating the land and sky at daybreak or sundown. That was my realization when I pondered a simple Navajo community glittering against a red mesa. The serenity of the scene is inexorable. The towering silence is meditation.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Matching the epic and immense landscapes of the Four Corners of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, are your descriptive words and photographs. Your last two paragraphs reflect the feelings you have for those wide open space. Who could possibly beat your final sentence in the second paragraph "That juxtaposition of the forever and the ephemeral is breathtaking." The entire third paragraph should put you in the Shadow and Light Magazine Hall of Fame. Great blog, Steve!