Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Westward Ho! Canyon de Chelly and The Sacred Heart Prayer

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In the adobe house, in the back-bedroom, there is a back-door that opens to the back-yard patio. About an hour before dawn, he stirs and cracks open the door, slightly. Filling the room, the mountain air is cool and crisp, fresh and pure, the scent of fall is in the air. I take long, deep, rejuvenating breaths ever-so-slowly; rhythmically. Although a short road trip is planned for the day I lie in bed for another half-hour enjoying the quiet darkness as I continue to draw the intoxicating air deeply into my lungs. I long to live in the mountains once again.

Gently, I slide out of bed and head to the kitchen.   As I look out the kitchen window, the dark outline of the blue-shadowed Sandia Mountain range looms protectively over the valley like a gentle, grandfatherly giant. I love that view; it’s one I’ve seen many times before, it captivates my eyes each and every time, my heart is completely content and completely full.

Inspired and motivated, I’ve decided this morning I will make a ‘Ranchers Breakfast’ like my Grandmother used to make with the time-honored tradition of melt-in-your-mouth fluffy home-made biscuits, easy-cheesy scrambled eggs, sage-sausage patties and southern-gravy; that should hit the spot all right, what a great way to start to any day. My Grandmother was the single biggest influence in my life; her memory is oddly strong with me on this day.

Nothing is more pleasant in the early morning than the wafting smells and familiar sounds of a kitchen; the aroma of fresh biscuits baking, the sausage sizzling slightly in the pan, the percolating of freshly-brewed coffee. Life is indeed good and getting better all the time.

With a full tummy, I’m excited to be on the road again. With the mind-set of a child, I am incredibly curious and full of anticipation, waiting for the surprise of what the day will bring, excited for the prospect of what new and wonderful adventures will unfold … I am without possession of any preconceived ideas, forethought or knowledge. Without a specific agenda, where the day takes me is fine by me. This assures me of new, fresh experiences through new, fresh eyes. For a writer, that is imperative.

Onward Ho! Heading West on the Interstate towards Gallup, New Mexico, I enjoy the ride, the countryside and I’m in no rush … Life is right here, right now and each moment is where I dwell. There are several stops to make and business matters to take care of; then to drop off a couple of bags of chicken feed, dog food and Pepsi-Cola for an elderly friend in a remote area… don’t ask me where, because I don’t know nor do I care. I piddle and wait outside snapping photos of the mountains in the distance and letting my mind wander as I sit in the boonies, no houses in sight, just a few chickens clucking about my feet and a big ole’ shade tree in the center of the yard. Happy as a clam I am.

Thirty-five miles west of New Mexico is Chinle, Arizona, which is located practically smack-dab in the middle of a one hundred mile long Valley. This is the geographic epi-center of the Navajo Nation, which is the largest tract of land reserved for American Indians in the United States. Chinle has a small population of 4,500 and is known as the center for  Tribal, Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.) as well as local, federal and state government offices. One of the more notable residents of Chinle was Russell Means, an American Oglala Lakota activist, a leader for the rights of Native American people. He became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and helped organize events that attracted national and international media coverage.

After leaving Chinle and stopping briefly at the Holiday Inn on the way to Canyon de Chelly; I ate my first Navajo Fry Bread! Waiting for the Fry Bread, I hung out in the gift shop wishing I had a credit card with an unlimited limit … The Fry Bread was super-hot, slightly-salty, double-down doughy, and an uber-delicious treat. According to Navajo tradition, Fry Bread was created in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt and lard that was given to them by the United States government when the Navajo, who were living in Arizona, were forced to make the 300-mile journey known as the "Long Walk" and relocate to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico onto land that could not easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans. All in all, this was the most beautiful Holiday Inn I’ve ever seen, a deep, rich; rusty- colored adobe structure, the inside boasted the natural colors of the Native American Southwest Painted Desert and interior decor was incredibly refreshing.  

Arriving at the final destination of the day; Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is comprised entirely of Navajo tribal trust land with a resident community within the canyons. Astonishingly for 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons. There are 7 overlooks on the South Rim Drive and 3 overlooks on the North Rim Drive. The distinctive geologic feature, Spider Rock, is a sandstone spire that rises 750 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. Spider Rock can be seen from the South Rim Drive.

Navajo legend tells of Spider Old-Woman (Na'ashjéii Asdzáá). According to traditional Navajo beliefs the taller of the two spires is the home of Spider Grandmother; and is one of the most significant spiritual locations to the Navajo people. My favorite story is that she was responsible for the stars in the sky; she took a web she had spun, laced it with dew, threw it into the sky and the dew became the stars, like little sparkling kisses.

I walked towards the overlook, and beneath me was a deep canyon with a small river stream snaking through its walls. It’s a place like no other I’ve seen before. The red sandstone walls were reflecting the late afternoon sun, the shadows were starting to throw castings, and it was breath-taking. I, of course was taking photos by the dozens, drinking in the view and not believing my eyes. Completely mesmerized, I was. I was on Sacred Grounds.

Stopping and standing before the spires, my dear friend, offered a prayer to Spider rock Grandmother. As He started speaking in Navajo; I bowed my head in reverence, and then I heard my name mentioned, again and then once again.  I became overwhelmed, and I started to cry silently and then softly, and then my tears flowed, gently and slowly.  The prayer continued, as did my tears. I thought about my life, the obstacles I had experienced, and ultimately overcome.  It has been said that tears are like a release valve to wash all that 'old stuff' off. After he finished praying in his language, he translated the prayer for me into English. It was one of the most unexpected and memorable heart-felt moments of my life to have such a kindness bestowed upon me, a holy Man praying just for me with such an authentic, sacred spirituality about him.

We continued to walk around the path to another overlook, and although I was still taking pictures, I was quietly subdued, my mood deeply wrapped into what I had just experienced, yet unable to articulate. He explained to me that it was Spider rock Grandmother who was comforting me. And I believe that to be true. Interestingly that morning my own Grandmother was ever-present in my mind. That night I slept deeply, like a baby safely swaddled in a cocoon of lamb’s wool. I will always remember the strength of the holy prayer at the sacred Canyon de Chelly.

I’m collecting through my photography and road trips some of the most fascinating memories that I could have never-ever have dreamed up in my wildest imagination.  The holy prayer was one of the kindest, nicest things I’ve ever experienced, and it is not something that I can repay.  It was a gift to me, for me, to heal and to help others heal and prosper.  It’s mine and will always be one of the most cherished, authentic moments of my life. 

It seems as though the mysteries of the Universe are unfolding right before my very eyes.  Perhaps through Spider rock Grandmother I am receiving guidance and protection.  Once again, I am the young spirited-girl that my Grandmother encouraged, nurtured and loved so much.  

Because you see, you have to weave your way through those wondrous majestic canyons and deep valleys – Because you see, only through the experience of trials, tribulations and suffering can the soul be strengthened.  Because you see,  that's what life is all about ~ Soul Growth.

Let my Soul smile through my heart, Let my Heart smile through my eyes,

may I scatter Sunshine wherever I may go …




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