As we wrapped up our second section of the course in the infamous Dirty Devil River, I took some time during our transition to the next new section to sit on the banks of the Colorado River. My eyes were captivated with disbelief as I watched the bottom of this river bed wrap so much life into its arms. The fish were putting on a show, jumping out of their world into mine. This is a new sight, compared to what we indulged ourselves in not even a week prior.
I spotted a little ribbon of a tributary called the Paria. I watched this, what I presumed was a timid little river, run right into the Colorado with all its might. He wasn’t offering a lot compared to this new world he was barging into, but it was everything he had. I could sense that power flowing inside, and that’s all that mattered to me.
As we roll on more miles in our trusty old van, our knowledge and exposure follow right along with those miles. This section of the course, which we call “Front Country” is set to have us sit, listen and learn from guest speakers like tribal members, park rangers, coalition ambassadors, BLM officers or even just some local dude sitting at the Hanksville gas station. We got every perspective we could find on the Colorado Plateau. Our main focus on this section was perspective, but mainly the perspective of those who were first here: the tribes on this land. We learned first hand of the hardships that these tribes have continuously undergone, for centuries. For me, this was not new knowledge. My entire childhood was spent learning on the Flathead reservation of all these genocidal policies and these long-lasting consequences of settler-colonialism (my ancestral blood). So, this section, I sat back and watched with my empathetic eyes as each one of my peers started to learn more and more of these policies and grim details of what once was, and still is, happening. Every now and then I would add in this history, teaching them what I have been taught as what I presumed essentials.
The moment our wheels hit ground on the Navajo Nation (where we spent most of our time), you could see the change in infrastructure quite abruptly. As I watch my peers, look with open-minds, I can see that they don’t usually see homes that have only one room for a whole family to share. I watched them fall in love with stray dogs we found in parking lots. Making sure they were fed with all the food we could give from our cooler. I watched the hearts break sitting next to me as we eyed those dogs get smaller and smaller through our rear view mirror as we had to drive on.
Our final and sole destination of this section was deep in the red sandstones of Monument Valley, a homestay: A little farm, holding place for three hogans (traditional homes for the Navajo), a home that didn’t contain electricity or running water and a small shelter for wind where we were lucky enough to build our little city of tents in. Filling the grounds, there was a choir of sheep, horses, a few ducks and chickens who seemed to be best friends, loads of kittens and the sweetest pups. The owner, Effie, greeted us with the biggest smile and was ready to put the six of us to work. Our anticipation for what she had in mind for work was high, but all she wanted was simple; her horses to be groomed and a garden to be built so she could start planting her sprouts.
Our anticipation ended and our thoughts spoke with “that’s all?” but we got to work. The horses got nothing but love… and a little bit of fear when they “moved too fast” (words from Mar). We got creative and built two gardens, with anything and everything we found around the yard. Like fences made of old bed frames and doors made of old tarps. We felt nothing but pride showing our newest additions and the whole family felt the same.
Being big, bold and beautiful is what most of us gawk over, like the gorgeous Colorado River. Its wide-open flow gapes deep into the canyon walls emanating from Lake Powell. The thing is, the infamous Colorado steals the show from all these little water ribbons filled with strength and nutrients like the Paria. There is the true beauty, the raw and the real. They formed on their own, not from this man-made dam like Glen Canyon.
We sometimes ignore the small things, but those small things have the most strength and can give everything they got. Not just in the rivers, but also Effie on her farm and us building that garden and petting the horses, these inputs seemed small, but actually had great meaning. It just depends on how you let your mind decipher the meaning.