Deep Breaths

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July 30, 2022, Bellemont, AZ- The toddler was fascinated with the stenciled bear on my hand drum. She periodically got to strike the drum with its stick, before handing it back to me and watching how I was keeping rhythm, during a series of chants.

Most of the chants were devotional in nature, including one that many people who are familiar with Dineh culture would recognize: “I Walk In Beauty”. Two Dineh elders who live in Flagstaff, about 20 miles from here, came to spend time with us this evening, as their daughter and grandchildren were among the camp attendees. The husband is a Medicine Man (He dislikes the term “Shaman”), and spoke of the holistic nature of healing that is his concern, in his practice. The wife is also well-versed in holistic healing, and spoke of the nature of Dineh philosophy and spiritual practice. She stressed the value of maintaining balance and of unity with all peoples.

In the traditional way, one is told to begin the day, turning to each of the four main directions, breathing deeply and offering thanks to the Creator and asking blessings upon the people in each direction. I make special sense to focus on one’s breath. At the very least, I notice that my heart rate is within healthy range, when I take 3-10 slow, deep breaths each morning, This works well, no matter the altitude at which I find myself. (Here, it is 7000 ft. above sea level, as opposed to 5000 ft., in Prescott or 200 feet in my childhood home of Saugus, MA.).

So, mindfulness and breathing go hand in hand, in keeping a person focused and purposeful.

Evolution

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December 5, 2021- There was a lot of sameness about today: Breakfast at Post 6, the Sunday paper, and getting the laundry done, for another week. That set me to thinking, though, about what has changed, over the years, in a “then” and “now” fashion.

Then, I knew only people who looked, more or less, like me. I had little sense of how people of different backgrounds, who lived in other places, really thought, felt and acted. There was always a curiosity, though, and while interacting with people of other backgrounds, as I grew into manhood, was sometimes tough, we made it through to the other side as friends.

Now, I am blessed with so many people I love, our respective backgrounds, beliefs and affiliations mattering little.

Then, I knew the small area of Saugus and the surrounding towns and cities. Up north was New Hampshire, where we went on the first part , if not the entirety of every vacation. Down south was Cape Cod, which saw the second part of vacation, when times were good. Places like Providence, Rhode Island and Stamford, Connecticut were rare to our family itinerary, as was Martha’s Vineyard. Now, I have seen parts of all fifty states, have lived near, and walked all over, our nation’s capital. I have lived in Maine, during one of the worst blizzards that New England experienced during the late ’70s. My home, from 1978-86 and again, since 1992, has been Arizona. It was here, in the Southwest, that I met my darling wife, found my true Faith, and came to grips with the state of mind that set me apart from others, for so long.

There have been other places that made me grow. Jeju, Korea taught me the value of looking at life, through other cultural viewpoints. It was there that a son came into our lives, and where he would be hard-wired to seek his own helpmate, thirty years later. Life among Dineh and Hopi further expanded my sense of looking at the world through different lenses. Travels to places like Israel, the West Bank, Guyana, Taiwan, England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany showed me, time and again, how much we can all learn from one another.

There was a time when I was of a warrior mindset. People abroad could only be saved by us mighty Americans. Then, I went to Vietnam, and found out differently. There was a time when I was of a very exclusive mindset. It was best for others to assimilate into mainstream American culture. Meeting people who are Black, Brown, Indigenous to this continent, East Asians, speaking Spanish, Navajo, Apache, Korean, Mandarin, Creole and yet, going about their lives in ways that taught me volumes, and showed how much assimilation is a myth. There was a time when I had little use for homosexuals. Then, I kept meeting people whose sexual orientation differed from my own, and found they are, in many other ways, the same as I am. Then, too, I saw how some friends underwent the hard process of gender reassignment, and I saw just how these steadfast and forthright friends of mine, one of whom was my rock, when I was at the low point in the grieving process, struggle in very fundamental ways, with aspects of life that those of us who are straight and cisgender handle in de rigeur fashion. I see that no one is pressuring me to adapt to a lifestyle to which I have no attraction; nor should I exert pressure on those who are not drawn to mine.

There remains one “blind spot” of sorts: Grifters, beggars, takers.. Is it true that, being “kind to all who cross my path”, and “if someone asks for your coat, give him your trousers, as well”, should be taken at face value? I am generous in prosperity, and yet, I do not see that having limits to largesse, lest I become a ward of others, means that I lack trust in the Creator. The Prophet Muhammad spoke, “Trust in God, but tie your camel.” I have been homeless, albeit briefly. I have been destitute, also for a very short time. The key to rising out of penury has always lain in being proactive, open-minded and resilient.

Thus have I evolved.

Penny Said….

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October 22, 2021- I looked up a student, from long ago, and she had some searing things to say, on her social media page. All of it is true-and is unfortunate. We ignore these messages, to our peril. She was one of Penny’s favourite people, and I link her messages to what my dearly beloved wife told me, when we first met, forty-one years ago in December.

Penny said, “Hit me, just once, and we’re done.” I wouldn’t have hit her, anyway, but the message stayed in my heart.

Penny said, “Cheat on me, just once, and I’m gone.” I wouldn’t have cheated on her, anyway, but the message took.

Penny said, “Go and get those girls, and bring them home to their parents.” She did not have to say it twice. I got in my car, found the girls and brought them home, where they belonged. No Native child disappeared on my watch.

“N” said, “Treat all children like they are your children.” This was in reference to the hundreds, nay thousands, of Native women and girls, gone missing and unaccounted.

“N” said, “Where is the concern for all my missing sisters?” It is a continental disgrace, the epidemic loss of sheer human talent that is in a state of limbo, or loss, or suspended animation-maybe just left to rot, by others who took their own lack of self-worth out on women, girls-and male humans, cutting their lives short, then just walking back into the community, as if nothing has ever happened.

The case of Gabby Petito has brought renewed attention to the missing Indigenous women-and countless other people of colour whose fate is unknown. Ms. Petito’s family has it right: Every missing person, every abused soul, deserves the same energy and attention that has been directed towards justice for their daughter and cousin. Her likely abductor is himself dead. Other perpetrators are living in shame.

What of a young man, whom I knew as a boy, and who has been missing for over a year? What of the three dozen or so Dineh teenaged girls, whose posters one may see in any trading post, convenience store, post office or truck stop on the Navajo and Hopi Nations, or in any border community? What of Latinas, missing from even the smallest barrios, across Arizona and New Mexico?

I know that every child matters. That is precisely why it’s imperative to listen, when a fierce woman like N, or J, or T-or my ferocious late wife, comes forward, puts up a straight-ahead message: “PAY SOME *#@!! ATTENTION!” I would have paid attention, anyway-but the work still lies ahead.

If you see, or hear, something, say something. Better yet, DO SOMETHING!

The Year of Living Furtively

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December 31, 2020-

Some of the hardest losses of this voracious year were two of the last. It pains me, especially, when two people who are meant to be together are separated by death, however temporarily. Perhaps because I know, so well, how it feels. I know the self-doubts, the second guessing, the “if only” moments that dog the surviving spouse. I also know that the way to resilience, for the one left behind, is to embrace that which makes one special, as an individual, with double the intensity.

I learned, only this afternoon, of the passing of one half of such a pair. Jeff had struggled with his cancer, constantly surrounded, enveloped with the love that only his indomitable wife and daughters could offer. Others among us tried to help, some offering respite care; some, like myself, offering remedies and a listening ear for our friends, whose shop has become such a vibrant gathering place, in a town that is still in the throes of becoming a community.

Thirty-six friends and family members, ranging in age from 21 to 100, have passed to the next realm, in this year of living furtively, Some were fixtures of my childhood; others, I had the pleasure of knowing for only a few years. Some, I only met once or twice, but the empath in me let them make an indelible impression. That impression will last long. It comes with the nature of my beast.

It is now 6:15 p.m. , and it is still twilight. Solstice being past for over a week, daylight lengthens a smidgen at a time. That is fitting; this year has seemed at times to be made of a darkness that is interminable. Coronavirusdisease 2019 has dominated much of the time and energy of the vast majority of people across the globe. Most of us have not been stricken with the ailment, but far too many others have. Those who have not actually contracted it, have been suspect of such-every time we sneeze, or emit a wet cough, into the crook of our elbow, or appear somewhere without a face mask. All but four of those friends and family, to whom I alluded above, died of COVID-related factors-especially pneumonia.

Dealing with the pandemic became complicated, with racial incidents, some of which were exacerbated by crimes of ignorance and by people continuing to talk past one another. Demonstrations muddied the water of our national response to the pandemic, especially in light of bans on gatherings for worship or for bidding loved ones farewell. Too many of those loved ones died alone, after having spent their last days and months in solitude. Demonstrations were, in most cases, necessary to the public weal. So, too, however, were gatherings of worship, so deeply-rooted in the American psyche-and not just in Christian communities. Dineh and Hopi friends missed their traditional ceremonial gatherings. We Baha’is also have made do with virtual connection.

The two demonstrations upon which I happened, featured participants who were uniformly masked-even among counterprotestors. The two church-based memorial services I attended featured physical distancing and/or uniform face masking. In these instances, subsequent infection was either minimal or nonexistent. Needless to say, I have exercised extreme caution when out of Home Base, since having had bronchitis (non-COVID), in mid-February.

My usual taking to the open road took a back seat, for the most part, in 2020. There were two deployments with the Red Cross, to Louisiana and Dallas. Another journey took me back to the Dallas area, for Thanksgiving and my 70th Birthday, with care taken in airports and elsewhere, to not become part of the problem. The joy of just being with my small family unit was worth the trip, as was the drive to Phoenix, three weeks later, for a mini-visit.

Equally salubrious, however, has been the use of technology, in connecting with my Faith community, with the Red Cross community and with wider spiritual gatherings. I have learned much and shared much. This aspect of technology can only serve to enhance our direct physical encounters, post-pandemic. I know that I need not be isolated from those in this community, when further afield again, towards summer and autumn of the coming year.

Finally, in reaching seventy, I reached full social security, and look at the culmination of my teaching career. Five days a week, out of personal necessity, is in my rear view mirror. Work in the coming Spring semester, will be in view of service to the schools and more discretionary, in terms of schedule.

This year, now grumbling to a close, has accented the small-How needful it is to revitalize memory, when it comes to the humble password or the most routine of courtesies! How crucial it is, to rekindle acceptance of differences, reminding ourselves how dull it would be for everyone to be forced into the same train of thought or the same world view. Exclusivity, as much as its proponents tell themselves it is necessary, is a dead end.

Let not one’s conservatism, or progressivism, lead to that dead end. Let 2020 be what comes to an end, without one’s viewpoint joining it.

Forty Years

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December 6, 2020-

Dearest Soul Charger,

On the night of this day, in 1980, I had a slight awareness that I was about to have a woman in my life, for the first time in eight years. It was, as you surely remember, cold and rainy-then somewhat snowy, in that little village where a house blessing was taking place. We were there for different purposes, though both concerned with learning from the continent’s First Nations. I was earning college credits; you were finding out more about the relatives of your hosts-the Hopi.

We were drawn to one another, that night, through the happenstance of my classmates’ amusement at your speaking Spanish with a North Jersey accent. I was just glad for your smile, and yur companionship. The weather ceased to matter after that. It was the beginning of thirty years’ physical connection and forty years’ spiritual.

We grew together, and you taught me more than you may have known. I like to think that I brought you out of your inward focus and I know you brought me out of mine. You taught me to love children with a ferocity that had been latent within me. We raised one person to adulthood, even as we were “raising” one another. As this was happening, I realized that every child was a focus of my heart.

We came to adore every Messenger sent by God, and all in the Name of His most recent Manifestation: Baha’u’llah . We drew no lines as to with whom we would share the healing Message. We did not separate ourselves from even the most destitute of people; nor did we separate ourselves from one another. We were seldom apart, in fact, and made landfall in so many unlikely places: Dinetah and Hopi; southern Alberta; Israel and the West Bank; Guyana; Korea; Taiwan and so many places in between.

You never lost your luster-not for a fleeting moment. For my part, I’ve spent the last ten years cleaning the rust off my soul, feeling your abiding guidance every step of the way. Now, at long last, I see what the purpose of my life might have been, these forty years, had I used my vision more clearly. Now, at long last, I see what needs to be done, with how ever many more years I am given in this life.

I know you are still close at hand, Soul Charger, and it may have been you who held my arm, early this morning-or it may have been you who moved another spirit away from me. Either way, I can sense that the Creator of us all has you in a safe and uplifting place. He has me where I need to be, and the path will continue, not always as I imagine in advance, but always where I can be of utmost service.

I will ever see you reflected in our son’s visage, and in any progeny he and his wife may bring into this life. I will ever hear your voice, so rich and resonant, in all of their pronouncements. I will see you in every rainbow, every shower and every rising and setting of the Sun. I will hear you in every rushing stream, every tumbling tide and in every sweet song of the birds who frequent where I happen to be. I will feel you, in every warmth that comes my way.

Shine on, Soul Charger. You taught me what it means to love.

The Goosenecks and Valley of the Gods

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October 8, 2019, Blanding-

There have been several goals that I have kept on embers, for several years now.  Camping out, above the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, is one of these.  The otherworldly ambiance of this unique landscape has captivated me, every time we passed by there, en route to visit the Dineh of southeast Utah.

Once out of Monument Valley, one comes upon Mexican Hat, a small, mainly Dineh town that offers astonishing cliffs, a small, expensive motel and a fairly economical cafe.  I enjoyed dinner there, then pursued my camping option.

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Small outcroppings of Monument Valley appear to the southeast of Mexican Hat.

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Three miles due east of the town, I turned left, drove three miles north and came upon the Goosenecks.

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As the soil at the campground is powdery, for at least a foot down, I opted to sleep under the stars.  It was a bit chilly, towards morning, but the brilliance of the stars and the sheer stillness of the place made it more than worthwhile.  I felt there were two rivers, one below and the other above.

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The easternmost promontory of Monument Valley is visible to the south.

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Once morning arrived, I greeted a few of the other campers, ate some stale leftover cinnamon buns and called it breakfast, changed clothes in the port-o-potty and headed uphill, to the Valley of the Gods.  This small, unorganized park is accessible by gravel road, just before engaging the 3-mile series of narrow switchbacks which leads to Natural Bridges National Monument.  I opted to take several photos from the side of the road.

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The last two photos were taken from turnouts, along the switchbacks.

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This view of the area was made even more otherworldly by the early morning cloud cover.

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In about twenty minutes, I had scaled the switchbacks in my Elantra and was en route to Natural Bridges.  I look forward to returning to this area again, in the near future.

 

The Grandeur of Monuments in Red

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October 7, 2019, Mexican Hat, UT-

Several years ago, Penny and I took a guided jeep tour of Monument Valley, another of the Southwest’s signature geological wonders.  We encountered rock formations which resembled all manner of creatures, both past and present. There are, of course, myths and legends which explain these formations, though geology does quite well to keep things in the realm of reality.

My drive along U.S. 163, in northeast Arizona and southeast Utah, offered a glimpse of the formations which are visible from the road and some of which allowed for a better view, from overlooks.

The Mittens and Agathla Peak are the southernmost, and among the most famous, of the “monuments”, which are mostly sky islands that remain from the Oligocene Period, nearly 25 million years ago.

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Various ridges also remain from  the Oligocene.

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This pinnacle resembles an otherworldly sentinel.

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Agathla is 7055 feet in elevation.  It is what’s left of  an ancient volcano.

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This butte is also part of the same dormant volcanic outcropping.

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Second from right, the column looks like two spouses, engaged in a conversation.  The column to the far left resembles two onlookers.

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No matter how captivating and iconic the red columns and benches look, one must always remember that this is a working environment.  Ranching is a huge enterprise for Dineh people, struggling to thrive in an extremely arid environment, with poor soil.

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As the valley rises, and gets closer to the San Juan River, the promontories become more spread out, but no less majestic.

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Monument Valley, even fenced off, has a decluttering effect on one’s psyche.

 

Canyon de Chelly: The View From the Top

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June 15, 2019, Chinle-

Many people, when comparing Arizona’s myriad of canyons, prefer smaller ones. Canyon de Chelly (pronounced SHAY), high on the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau, has its thousands of afficionados.  It was one of the alternatives to the Grand Canyon, for Dineh people seeking to hide from Kit Carson’s forces, during the run-up to the Long Walk.

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Today, the place is, reasonably, packed with visitors of all ages- taking jeep tours, riding horseback, walking with authorized Dineh guides, or on their own (along White House Trail, which will be the subject of the next post).  Some are happy with viewing the magnificence from rim overlooks.  Still others are okay with just camping, at the NPS-run Cottonwood, or at the privately-owned Spider Rock Campground. Then, there is the chill-out crowd, hanging out at Thunderbird Lodge.

My focus was two-fold: Take in the South Rim overlooks, camp at Cottonwood, then hike White House Trail and end with the North Rim viewpoints.  That worked well, and so-here are views from each of the overlooks, beginning with Tunnel Canyon and ending with Mummy Cave.

Tunnel Canyon Overlook:

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Tsegi Overlook:  (Tsegi is Dineh for “canyon”)

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Junction Overlook: (Canyon de Chelly {South} and Canyon del Muerto {North} converge here.)

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The overlook, and other highlights, of White House Trail, will be featured in the next post.

Sliding House Overlook:

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Spider Rock Overlook:

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Now, from the North Rim, here’s a view from Antelope House Overlook: (This ruin may only be viewed up close, if one is accompanied by a registered Navajo guide.)

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Massacre Cave Overlook:  (The cave itself was the scene of a wanton slaughter of Dineh women and children, by Spanish soldiers, in 1805.)

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Mummy Cave Overlook: (This also accessible only on a guided tour.  Mummy Cave is the largest Ancient Puebloan ruin in Canyon de Chelly National Monument.)

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So, as you can see, there is a wide variety of learning activities at Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  An old favourite hike, White House Ruins Trail, is among them and is the subject of the next post.

 

 

The Art of Encouragement

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESJune 14, 2019, Ganado, AZ-

During the course of the tortuous process of incarceration, known as The Long Walk, white America showed itself to be of two minds, regarding the Dineh (Navajo) people.  There was the idea that, by removing Dineh, the resources of the area in which they lived would be available to the “Greater Nation”.   President Lincoln also retained the distrust and dislike of First Nations people, which he had carried since his participation in the Indian Wars of 1818-20.  He did not have to be cajoled into signing off on this travesty.

In all of this, an even-handed, but not easily-swayed, Dineh leader named Totsohnii Hastiin (“Man of the Big Water”) resisted incarceration, initially, fleeing to the Grand Canyon and living among his paternal relatives, who were Hopi.  He learned of his people’s suffering at Fort Wingate, and so surrendered, after a time.

When the Dineh were allowed to return to their traditional homes, by President Andrew Johnson, in 1868, some Euro-American traders, especially those of Spanish or Mexican ancestry, were allowed to approach the First Nations people, to establish trading rights.

One of these was a New Mexico native, John Lorenzo Hubble.  He settled with his family in a small Dineh settlement called Pueblo Colorado.  There, Chief Totsohnii established a friendship with “Don” Hubble (Don is a Spanish term of respect for a man of means.) In time, the village of Pueblo Colorado became regularly confused with the large town of Pueblo, Colorado. The people chose to rename their village as Ganado, after Chief Totsohnii’s common title, Ganado Mucho (“many cattle”).  Both names stuck, and today the great leader is remembered as Ganado Mucho.  The village has become a thriving crossroads commercial center.

An essential part of Ganado’s growth has come from the trading post established here, by John Lorenzo Hubble, in 1878.  Hubbell lived here with his family and actively encouraged Dineh artisans to sell their jewelry and wool rugs, two trades they had learned from the Spanish and which they had perfected over nearly a century.  His trading post became a model for others, throughout the Navajo Nation, and nearby First Nations communities.

Today, Hubbell Trading Post remains a working concern, whilst also being preserved in the National Park System, as a National Historical Site.  Here are some scenes of this special establishment.  Below, is the side entrance to the Main Trading Post.

 

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On the ceiling of the “Jewelry Room”, one sees baskets of many First Nations, who traded them with Mr; Hubbell and continue to trade with the present-day proprietors.

 

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The cradle board, examples of which are shown below, was essential for Dineh mothers to carry their infants, both during their work in the fields and along the Long Walk.  It is still used today, by traditional Dineh women.

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In these corrals, the Churro sheep that are so essential to Navajo weaving, as well as for the mutton that is integral to the Dineh diet, are penned.  Churro mutton is one of the Heritage Foods, recognized by Slow Food International, in its work to maintain a diversity of foods for the human race.

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Horses, also beloved of Dineh, as beasts of burden, are also corralled here.

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I got a chance to briefly look inside the home of the Hubbell family, now preserved by the National Park Service.

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The unique tree stump carving below, was commissioned by the  Hubbell family, as proof of  the range of Dineh artistry.

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This hogan-like octagonal cottage housed artists who were commissioned by Mr. Hubbell.

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The Hubbell family members are buried on this hill, which is off-limits to the public.

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The property also shares a Veterans Healing Trail, a serene walk of about 3/4 mile, with the Chapter of Ganado.

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It ends at this Peace Tree, on Ganado Chapter property.

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This first real effort, at bringing heretofore inimical peoples together, has served as an ongoing example of just how our our interests, both common and divergent, can serve as an example of alternatives to conflict.

NEXT:  Canyon de Chelly, As Viewed From the Rims.

Where Affirmation Started

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June 14, 2019, Keams Canyon, AZ-

Two months ago, after I left my full-time work, I got a text from a long-time friend, from the Navajo Nation.  Her uncle, another long-time friend, had died, and the family needed my help with his funeral.  I was to offer a final prayer, to which I agreed.  I did the service, in a small cemetery on this isolated, but starkly beautiful location.

Another member of the family lives near the cemetery and invited me to visit him, when I was next in the area.  There was no better time for this, than the start of the Summer, 2019 road trip, so I came up here yesterday evening and spent the night in his nicely furnished and solidly-built ranch style home.

It does my heart good to see Indigenous people have access to the same quality of life that people in other ethnic groups have.  I don’t see the point in anyone being left out.  For too long, First Nations have taken the leavings of the majority population.  This is changing, mostly for the better.

Coal Mine Canyon is one of the least-visited parts of Arizona. Infrastructure is non-existent though a graded road made it possible for me to take some photos of the canyon, from its south rim.

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This last looks like the Earth is watching!

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I continued on, this morning, to the Hopi Nation, visiting a former co-worker, briefly, then upon finding there was no social dance in her village, this weekend, I continued on over to Keams Canyon, where what has turned out to be one of the two really rewarding positions I ever held, started, in August, 1992.  It’s certainly arguable that I should never have left Cedar Unified, but here we are.  I felt affirmed as a school counselor, more than I did in any other position.  Affirmation began in Tuba City, near Coal Mine Mesa, and continued both at Jeju National University and here.  I still feel validated by my First Nations friends.

Here are a couple of views of the inner area of  Keams Canyon, now largely abandoned.

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There used to be a trail that led from Keams to a part of the nearby Dineh settlement of Jeddito, to which we moved in 1993, after living in Keams for a year.  The trail, like much of the settlement has been redirected elsewhere.

NEXT:  Hubbell Trading Post and Its Impact on Navajo Arts and Crafts